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#1 2023-05-02 02:59:05

Jai Ganesh
Registered: 2005-06-28
Posts: 46,703

Distemper (paint)

Distemper (paint)


Distemper is a decorative paint and a historical medium for painting pictures, and contrasted with tempera. The binder may be glues of vegetable or animal origin (excluding egg). Soft distemper is not abrasion resistant and may include binders such as chalk, ground pigments, and animal glue. Hard distemper is stronger and wear-resistant and can include casein or linseed oil as binders.

Soft distemper

Distemper is an early form of whitewash, also used as a medium for artistic painting, usually made from powdered chalk or lime and size (a gelatinous substance). Alternatives to chalk include the toxic substance white lead.

Distempered surfaces can be easily marked and discoloured, and cannot be washed down, so distemper is best suited to temporary and interior decoration. The technique of painting on distempered surfaces blends watercolors with whiting and glue. "The colours are mixed with whitening, or finely-ground chalk, and tempered with size. The whitening makes them opaque and gives them 'body,' but is also the cause of their drying light ... a source of considerable embarrassment to the inexperienced eye is that the colours when wet present such a different appearance from what they do when dry."

Many Medieval and Renaissance painters used distemper painting rather than oil paint for some of their works. The earliest paintings on canvas were mostly in distemper, which was (and is) also widely used in Asia, especially in Tibetan thankas. Distemper paintings suffer more than oil paintings as they age, and relatively few have survived. It was the most common medium for painting banners and decorations for temporary celebrations, both of which attracted artists of the highest quality, especially when they were official court artists. In distemper painting, "the carbonate of lime, or whitening employed as a basis, is less active than the pure lime of fresco ... to give adhesion to the tints and colours in distemper painting, and to make them keep their place, they are variously mixed with the size of glue (prepared commonly by dissolving about four ounces [110 g] of glue in an imperial gallon [4.5 l; 1.2 US gal] of water). Too much of the glue disposes the painting to crack and peel from the ground; while, with too little, it is friable and deficient in strength."

The National Gallery, London, distinguishes between the techniques of glue, glue size, or glue-tempera, which is how they describe their three Andrea Mantegnas in the medium, and distemper, which is how they describe their Dirk Bouts and two Édouard Vuillards. Other sources would describe the Mantegnas as also being in distemper.

In modern practice, distemper painting is often employed for scenery painting in theatrical productions and other short-term applications, where it may be preferred to oil paint for reasons of economy. Contemporary artist John Connell was known for using distemper in paintings sometimes as large as ten feet.

In architecture, distemper paints usually consist of a glue binder with calcium carbonate as the base pigment.

Military use

The distemper winter camouflage paint on this Soviet MiG-3 fighter airplane shows severe erosion due to weathering.
Distemper was used extensively by German and Soviet forces for winter camouflage during World War II. Because ordinary camouflage patterns were ineffective in the heavy snow conditions on the Eastern front, aircraft, tanks, and other military vehicles were hastily brush-painted with plain white distemper during the winter of 1941–1942. Because distemper is water-soluble, photographs showing winter camouflage often show it badly eroded.

During the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, all Allied aircraft participating in the invasion were marked on the wings and fuselage with "invasion stripes" painted with distemper so that naval or ground-based gunners would not mistake them for German planes and fire on them as had happened during the invasion of Sicily in 1943.

Examples of paintings in distemper

* Fayum mummy portraits, from Late Antique Egypt (some in encaustic)
* Dirk Bouts Entombment, 1450s. National Gallery, London
* Many paintings by Mantegna
* The Raphael Cartoons, London
* Scottish Renaissance painted ceilings
* Édouard Vuillard Lunch at Vasouy, 1901, Tate Modern.
* Mark Tobey's White Journey, modern
* Le Grand Teddy by Édouard Vuillard

Additional Information

Applying paints to your house gives a sense of completion, newness, freshness and increases the aesthetics of your house. There are many types of paint available in the market, such as emulsion paint, distemper paint, cement paint, latex paint, enamel paint, etc. Distemper paint is an old water based paint, which is used to paint interior walls. Here we have given brief information on distemper paint, its properties and uses.

Distemper paint is water based paint, which is made up of water, chalk and pigments. Animal glue or resins are used in binding the materials. It is an early form of white wash. It is of course better than whitewash but inferior to oil paints and emulsion paints. It gives an elegant, smooth, attractive and slightly uneven look.

Uses of Distemper Paint

Distemper paint is mostly applied only on the walls and ceiling surface. It also proves to be ideal for temporary interior paint works. Distemper paint is generally applied to interior walls, as it is not waterproof. For regions where there is very less rainfall, it may be used to paint exterior walls.

Properties of Distemper Paint

Distemper paint has the ability to breathe and hence allows underlying moisture to escape from the surface and away from the masonry unlike oil paints. It is one of the best paint which sets well on the new freshly traditional plastered wall. Other paints like an oil-based paint can react with the high lime content of traditional plaster. It causes the paint to go viscous and can easily react with alkalis to form a soapy mess.

Distemper paints are decorative paint and are easy to apply. If you are planning to paint your house on your own, then follow the “DIY” instructions on the manufacturer’s brochures. You do not need of skilled labours for its application.
Distemper paints can be applied using a paint brush, a roller and also you can use a spray. But before you use it, you have to read first manufacturer’s brochures as various manufacturers’ recommends different method of application.
Distemper paints are not ready to use. You have to add thinner (water) before the application. If you don’t add thinner in the paint, there are chances of appearing various paint defects such as brush marks defect, sagging defect, on finished paint walls.


* Distemper paint can be easily cleaned, by a mild detergent solution. If after the paint job, there are spots on the floor, then it can be easily cleaned by a wet cloth. Distempered walls can be scuffed and scratched easily. Therefore, it is not recommended for high traffic areas and mostly used where appearance is not more important.

* The life of distemper paint is 3 to 5 years. It is not flexible and also not waterproof paint.

* Distemper paints give eye soothing matte finish. It has low VOC content.

The coverage of distemper paint is 4.5 to 5 sq. mt./liter approximately for two coats. It also depends on factors such as method and condition of application and surface roughness and porosity.

* They are less expensive than other paints and are available in low to medium cost range in the market. They are available 1000+ in shades in 1 Kg, 2 Kg, 5kg, 10 Kg, 20 Kg packs.


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