Painting Acanthus Leaves
Instruction from the Göttingen Model Book
This text is transcribed from the Göttingen Model Book which was written in Germany in the 16th century as a book of instruction for illuminators. In 1972 Curators of the University Press, Columbia Missouri published a book on the Göttingen Model Book which was edited, with commentary by Helmut Lehmann-Haupt, and based in part on the studies of the Dr. Edmund Will. I quote from the book from the section on foliage. You can substitue other pigments for the period ones mentioned here as long as you get the same kind of effect. You'll find the old masters were a bit long winded so I've added my comments in parentheses below each step.
The foliage one shall first draw with a lead or a point. Then one shall outline the foliage with a pen and with very thin ink or with thin black color. Then one shall polish the foliage with a tooth, so that the color can be applied smoothly, but not too firmly. Then one shall paint it with the colors, one side right and other side left or reversed, with a brush, namely light red and green, that is to say green or slate green: The two colors belong together, one side light red and the turnover green, as shown here, or one side green and the turnover light red, as you like it.
(Draw the leaves. Paint one side with light red and the reverse side with light green.)
Then take dark red color and outline the light red with the dark red with a brush, so as if you wanted to outline it once again, all around the outside in red. Then take dark green and outline the green or the slate green with the dark green, the same way as with the red, all around. Then make with a brush and with the dark red the middle vein right through the foliage, which is painted light red, and with the dark green, also with a brush, the middle vein right through the green or slate green, as is shown here.
Then take again the dark red and mix it thinner on the hand or in a shell with pure, thin gum water, so that it is realy thinner.... Then take the same thin dark red for one side, namely the turnover of the leaf, or of the reverse, as it is shown here. Then take dark green and mix it thinner with pure spring water in the hand, or in whatever you wish, so that then it is realy thinner.... Then paint in the green with a brush, as it is shown here.
(Outline the red part with dark red and the green part with dark green. Add a dark colored vein to each side.)
Then take again dark red and temper it with gum water, not too strong, and also not too thin, that is to say as ink, which is not too thin, so that it flows easily from the brush. With this you shade the light red, namely with the watery red, with little strokes, as it is shown here.
Then take dark green and temper it with pure water, but do not stir it with the finger, but let the fluid dissolve by itself, that it gets as thick as thin ink. With it you shade the green, namely with the watery dark green, the same way as the red, and as it is shown here.
(Add hatch marks with the thinned dark colors to give the leaves shading.)
Then take lead white, which shall be well ground, and with it heighten the light red with a brush on the shaded part of the leaf or the foliage, and so, that the little strokes of white are smaller, as is shown here.
(Add highlights to the red part of the leaves with thinned white paint using little hatch marks.)
Then make on the middle vein, which shall be a double line, with a brush and the lead white little dots, as it is shown here.
(With the tip of your brush and white paint, stipple tine dots down the middle of the vein on the red parts.)
Then make dots into the green, also into the middle vein, and for that take well-ground lead yellow, temper it with gum, so that it flows esily form the brush. The lead yellow is not meant for the red, but for the green. It is better on green, it is the best. Then heighten the green foliage on the other side towards the green shading with lead yellow, in the same way as the red and lead white, so here the green and the lead yellow, as it is shown here.
(Add highlights and dots to the green parts of the leaves with thinned yellow paint same as the red areas. However, I prefer to only put hightlights on the forward portion of the leaves. This makes the hindermost leaves look as though they are in shadow.)