11.25.2013

Dear Art Accomplice: Painting a Coat-of-Arms?

I am a self-taught artist, commissioned to paint a family Coat of Arms...I prefer the look of the medieval black background, but cannot find many examples. Where could I find examples of old, dark paintings of Coat of Arms?  And do you have any tips on painting armour?  I have Winsor and Newton metallics, but they not very opaque.
-Barbara in Toronto

If you're looking for an older, more authentic style - why not go right to the source and look at original medieval art, especially manuscripts.


Many libraries and museums have digitized their collections.  While the access is wonderful, big collections can be hard to browse if you aren't searching for a specific manuscript.  An easier way is to do an image search on Google (or whatever search engine you prefer).  I noticed that the search results were better when I added the century, for example "13th century illuminated manuscripts" or "12th century coat of arms."
showing the arms of Richard de Clare II,
Earl of Hertford and Gloucester; early 16th century

Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince of Wales;
from William Bruge's Garter Book, c. 1430-40

The Codex Manesse; 14th century 
The Codex Manesse; 14th century
The Codex Manesse; 14th century

Another type of medieval art that might be helpful to look at is stained glass.  It was an important medium in the Middle Ages and may give the bold lines and dark background you're looking for.  Here again, an image search on a specific century should turn up a few examples.



You're right about metallic paint - it is not very opaque. Try putting down a layer of color, similar in value to the metallic. Let that dry, then go over it with the metallic paint. To paint the silver of armor, for example, first put down a layer of gray (middle value). Then, when it's dry, go over it with the silver metallic. If it's still not "metallicky" enough, give it an additional coat.  For gold, you might put down a layer of yellow ochre first.  You can also try mixing the metallic directly into the color though, personally, I think layering works better.

Thanks for your question!
All the best,
Art Accomplice

Additional Information:
The art and science of "coat-of-arms" is called heraldry.  Heraldry became a necessity in the 12th century when knights began wearing helmets that fully covered the face. Devices on shields, surcoats (coat-of-arms) and horse trappings were needed to identify knights in battle and tournaments.  Heraldry is a visual language in which each color, pattern and symbol has a meaning.  This is a popular subject so you should have no trouble finding books cataloging heraldic devices (as always, check your local library first).  A good introductory web site is internationalheraldry.com

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