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earth pigments and handmade paint

 
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Hi Francis, I am doing well. Getting ready to leave Qatar tomorrow where I've been visiting my husband who is working out here. Today there was a sandstorm so I couldn't go out to explore as planned, though. I'm amazed at your crayons! They're beautiful. And so professionally formed and wrapped, too. I didn't even know there were crayon molds like that! Maybe the green stone just doesn't have much pigment to it? Does your rock tumbler have a rubber liner? Mine does, and I think it's the rubber that is causing the color transfer. I may try it without it and see if that helps. One day I would love to try making some crayons or pastels. I haven't yet looked into how the pastels are made. Have you begun to sell the crayons? I would imagine the scented ones do smell very nice and it's a shame they won't sharpen good. Sandalwood is a nice scent, too. Maybe there's a different essential oil you could try that would require less volume to give good scent. Thank you so much for sharing your work here. If you used a dark paper, I bet the light green would work great even as it is.

The difference between the bone and charred wood is huge in color and texture. The black is deeper and more velvety. It is matte though, whereas the charcoal does keep a slight reflectiveness the bone does not. I read somewhere that bone makes the blackest of blacks and so far that has proved out for me. When thoroughly charred, there is no grit and the dried paint wets instantly. With the charred wood I have a bit of effort to get a good black application, though it does fine for gray. One thing I haven't done yet is experiment to see whether the species of bone matters or the type of bone. So far I've only used deer vertebra. But I have a good bit of other bone parts to try when I get more time. I know there is a difference in the charcoal made from various types of wood, though, and perhaps the problem with my charred wood black is the wood I used. I used a hardwood (oak or hickory, not sure which) for the paint, but later made willow sticks for drawing charcoal and it was much softer than the hardwood. So I may experiment later with paints from the various woods too. So many things to experiment with and so little time, lol.
 
pollinator
Posts: 147
Location: acadian peninsula, New Brunswick, Canada
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I'll definitely experiment with charred bone. It's hard to imagine a blacker black than what I've got now, I want to see that.

I haven't tried selling my crayons. I don't see why one would buy this as you can get a multitude of colors for next to nothing. Although If I ever get the scented recipe right I might try offering those.  

My tumbler uses all rubber barrels, no linings. I used it to polish silver using steel shot, polish semi-precious stones using abrasives and now to crush pigments using marbles. I couldn't detect any contamination in my lighter pigments. The tumbler sells for around 250$ CAN while individual barrels can be found for 50$ CAN. The barrels are good but in my opinion the tumbler itself isn't worth the money.


As for the molds I make them myself. Here is a collage of the process.


Madison Woods wrote:So many things to experiment with and so little time, lol.


Yes I know! I try to combine interests to make the most of my resources. All the crayon materials are from cosmetics projects. Charcoal is for cooking, biochar, woodgas, metal working and pigment. Mold making for pottery (slip casting), metal casting and garden ornaments. Etc. Etc. Etc. I've always been a slave to my curiosity.

Safe travels Madison :)
 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Just thought I'd pop in and see if everyone is still working with their pigments? Since first starting this thread, I've been working at trying to make better paints and feel like I've made some progress. I've also been working at painting larger, and just finished the biggest yet at 22" x 30". It's a grayscale using bone black and bone white I made by charring foraged (probably) deer bones. As for the other colors, I've found that washing the ground up pigments and then pouring the water into a jar (without pouring the heavier material that immediately sinks in the first jar) gives me a much smoother paint that's a lot easier to wet and use. My husband also gifted me with a prospector's rock crusher and oh wow it makes crushing the rocks so much easier than the mortar and pestle. Here's a pic of the crusher (he made the cart and mounted the motor and covered the pulley, too) and the most recent painting. I have a post at the website about the crusher, if you're interested in learning more about that: Rock crusher It's definitely a game changer for my paint-making endeavor. Hope y'all are all weathering the winter well. It's not yet 10*F here today, about 5" of snow on the ground with about that much more on the way. ~ Madison

 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Hello everyone, just popping in to drop a link to an article at my blog about how I've been making the paints lately. It's been so hard to get really smooth paints from just crushing the rocks, that I've been washing the pigments first. Here's a brief outline of what I do:

- grind about 1/4 cup of pigment rock
- put the dust in a quart jar
- fill the jar with water, shake well
- pour off the colored water
- set the sludge from the first jar aside, let it dry out, grind again later
- let the colored water settle, pour off the clear water, let the sludge dry and use that to make the paint

Here's my post at my website with photos: Making Smooth Paint from Rock Dust

You can continue to wash the first grinds until it doesn't give colored water anymore, then combine all the sludges from those jars. But sometimes, the different washings give a different shade of color. And the the later grinding of the original washed pigment sometimes is a little different too.

Here's the latest painting, a historic building at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. It's going to be in an exhibit over there for the month of June. I'm pretty excited, it's my first museum exhibit, and a first solo exhibit, too.

The blue in this one comes from the petals of Asiatic dayflower. I can't make a 'paint' with it, because it just won't store that way. But it can be stored by just putting the juice onto blotter paper and letting it sun dry. This is a fairly permanent blue, it is light-stable, too. I'm pretty excited about this. It's my adaptation of an ancient Japanese technique for storing the color. I have an article about that, too: A Stable Blue

Anyway, I'm still busy making paints and learning how to paint better with them. Hope y'all are too.

 
pollinator
Posts: 280
Location: Calhoun County, West Virginia
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If using coinage is not cheating, salt some pennies and scrape off the verdigris, you probably have thought of this, but you could scrape rusty nails or a dedicated railroad spike for iron-oxide.

Have you tried to oxidize lead wheel weights or fishing weights? If memory recalls, exposed to water after long periods of time, I do believe they turn blue-green.

Although not Earth pigments, Coffee, tea, Walnut hulls, Turmeric, Beet Juice Im sure you know about.  If you have  problem predatory bugs try insects, which were ancient sources of dyes.
 
Posts: 22
Location: Cowlitz County, Washington
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Wow, these are gorgeous! I had no idea that watercolors could be homemade. Does it take special machinery? I look forward to reading through your blog and looking at all of your amazing paintings.
 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Hi Gilligan, Thanks! I hope you find some interesting and useful info while you're reading through my blog. I try to record the things I discover as I'm working with our pigments. There was nothing I could find about our local sources when I first started, and as far as I know, I'm the only one here doing so now. However, there's a lot on pigment usage from all over other parts of the world, and they're basically the same, so that is helpful. I just use our local pigments exclusively because I like the idea of a sustainable way to make my art. If I had to, I could also make the paper, and I'm working on a suggestion from one of the commenters earlier to use local cherry trees for the binder. It's going to take me a while to get enough of that harvested, but it's a long term plan to eliminate the dependency on imported gum Arabic. Everything else is local - the pigments, the honey, and the labor. As for machinery, you don't have to have anything except a way to grind the rocks and you can make a passing paint. I used nothing but a mortar and pestle for a long time, but got a prospector's rock crusher last year. That has been a game changer in that it lets me make a lot more crushed rock and since I also sell the paints, that allows me to make enough for myself and to sell. Other than crushing the rock, you'll need a way to suspend the pigment into the binder. I use a slab of marble and a 'muller', but you can get by to make a useful paint just mixing the binder in a small jar. It just won't be something you'd be able to sell easily, but to use for yourself, would work fine. So it's a nice low overhead entry for anyone who wants to simply explore the possibilities.

Hi Michael - I started going down some of those rabbit holes early on and quickly retreated, haha! But to answer your questions, the rusty nails and spikes definitely would make a nice rust color. I have not tried working with the lead, as the oxides of lead are very dangerous when inhaled and I don't have a respirator rated for it at the moment. But lead oxides make a nice white, actually. I did fool around with some copper to make some verdigris, but there's a similar issue with the copper toxicity, just not to the same level. In the end I left all of those methods alone so I could focus on what's easily and readily available at my feet, literally. I'd like to visit a pigment museum (I think it's in France) where they have collections of all of those sources like the lead, and a tons of others like arsenic and mercury too. There is also a really nice yellow derived from urine of cows that were fed certain leaves, papaya or guava, I think. LOL. Once all the toxic oxides are sealed into the paint binder, there's no danger of the painting being toxic, but lots of artists of old went crazy or got sick from using some of them. So I've left them all aside, for now, until I am more skilled in what I'm doing... or maybe what I'm using from the local sources will entertain me the rest of my life. But it's still interesting to learn about them all! I have experimented with the plants from around here, as well as coffee. The problem with most of the plant sources is that they fade. Some quickly, almost like disappearing ink, others take more time. I have thought about using the bugs that get on the prickly pear catcus... but those need to be pregnant... so the idea of doing that just isn't something I want to do at the moment. However, if I needed a really powerful red for some special purpose, those little bugs would be a good source. So many interesting facets to this whole topic that are all potential rabbit holes, lol. Thanks for stimulating more conversation about all of this!
 
Posts: 34
Location: High mountain desert, Northern NM
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I've been experimenting with producing pigments and making handmade oil paints of late, and was excited to see other people here thinking along the same lines.

We have a lot of "good dirt" for pigment making here in Northern New Mexico (Georgia O'Keeffe country).  A short walk from my house is a nice deposit of of a white clay (which can make a buff off-white, or be used in addition to other colors to change the chroma or working properties).  And, around, there are many kinds of reds and even deep purple hematities.  Unfortunately a lot of that is on either public or tribal lands and securing permissions to collect them is difficult/impossible.

I made a lamp black by scraping soot from the top of the fireplace, then washing it.  It resists dispersion, but makes a nice deep (and complex) blue-black.  I've also ground up some rocks; the most promising seems be be our local basalt which makes a rather luminous grey.  I find that the earth and oxide pigments benefit from and/or require long mulling to really smooth out the colors and bring out the full chroma of the color, but that might be different in watercolors.  My wife is the watercolorist in the family, and has expressed willingness to try some homemade watercolors, if I find a particularly striking/useful pigment.

I'd like to branch into plant-based lake pigments next -- combining my gardening habit with the painting!  The classic, moderately lightfast colors are madder (pink/red), indigo and/or woad for blues and weld for yellow.  In the past, I've only been interested in absolutely lightfast colors, but I've decided it would be fun to try organic colors that I've grown myself.  In some cases the pigment can be considerably more lightfast than the dye, so there is still scope to find new useful combinations (especially among new-world plants).
 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Hi Chad, oh, I so want to try making oil paints. But until I have a better working space for it, I'll stay with the watercolors. The longer you mull them the better for watercolor too. And to get finer pigment, I wash the coarse ground pigments (then grind again). I let the wash water settle and use that as a super-fine powder to make the paint from.

You sound like you've got a nice array of colors there, too. Perhaps you can offer to make paints for someone in one of the tribes, and they can supply you with enough rocks for both of you? I tried lamp black and didn't get a nice black like you did, but I suspect that's because it wasn't really 'lamp' black, but just soot from our woodstove and probably had a lot of iron in it. I got really good black from charred bone and charred willow made a decent black, too. But since I found some bitumen on our property, those were my go-to's for black. We just don't have any stone or clay source that provides a strong green and no blue at all. But at least I have a plant pigment blue that will last for many years if kept out of UV, from a local plant. But it bothers me deeply that it isn't as lightfast as I'd like. So I'm going to try growing some indigo and seeing if I can make Maya blue, which I think is supposed to be more lightfast. And I've tried to stay lightfast only, AND local only. But that doesn't stop me from collecting pigments when I travel, nor making paints from them. LOL, I might even paint a series of paintings with them and just do subjects found in their home location, like landscapes from the Rockies using rocks I'll collect out there next week

We have only one clay that I've found here, but it works very nicely for making small items and firing them in a pit fire. I haven't had time to experiment much more with it, but plans are to use it for making paint palette trays for a nice set of Ozark pigments in Ozark clay. The few that I tried worked well.

This has been such a learning journey for me, and it's exciting to know there's so much more yet to learn. Not only in how to make paints, but even how to paint better. Thanks for sharing your story, too!
 
Chad Meyer
Posts: 34
Location: High mountain desert, Northern NM
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I'm still in the process of gaining experience; when to wet grind, when to just dry grind, when and how many times to wash, etc.  I don't have any equipment (rock smasher or ball mill), just hammer and mortar and pestle.  

I'd love to try (at least once) to put together a painting as completely as possible from locally sourced, and homemade materials.  I'm imagining growing flax for the fiber (to make linen canvas) AND the oil, pressing and refining it by hand (or collecting local walnuts and preparing oil from them), collecting pigments from the earth, growing dyestuff and making my own lake pigments, maybe doing some home chemistry.  Riving and preparing lumber from my own tree to make a panel or stretcher bars, or frames.

Of course, there are limits; I'm unlikely to make my own palette knife or mold my own muller or make a flat glass sheet.  Some materials (chalk, for instance) might just not be easy to dig up.

To me, the only thing that I need in "working space" for oils that I wouldn't need for watercolors is somewhere to leave the painting to dry in the light for a while without any children touching it.  I really like the feel of oil paints, and homemade paints are able to achieve a whole range of working properties that commercial paints just don't have.  I'd also like to try egg tempera (which you could start with just pigments and egg or mull them in water or another aqueous dispersion first).  

I've never tried to make maya pigments; to be honest before I read it here I didn't know it was possible to do at home.  I've read that they have really good working properties in paint due to the clay content, and the way the dyes are absorbed into the clay can impart surprising lightfastness to otherwise fugitive dyes.  The company that had been making them had produced maybe 6-8 different "maya" pigments (though they seem to have mostly folded), and I have no idea what kinds of colorants they were able to do this with.
 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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All I had was a mortar and pestle for a long time, but sure do appreciate my rock crusher now. As for maya colors, I haven't gotten to researching enough to see what's involved, but just assumed I would be able to do it from materials found here. That might not turn out to be the case. Blue is the main one I want to make, and I thought maybe the blue from the dayflower petals I'm using now might be able to be stored on the clay instead of paper, but we'll see. I love to experiment and more turn out to be failures than successes, but I love the ones that prove useful.

As for oils/vs/watercolor and requirements, it just seems awful messy to work with oils, lol. I feel like I'd need more space for cleaning supplies, I guess. And room to leave paintings out to dry... but I suppose I could just hang them on the wall while they dry. However, I might have an entire little studio space to use soon. My parents don't want their camper anymore and it's parked here on our property, so I might convert that to my new little art and writing studio. Then I'll feel more able to experiment with the oils.

I love your desire to make a painting from the ground up from local or self-procured parts. It's a goal of mine, too. With the watercolors, I currently buy honey locally, but don't have hives myself, and have plum and cherry trees that I could use for the binder resin. Haven't tried that yet, though. I did try making my own paper and that was a failure, lol. I have to learn more about that. But I did make some hide glue for grounds, and although that wasn't 'good', I can see ways to improve it. So not entirely a failure, but not entirely from scratch, either, because I bought dried hide granules to start with. For oils, I want to make them from oil sources I could conceivably come up with if I had to create my own, like safflower, sunflower, walnut, or flax. We do have pines here, so I suppose if I had to, I could distill some spirits. But in the meantime I'll buy the odorless stuff I saw advertised somewhere. And we do have a local sunflower oil producer, so I can keep it fairly local with ingredients. Hubs is waiting on his sawmill to arrive and although I know he has a ton of other things on his list of things to do with it, haha, I sure do hope to get some panels and frames out of it sooner rather than later!

Yep, it would be pretty difficult to come up with a way to make the mulling plate or muller, but a flat rock and metate rock for the hand could work if it had to. We have artifacts of both out here that were used for grinding grains and nuts if I wanted to scavenge for one. It would be extremely hard to maintain the paint colors without blending into the plate rock color, but better than nothing. If we have nothing else here, it's an abundance of rocks in an abundance of shapes and sizes.

I've been on a 3-week break from art biz and am entering the 4th and hopefully final week. Too many other family things going on for the past month and next week is a mental/physical break, a 'real' vacation to Colorado. When we come back, I'm going to start working on that studio camper if my parents decide they really don't want it anymore :D We have them all set up with power, so it'll be a sweet little setup if it pans out.
 
Chad Meyer
Posts: 34
Location: High mountain desert, Northern NM
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I think oils get a bad rap and it's worth clarifying some things here.  First of all, I don't consider oil painting any messier than other painting; if you want to see "messy" watch my kids doing watercolor!  Much of that comes to personal style and/or technique which is equally true of nearly every art medium.

Solvents are another issue.  I avoid them.  They are unnecessary, especially if you make your own paints and understand how they work.  It is true that you'll probably need more brushes in that case, or you can mostly apply with palette knives like some people do and then just wipe them off with a rag.  The solvents become necessary because: 1) some commercial paints contain nasty stuff -- driers, solvents, additives -- in order to make the paint perform uniformly from color to color, but naturally the individual pigments would have different characters (I bet you see that in watercolors as well). 2) Some artists prefer certain working properties and/or fast drying that are unachievable with commercially available oils.  3) Some artists have wanted to incorporate resins into their paint which requires a solvent.  All use of solvents are not bad, but most of it is unnecessary.  If you start out making paints yourself and avoiding solvents completely, you won't fall into bad habits you need to break later!

Pigments in oil paints (all paints, really) can be quite poisonous as well.  If you are careful you could use them, but you need to be careful.  I don't want to be handling cadmium or lead dust, especially in a home with children.  But, there are a lot of less-toxic options (I'm not going to call any of these non-toxic, but I don't mind handling iron oxide or dirt or rocks).

The oils themselves are also an important discussion.  I strongly recommend you start with oil you can trust, probably that you've tested, preferably linseed.  Safflower and sunflower are marginal driers and are likely to not make a stable paint film.  I've read that it might come down to the growing conditions and specific varieties whether it ever dries.  Walnut oil is a slow dryer but makes a reliable paint film if you're patient (but it might be a few weeks between layers).  Linseed is the classic, but commercially refined oils tend to yellow and be relatively slower drying than hand-refined oil.  The "dark horse" is hemp oil which seems to be between linseed and walnut in drying, reliably non-yellowing and with interesting properties (but not a long pedigree in art conservation, so unknowns in the long run).  The earth pigments will likely help the paint dry more quickly, but the mineral pigments may or may not.

I could rant on and on about all of this.  It's not necessary (or even necessarily useful) to control the entire process from start to finish.  It depends on personal preference.  I like it because there is so much to learn, and in the end, I think I like the learning even more than the making of the art.  It also forces one to slow down, which is the opposite of many "mainstream" and "working" artists today -- a luxury a hobbyist with a day job can have!  If your oil might be aged for 6 months to 2 years or more, your dyestuff for pigment might take 2-3 years just to grow to maturity, etc., that makes a week's drying time between layers to be completely within reason.  But, again, that's my own approach and not universally needed!
 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Thanks so much for this information. I'll try to keep all that in mind!
 
Posts: 31
Location: United States
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Beautiful work, and ideas Madison. Thanks for sharing, so lovely to look at. I have dyed fabrics, textiles and yarn with natural plants, teas, clay and would love to make my own paints. I did milk paint prior and was looking to do whole house I bought in it and with all natural jean and cotton insulation ( commercial brand but organic)  I got, but got  divorced and selling that property . I love collecting rocks and would not want to crush but I guess could work myself up too...lol
 
Madison Woods
Posts: 46
Location: northwest AR (USA)
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Hi Angel, thanks! I'm sorry you had to rethink your house makeover, but I hope one day you'll have a new place of your own to run free with your ideas. Almost had to sell this property when I got divorced, too, and thankful that didn't happen. So I feel you. I love collecting rocks, too, but since discovering the paints, I can't help but crush some of them now. I have piles of them outside that aren't crushed - just gathered and on handy standby if I take a notion to bust one open. In the meantime, they decorate and serve retainer walls in the garden I have a few that I won't crush... some with fossils, and an Arkansas turquoise, and wavelight, both of which are just too rare to crush.
 
Angel Bellamissio
Posts: 31
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Thank you so much Madison for your kindness,  it means a lot.  
 
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