Gouache Colors for Painting Charters

Halima al-Rakkasa

Ideally, before you begin to paint either scroll or charter, you’ll have a good idea of the gouache colors that are needed to create the desirable medieval effect. With that in mind, I have here compiled a number of collections of color-names to help you find suitable colors. (I am grateful to all those who have shared the information!) At the bottom is my own gouache palette.

Dame Tamlyn has this list of pigments in the Lindisfarne Gospel (8th century):

  • orange-red (minium, red lead)
  • blue (indigo/woad)
  • dk green (vergaut?)
  • blue/green
  • green (verdigris)
  • carbon black
  • red ochre
  • madder lake
  • cochineal
  • yellow ochre

Evidently, in later period, we can add:

  • ultramarine (lapis lazuli)
  • vermillion (12th c)
  • azurite (12th c)

The Summits have a list of colors for painting charters, thanks to Mistress Alainne:

  • black – lamp/carbon black for blending; ivory black for lining
  • red – vermillion or madder red
  • yellow – yellow ochre, brilliant yellow, golden yellow
  • green – sap green or windsor (not emerald; more verdigris or malachite
  • blue – azure, ultramarine, woad
  • white – zinc white for blending; permanent white or titanium white is more permanent (use for whitework)
  • brown – red ochre, raw umber, burnt sienna

Mistress Tegan of Conwy suggests there are differences in cultural preference

  • English – alizarin for red, ultramarine blue
  • French – flame red or cadium red (Winsor and Newton), cobalt blue

The Domesday Boke Materials list (for An Tir’s 40th Year) gave these as period colors:

  • cadmium yellow pale
  • cadmium red pale (substitute for red lead), grenadine (substitute for vermilion), venetian red, red ochre
  • ultramarine, indigo
  • sap green
  • oxide of chromium, naples yellow, yellow ochre, raw sienna, gold ochre
  • burnt sienna, burnt umber, raw umber
  • ivory black, lamp black
  • gold (imitation), silver (imitation) – there is an article forthcoming on this

And these are the heraldic colors to add:

  • cadmium yellow pale
  • cobalt blue
  • mistletoe green

My palette is selected from Winsor and Newton, so color-names may not be found in other brands:

  • yellow – cadmium yellow pale, yellow ochre
  • blue – cobalt blue, ultramarine
  • green – mistletoe green
  • red – grenadine (vermilion)
  • brown – burnt sienna, raw umber
  • black – ivory black
  • white – zinc white (mixing highlights), permanent white (for whiteline)
  • other colors arise from mixing the above!

Do be careful in choosing your brand of gouache. Look for light-fastness and opaque. I prefer Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache, but Daler-Rowney and Holbein also have good products. Avoid watercolors unless they are permanent, light-fast and opaque, with labels stating the degree (rating) of each.

Have fun!