Sue Prince - Narrative Folk Artist and Map Maker
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Bonad Painting

Bonad Painting Preparation 1

Preparing the canvas

Canvas can be linen or cotton, it comes primed and unprimed. We will work on primed cotton canvas. The primer used is simply a coat of sealer, usually white.

Equipment using ready made real (not acrylic) gesso

1 primed canvas
Pot of ready to use gilder's gesso white- gesso is rabbit skin glue (gelatine) and chalk
Pot of ready to use gesso yellow ochre
Palette knife
Stove/heat source
Heat proof bowl (bain marie)
Large soft paint brush
Finest sandpaper
  • With knife slice about 2 or 3 tablespoons of white gesso into bowl, depending on size of canvas
  • Add 1 or 2 teaspoons yellow gesso depending on the finished colour required
  • Half fill the saucepan with water and put on stove
  • Place bowl of gesso into the heating water, allow gesso to melt, stir with brush or spoon (1)
  • Add hot water to the bowl of gesso (from the pan) to make gesso the consistency of milk
  • Brush the warm gesso onto the canvas, covering it all, be careful to apply only once, re-application will pull off the previous layer at this stage. Brush from side to side (2)
  • If stray bristles or bits appear on the canvas, just leave until dry and pick off. Do not try to remove with brush while wet
  • Let the canvas dry completely (about one hour)
  • Heat up the gesso, adding a little water to keep the milky consistency
  • Brush on another layer of gesso, try to cover the whole canvas only once with a thin layer. Brush up and down (3)
  • Allow to dry for one hour
  • When dry, briefly sand the surface very softly and lightly
  • Brush on another layer of gesso
  • Allow to dry for one hour
  • Sand the surface very gently
  • Check the surface, if desired more layers of gesso can be added as before
  • Any dampness left within the surface will cause the gesso to scar when sanded
  • Protect artworks created on gesso from damp
  • It is possible to buy ready made acrylic gesso for preparing a canvas, this is similar to emulsion paint.

Sue Prince making gesso

Sue Prince making gesso

Sue Prince making gesso

1. Melting Gesso

2. First layer of gesso

3. Second layer of gesso

Making Genuine Gesso

Equipment for making genuine gesso
454 ml (16 fl oz) water
28g (1 oz) dried rabbit skin glue
685 ml (24 fl oz) whiting (chalk powder) by volume
Palette knife
Stove/heat source
Heat proof bowl (bain marie)
Spoon to stir
  • Add glue granules to water and allow to stand over night
  • Gently heat glue mixture in double boiler (bain marie)
  • Never allow it to get hotter then 57'
  • Sift whiting into warm glue mixture, stir very gently so as not to create bubbles
  • Stand for one hour
  • Strain if necessary
  • Apply as above

Bonad Painting Preparation 2

Preparing the pigment pastes


Sheet of etched glass
Muller (etched glass grinder)
Palette knife
Powdered pigment, ochres, umbers, siennas but not synthetic indigo
Teaspoon or similar
Small air tight pot for paste
Method for all except synthetic indigo:
  • Start working with the palest colours first- eg white then yellow ochre then raw umber etc. This will reduce the risk of contaminating colours
  • Wet the glass sheet, shake off excess water
  • Place two or three heaped teaspoons of pigment on to the glass sheet, make a small depression/hollow in centre of the powdered heap
  • Gently drop one or two teaspoons of water into the hollow
  • Use the palette knife to gently start incorporating the water into the pigment, add more water if required.
  • Wet the muller, shake off excess water and start to grind the pigment and water together
  • Feel the grittyness between the muller and glass, keep grinding until it becomes less gritty
  • Keep scraping the paste from the muller with the palette knife, and pushing the paste into the centre to be ground again
  • Grind paste for 2 mins or more, depending on the grittyness
  • The paste should be a bit like toothpaste
  • With the palette knife scrape the paste and put it into the small pot, drop a tiny drop of water on top to keep moist, put on lid
  • The pigment pastes can be kept for a week or two or as long as they remain moist
Method for synthetic indigo:
  • Place 2 heaped teaspoons of synthetic indigo into a small container
  • Add a few drops of water, stir gently and continue to add drops of water and stir until the indigo becomes shiny and smooth, similar to thick cream.
  • The indigo has similar properties to corn flour when mixed with liquid

  • Some pigments (not those mentioned above) are poisonous. All pigments are dusty; always work carefully and safely. Wash your hands frequently, to keep yourself safe and your work clean.
  • It is possible to buy ready made egg tempera paints

Bonad Painting Preparation 3

Preparing the egg yolk


Small air tight pot for egg yolk
Sheet of paper kitchen towel
Small knife
Container for discarded egg white
Teaspoon handle or small whisk to mix yolk and water
  • On a flat surface place a piece of kitchen towel folded in half
  • Have the air tight pot ready without the lid
  • Have the small knife handy
  • Crack egg, carefully tip to one side to allow yolk to fall into one half of the shell and drain the egg white into a separate container, gently tip egg from one shell half to the other to ensure all the white is discarded
  • Gently tip the complete egg yolk on to the paper towel, close to the centre of the folded edge
  • Gently pick up and bring together the left and right edges of the paper towel, cradling the egg yolk so part of it just bulges out of the towel (1)
  • Hold the yolk over the open container and make a small vertical cut in the exposed yolk sac, allowing the yolk to flow into the pot, very gently squeeze the yolk through the towel to get all of the yolk but none of the membrane
  • Add 1 teaspoon of cold water to the yolk in the pot
  • Stir or whisk the egg and water to mix thoroughly
  • Put lid on container
  • Can be stored for a few days if kept in fridge
1. Holding the egg yolk in the paper towel
Sue Prince illustration of egg yolk preparation for egg tempera paints

Bonad Painting Preparation 4

Preparing the image


Chosen image- same proportion as the canvas, a sketch, photo, photocopy
Charcoal/ charcoal pencils- (we use charcoal not pencil because graphite pencils have oil in the lead which stains the gesso)
Cotton buds- matchstick with cotton wool wound on to end
Cold water
  • You have to transfer the image
  • Identify you image on paper- choose the edges (1)
  • Check the proportion (2)? you may need to enlarge or reduce the picture, use a photocopier if possible
  • Decide which way round the image will be when it has been transferred
  • In daylight, lean the paper image on to a window and using charcoal go around the main lines of the image
  • Lay the image- charcoal side down on to the gessoed canvas
  • Keeping it extremely still draw over the lines with a pencil to press the charcoal onto the canvas
  • Cleanly lift the paper from the canvas, careful not to smidge the charcoal
  • Now you can paint on top of the charcoal
Sue Prince illustration of proportions

Bonad Painting Preparation 5

Getting ready to paint


Sable type paint brushes; 2 fine, 1 med, 1 small stiff bristle brush
2 mixing palettes- eg ice cream tub lids, plastic plates, have more available in case you need them
Container of water for cleaning brushes
Sheets of paper kitchen towel to dry brushes
Gessoed canvas
Paper for practice
Cotton buds or matchsticks and cotton wool balls
Palette knife
Pots of prepared pigment pastes
Pot of egg yolk
  • Pin the canvas to a rigid board
  • Plan the colours you want to use and where you want to use them
  • With clean palette knife, place 1/4 teaspoon of pigment on the palette.
  • Place about half teaspoon of egg yolk onto the pigment and mix with a brush, to form smooth, shiny paint
  • Adding more egg creates a more transparent paint.
  • Use brush strokes carefully, egg tempera paint is slightly transparent, like a coloured varnish, so brush strokes are often visible.
  • Between uses wash your brush in water, wipe dry with kitchen paper
  • You can create patterns by applying some marks, eg dots on a jacket, let them dry, then apply a thin coat of pigment over the top; the original dots will show through.
  • Before working on the canvas, practice some lines and brush strokes on paper. Learn to blot your brush on paper, to check how much paint is on your brush.
  • Choose a coloured line to start, perhaps a brown or indigo line or red ochre line, do as many of the same colour lines as you can.
  • Then choose another coloured line and do as many as you can
  • When most of the outlines are done, you can start to fill in with blocks of colour.
  • The grass/ground pattern can be created by repeatedly dabbing the bristle brush.
  • Choose a font/letter type and stick to the same style of letters
  • Make sure your words are level, use a ruler to faintly mark a base line, maybe also a top line too.
  • A quick way to centre some text is to type them onto a computer, select them and click on the centre tool, create a second line of text with one letter on it, above or below, centre this also. The position of the single letter will indicate the centre of the main line of text. (1)
  • Find the centre of your canvas, mark with a dot.
  • Begin at the centre point of the canvas, writing towards the right from the centre point of the text. (2)
  • When the right half of the text is complete, start writing towards the left from the centre point of the canvas.
Sue Prince illustration of finding centre of text

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Customer Services    Tel: +44 (0)1335 310467     Email:     Shop