Paints were created by combining pulverized pigment with gums or animal glue, which made them workable and adhered to the surface being painted. Encaustic painting was popular in Greece and Rome for easel portraits. The binder for the pigment in this process is wax or wax plus resin. The artist would first mix the colors he wanted with the appropriate amount of gum or glue, and then apply the mixture with a spoon to the prepared canvas. The canvas would be placed inside an oven where the heat would dry the paint.
The ancients used many different types of paints. Red, white, and black were the only colors available in nature. They also used blue and yellow because they are the colors of the sky and sunshine. Paintings from this time have dark backgrounds to hide mistakes before any photographs were available. Painters had no idea how to reproduce colors accurately in paintings so they usually chose darker tones for red, browns for orange, and light colors for yellow. Gold was used as a decoration on statues and vessels because it was expensive and valuable. It was not until much later that other colors were discovered that are now used instead. For example, violet was used instead of red because it was thought to be more healing than real red.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were very interested in psychology and believed that people could be classified according to their traits such as virtues and vices. These personality types were called "artists" when describing someone who painted pictures.
Encaustic (wax) painting and tempera were utilized as methods. Such paintings typically showed figural situations, such as portraits and still-lifes, and many of their compositions have been described. The subjects of these paintings were usually religious in nature.
Tempera painting involved mixing pigments with water to create a paint that would dry into an image when applied to a surface. These paints were often used for landscape and figure work because they were more flexible than encaustic. Figures could be included in tempera paintings that also contained landscapes or architecture. Although there were some similarities between the techniques used for encaustic and tempera paintings, they were actually quite different. Encaustic artists used wax instead of oil or other mediums to bind the pigment to the surface while tempera painters used oils or other liquids as mediums.
There was much interaction between painterly techniques and styles during this time period. Encaustic artists used thick layers of paint to create depth by allowing the darker areas to absorb more light than lighter areas. This effect could be achieved with encaustic alone or in combination with other methods such as drawing and coloration after the fact with a special mix of encaustic and white pigment.
Tempera artists used thin layers of paint to create depth by leaving certain areas transparent.
Water, saliva, urine, or animal fats were used by early painters to combine pigments into paint. They then applied them with their fingers, brushes, or by blowing them through hollow bones, much to how airbrushes work today. The most common colors used by early painters were red, yellow, and black.
How did they make red? They could have used carotene, which is a color found in plants. Then they would have had to extract it from vegetables such as tomatoes or berries such as raspberries.
Why did they use black? Because that's what you get when you mix red and yellow! Black was used for its depth creating shadows, and because it is the only color that shows up on all objects. Objects appear white against the sky because all objects reflect some amount of light. If an object is dark colored, like a tree trunk, it will not show up against the background.
Why did they use yellow? Because that's what's left over when you mix blue and red! Yellow can be made from minerals such as chrome ore or sodium carbonate, or derived from plants such as mustard seeds or honeydew melons. The more of these components that you put into your paint the brighter the yellower it will be.
So, you can see that ancient people knew nothing about color theory!
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, employs heated beeswax to which colored pigments are applied, producing some of the most intriguing and intricate abstract paintings, but more famously, the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt (made approximately 100-300 AD), and the Greek icons...