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Dec 12, 2015

The Real Deal: Making Flake White using the Old-School process...

I was doing some research online today on various oil painting whites and came across a fantastic video of a person making genuine flake white, using a traditional method. This is the real deal, using the Dutch Stack Process to create lead carbonate on coils of lead. Don't worry if you don't know what that is since his video will fully demonstrate it. The last time there was any mass production of this kind of flake white for the artist was back in 1938, in a little town called Cremnitz, but that village was absorbed into Germany's WWII Nazi expansion and did not survive the aftermath. So now when you see a tube of lead white in the art store labeled 'Cremnitz White', or 'Kremnitz', or 'Kremser' or even 'Flake White', you know it isn't what it claims to be, but instead is likely a marketing name the manufacture has applied to evoke a nostalgic feeling.

However, you can purchase the real deal
you see being made in this video here:


(Of course, you will have to make the paint yourself. But that isn't hard as long as you take the required safety precautions as you do so.)

The thing is, the stack process is the only way I know of that can produce the flake white used by the old masters, a white that is a joy to paint with when you try it. FW is the champagne of whites – the Air Jordan, Rolls-Royce, Black Sea Caviar of whites – and its handling properties are unique and utterly unreproducible in any other way. No modern method I know of can match it. Don't even think about suggesting titanium or zinc here.

This video may be a long watch but it is well worth the time. If only to appreciate the old-school effort that once went into making such a fine paint that we once so casually pushed around...

Enjoy!...

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14 reader comments:

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Great video, and thanks for sharing! If only the Old Masters had the technology to post YouTube videos like this!

colleen caubin said...

omg Had no idea what it took....completely mesmerizing and the music is great too. thanks for posting this.I use several of the Rublev lead whites. Havent tried the stack process one. Are you going to try this?

Thomas Kitts said...

Michael, good to hear from you. Yes, I am in love with the history of our materials and wish I had time to make them all. I do think we artists may have lost an important element to our work by shopping out our paints to the colormen...

Thomas Kitts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Kitts said...

Colleen, I would like to try making this someday but currently do not have the time or facilities to do it in a safe and responsible manner. In fact, I winced when I saw the guy rinsing the lead multiple times and letting the waste water go down the drain. I can only hope that he is collecting it. In fact, I am going to simple believe that he is, if only to make myself feel better.

Sergio Lopez said...

Have you not heard of RGH yet?? Fret not, my friend! http://www.rghartistoilpaints.com/category/Cremnitz-Flake-and-Flemish-Whites-Paints--Primers-8

Thomas Kitts said...

Hey there, Sergio. How are you doing down there in CA?

Yes, I have heard of RGH and have even used their lead white paint on occasion. And, like the rest of their paint it is a fine option for the oil painter. But unless RGH has started making their own lead pigment using the stack process it ain't flake white. Again, the term flake comes from the size, shape and method of production, which this video demonstrates fully. In contrast, most artist's paint manufacturers source their pigments/colorants from industrial chemical companies because they are not able to produce it themselves inhouse and remain economically viable. (With few exceptions.) So all those colors we paint with come from the industrial world, and we artists are bit players in that market. Even so, the lead white still commonly manufactured today differs radically from the flake white of the past. The particles are smaller, more rounded in shape, and certainly more uniform in size. Precisely the things which impact the handling properties and makes it different from the old school lead white. There is more to this than I describe, but that is a decent summary. And if I am wrong, and RGH is producing their Flake White in house do let me know. I'd love to hear it.

Revilo said...

The consistency and transparency of flake white is unique and inimitable, but make sure you always wear gloves when using it, especially with solvents or turpentine. I've used the RGH and can attest to the quality. Utrecht also still makes it.

Thomas Kitts said...

Thanks Revilo. But as I understand it, lead won't pass the skin barrier unless there is a cut or abrasion. (There are other colorants which can pass through the skin barrier so that is something to be aware of.)

I've used LW for over 30 years without gloves and it has yet to show up in any blood test I have taken for heavy metals. When you buy it in the tube it is reasonable safe to use. So as long as you don't sand your painting, or eat with paint on your hands, or brush your teeth with it, you should be fine.

Thomas Kitts said...

And Revilo, I appreciate your comment but want to distinguish between marketing or shelf names of a paint and the real components involved. As I said, RGH makes a good paint, and Utrect is one LW I use on a regular basis, but neither are real Flake Whites nor they do not exhibit the thixotropic properties the real deal can offer.

Ronald Lee Oliver said...

Not to belabor the point but I've read that turpentine can act as a transport medium through the skin and can carry the heavy metals with it. Maybe bull...but probably wise to protect if in doubt.

Thomas Kitts said...

Ronald, I have heard similar claims but not seen convincing evidence that supports it. Besides, if one is worried about the safety of the materials they work with (and who shouldn't be?) then turpentine is the first thing to go. That we have plenty of information about. I don't even paint with a lot of Odorless Mineral Spirits anymore, though largely more out of consideration for my paint film than anything else.

Magarara said...

Wonderful. I watched in amazement. Thank you for sharing this.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Magarara: I watched and was amazed as well. Bought some of the lead pigment and turned half of it into paint using a palette knife. The other half is waiting for when I have time to use a muller instead. Then I will paint with it and share what I think. So more to come...