Search Website Design and Content © by Eric Krause, Krause House Info-Research Solutions (© 1996)
      All Images © Parks Canada Except Where Noted Otherwise
Report/Rapport © Parks Canada / Parcs Canada  --- Report Assembly/Rapport de l'assemblée © Krause House Info-Research Solutions

Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada




A. Storm

May 1982

(Fortress of Louisbourg
Report H G 05)

Chapter VI

Distemper, Casein and Whitewash, 
Of Measuring, and Painters Work.

Distemper can be defined as a paint made with a water soluble adhesive or glue binder. It could be utilized quite effectively for interiors, particularly on plastered surfaces. Its use during the eighteenth century was confined, for the most part, to substituting for oil base priming. Distemper priming, although an inexpensive shortcut, was generally viewed as objectionable because it was not very durable.

The inert white pigments, such as chalk or Spanish white, were almost always employed as the base for distemper. They could be tinted to any hue by mixing in the commonly used colored pigments. Standard procedure called for the pigments to be ground with water, or washed, after which the glue size binder, diluted with water to about the consistency of thick milk, was added to the pigment. Although any good quality animal glue would work, isinglass, made of the air bladders of the sturgeon, was one of the most popular. Egg white, or vegetable gums could be used as well. Distemper worked much better if it were applied hot because the glue tended to thicken if it were cool.

An eighteenth century recipe for Green wash for walls: 4 Roman vitriol (bluestone). 1 Spanish Whiting. Bruise these together. Put them into an earthen vessel and pour on them some warm rain water. Simmer this over a slow fire for three hours stirring it with a stick. Take it off and let it stand. In 24 hours the ingredients will settle and the water become clear. Pour off the water and it will keep for years ready to mix at pleasure. When wanted it must be mixed with water wherein a small portion of glue has been dissolved, and laid on the walls as many coats as may seem necessary. [1]


Dissolve 1/2 pound of common glue in one gallon of water and mix therewith. Six pounds of Spanish whiting. To this composition add a small quantity of yellow ochre, wet blue, or any other cheap coloring ingredient. Stir these well together: Then with a large brush give the work one or two coats of this composition and it will appear as handsome as oil painting, and equally as handsome if kept dry. Note: If the glue be dissolved in skimmed milk instead of water it will render the paint nearly waterproof. [2]

There are three kinds of distemper paints - common distemper, distemper called Blanc de Roi and varnished distemper.

The base for distemper paint is the glue, made of scraps of parchment, gand (shredded leather from old gloves), and sheepskin. The scraps are soaked and washed in a large pot with 1 pound of scraps to 10 points of water. This boiled over a hot fire for approximately 3 hours until it forms a liquid paste and the water in the pot is reduced to two thirds. This is left to cool and then poured over a piece of linen or through a sieve while it is still lightly warm. If the glue is well made it will have a consistency of a very firm, transparent gel when cooled: this will keep for about 8 days in winter and for only 4 or 5 days during the summer, provided that it is kept in a shelter, cellar, or a cool place. No one knows how to keep it for any longer. To make distemper paint one must add in succession the quantity of glue needed, (affoiblir) by adding water and heating the mixture, and adding coloring.

The common way of making white distemper is to soak whiting in a bucket half filled with clear water to yield a form of paste, then take some black carbon, (charcoal powdered) and pass it through a sieve. This is also soaked in water to produce a very liquid substance. Next a small amount of the black liquid is mixed with the white paste and added to the glue appropriately prepared. If not enough glue is used the distemper will rub off on one's clothes. If too much glue is added the paint will peel when applied. As for the reason why the black mixture is added; it is because without this precaution the paint would turn red in contact with air.

Ceilings are painted using 2 coats of whiting mixed with a little of the black mixture. Very little glue is put in the water where the whiting is being crushed, so that the paint will not peel. In this position there is no fear that the color will whiten one's clothing. For whatever color one wishes to apply to the wainscoting, there is one general rule - the first coat or first two coats in white, then after polishing the white coat apply colored coats - squirrel prey, blue, en couleur d'eau, green pale yellow, lilac, pearl grey, Prussian blue, etc., whatever color seems appropriate.

All coats of distemper paint must be applied warm, but not boiling and one must observe not to apply a new coat until the previous one is completely dried.

When wishing to make a distemper paint using ordinary Blanc de Roi, 2 coats of warm parchment sizing are applied, followed by 3 coats of ordinary pulverized whiting, except in the case of the black carbon where a small amount of Prussian blue crushed in water is added to the mixture. The first coat is applied in dabs, so that the color may be well absorbed into the wood, and the other coats are applied with a brush, making sure to tone down (smoothen) the first coat, and remove any small particles with the skin of a dogfish and small pumice stones (fine grain). When wishing to make Blanc de Roi Recherché, apply 6 or 7 coats instead of 3 as before, and after rubbing it down with care, fill in any holes or cavities that appear in the wood, first removing any mouldings or ornaments that could be in the way with different iron bars, finally add another coat and then rub it down with a cloth when it is dry.

The most beautiful of the paints and that which is glossiest is the distemper, known as chipolin. It consists of applying 7 or 8 coats of white finish (blanc d'apprêt), as for the Blanc de Roi Rechcrehé, after having removed the mouldings and ornaments and after having smoothed them with small sticks of white pine. Two coats of the desired colored paint are applied over the white. Then apply one or two coats of very light glue and (delayée à froid) and finally 2 coats of spirit varnish are applied.

Clear varnish is sometimes applied to wood, but then it is necessary to spread 2 or 3 coats of glue (broyée à froid), making sure to spread them evenly. Instead of applying a uniform color on the wainscoting and the mouldings, the ornaments and mouldings can be touched up by a different shade, whether it be lighter or darker than the color on the bottom. This is called rechampir: this method sets off the colors of the mouldings and ornaments and adds decoration to the wainscoting making it more outstanding. [3]


Casein paint consisted of a mixture of casein, hydrated lime, inert pigments, and tinting pigments. Casein had long been in use as a binding medium, but it was displaced in importance by the development of oil binders in the fifteenth century. [4] As far as can be determined, casein was not important in the eighteenth century as a painting material. Casein paint achieved a certain degree of popularity in the nineteenth century because it dried rapidly, did not have a disagreeable odor, and was not as costly as oil paint. [5]

On A Method of Painting With Milk

Formula: 2 quarts of skimmed milk

6 ounces of fresh slacked lime

4 ounces of linseed oil

5 ounces of Spanish white

The lime and enough milk to make a smooth mixture were to be combined, the oil added by degrees, then the remainder of the milk, and finally the spanish white. The milk might be curdled but should never be sour. The spanish white must be crumbled and spread upon the surface of the liquid, and when it sank it must be stirred with a stick. This paint was used on plaster walls, and could be colored with charcoal, yellow ochre, etc. [6] A rule for "resinous painting in milk" for outside work calls for adding to the above 2 ounces each of slacked lime, oil, and white turpentine. [7]

Essentially, whitewash can best be described as sort of liquid plaster made of lime and water. Hydrated lime was easily made by calcining limestone, oyster shells, or any other similar material in a kiln. When slaked with water and mixed with a small quantity of alum, which acted as a hardener, it could be used as a paint. At best, however, it was only a temporary material. Although it could not make a satisfactory protective coating by itself, lime played a very important role in the manufacture of casein paint.

Casein is very similar to many albuminous substances. It was precipitated from milk, usually skim milk, by the action of dilute acid. Casein paint was relatively easy to make:

Take cheese or curd well drained, 5 oz., slaked lime 1/4 oz., whiting, 10 oz., fine powdered charcoal, 1 dram, water 3 oz. At the moment of commencing the operation, a certain quantity of strong quick lime must be slaked in the least possible quantity of water. This the surest and most speedy method reducing it into fine powder. The lime is to be sifted, in order to separate the pieces which do not, fall down, and of the powder seven grammes are to be weighted. The quantity of cheese above indicated is to be taken and pounded till it has the appearance of salve, and with this the seven grammes of lime are to be mixed, and the mixture well agitated, which loses its consistence and acquires that of hot new made glue.

On the other hand, whiting in powder is taken, and added to the water and charcoal, and the whole accurately mixed. This mixture may be passed through an open sieve, in order that it may be reduced to a liquid homogenous paste.

The mixture of lime and cheese is then to be added, and carefully mixed with that of the whiting and charcoal diffused in water. The color is then finished. [8]

The casein was dissolved by the alkali supplied in the form of lime. The mixture dried to make a hard, durable paint that could not be re-dissolved by water, and, as such, it was relatively permanent. If a small quantity of linseed oil was added to the liquid casein paint, its weathering quality was even further enhanced, and it could be used as an exterior finish.

Most of the common pigments could be utilized to tint casein paint. The only ones that did not work well were the colors, such as Prussian blue, which were changed or destroyed by an alkali. [9]

WHITEWASH. An old whitewash recipe which was found impervious either to rubbing or flaking is the following: 

2 pecks of unslacked lime 

5 pounds of rice flour 1 pound of common glue 

5 gallons of hot water

(plus what is used for slacking the lime)

Slack the lime with hot water. Cover and let stand overnight. Make a paste by mixing the rice flour with cold water. Put the glue into a receptacle with twice its volume of cold water. Let stand until dissolved or saturated, then cook without boiling. Mix everything together and stir until well mixed. For outdoor work a quart of rock salt should be dissolved and the wash should be applied warm. [10]

Recommended Surface Preparation Before Whitewashing.

All dirt, scale or other loose material should be removed from the surface to be painted by brushing well with a clean stiff brush, or by first scraping, then brushing. This procedure is necessary especially on surfaces that have been whitewashed before, since there will be no solid surface to which the new coating can adhere if the old whitewash is scaly.

On the interior walls and ceilings old whitewash or calcamine coatings should be washed off with a cloth or sponge and hot water. In some cases it may be necessary to use vinegar or a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid to effect complete removal of the previous coat. Grease and dirt should be removed with a scraper, if necessary, then it should be thoroughly washed with water. Nail holes and cracks should be filled with a mixture of four parts of hydrated lime or lime putty and one part of plaster of parts with enough water to make a thick paste. This paste should be forced into the holes and carefully smoothed off flush with the plaster surface by means of a putty knife or old case knife.

Before applying the fresh coat, the surface should be dampened so that the whitewash will dry gradually. If whitewash is applied to a bone-dry surface, it usually will chalk and rub off easily.

In eighteenth century Louisbourg, the whitewashing over the roughcast walls and the plastered walls was done with two coats of quicklime cement. On the day that it was to be used, or even the day before, the second layer of whitewash had mixed in it some glue in sufficient quantity to make sure that it did not rub off. This was not to be applied until the first coat was properly dry. The contractor provided buckets, brushes, scaffolding, and the tools necessary for these works, and he was paid by the square toisé. [12]

OF MEASURING. Painters measure their work by the yard superficial, and in taking the dimensions of their work, they run a string all over where the brush has been, for they say (and it is but reason) that they ought to be paid for all where the brush goes.

But sometimes in rails, or bannisters, they will measure it, as if it were flat measure; and agreed upon trying the experiment, there has been so little difference found, that it would not countervail the trouble of girting and casting up.

So that painters work is measured the same as joiners, only painters never reckon work and half, but work once; twice, three times, etc., done over; or at so much per yard, according to the work.

They always reckon double work for painting window shutters, if both sides are painted alike, otherwise according to the value of the painting.

They reckon sash-frames by themselves (at so much per piece, and likewise mantle-pieces) when there is no painting about them; but if they stand in the wainscot, they measure them as plain work, not deducting anything for the vacancy.

Gates and outward doors - per yard

Shop windows are of the same price as gates and outward doors.

Window frames each light, according to their size.

Sash-lights - per light.

Sash-frames - per frame.

Iron casements are per casement, according as they are in bigness.

Iron bars of windows are per bar, or more, if very large.

Chimney-pieces are per chimney-piece.

Pales are per yard.

Colors. The colors used in painting are white and red lead, spanish, white brown, verdigrease, smalt, etc. [13]


The taking of the dimensions, is the same with that of joiners, by girting over the mouldings, etc., in taking the height, and it is but reasonable that they should be paid for what both their time and color are expended in. The casting up after the dimensions have been taken and reduced into yards, is altogether the same with that of joiners work; but the painter never reckons work and half; but reckons his work once, twice or thrice colored over.

But this is to be remembered, that window-lights, window-bars, casements and such like things, are done at so much per piece. Example. If a room be painted, whose height (being girt over the mouldings) is 16 feet 6 inches, and the compas of the room be 97 feet 

     F.           I. 

     97           9 

     16           6  




     48      :      10      :      6


9 ) 1612  :      10      :      6  

                      Facit 179 yards, 1 foot

                     By Scale and Compasses

Extend the compasses from 9 to 16.5, and that extent will reach 

from 97.75 to 179 2 yards. [14]

Return to the First Page 

Retour à la page première


Return to the Previous Page

Retour à la page précédente