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earth pigments and handmade paint

 
Posts: 34
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Hi, I make my watercolors from stones, clay, and a few of the light-fast plants I've found here in the Ozarks. Would love to share and discuss this topic with others who make or are interested in making paints. I'm going to be short on time to reply in depth or often until the end of November, but in the meantime I'll be able to drop by and contribute some between now and then.

I have some blog posts about making the paint and the media for watercolor here: (Updated with links to new website!)

https://www.paleopaints.com/make-your-own-watercolor/
https://www.paleopaints.com/media/

My favorite painting so far is attached to this post. This uses entirely Ozark colors. You can see some of the other paintings I've done with my colors here:

https://www.paleopaints.com/painting/



For the most part, I use only my local resources. But we don't have anything light-fast to make blue or green, so for those I use other stones or minerals or clay from other areas. For green I'm using French green clay and for blue I'm using lapis lazuli. I try to not use much blue at all because the stone is expensive and I only have a few rocks of it my husband brought me while he was working in Afghanistan.

Are any of you out there using your local sources to make paints? I know it's common with fiber artists to dye their own fibers. With painting, there are a lot of colors available, but not so many outside of the brown/yellow ranges that are light fast. The earth pigments (from stone or clay) are very light-fast, but I've only found sassafras and black gum so far as light fast plant sources. I suspect that maple and sweet gum might also be good sources, but haven't had time to test them yet.
Kestrel-No-3-print-600px.jpg
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Kestrel no. 3
 
pollinator
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This is amazing! We have green sandstone here I have to try.
 
Madison Woods
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Francis - Awesome! Post some pics to show how it does. I would be interested in trading some rocks with you for some :) I'm in the middle of a big project right now but will be finished by the end of November. That's when I'll be getting back to the paint making in full throttle mode :)
 
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Madison, I registered just to suggest that you try using the sap from wild cherry trees growing in the Ozarks instead of gum arabic. You can use the sap from any Prunus tree to make your binder. I get the balls that ooze from my peach tree to make watercolor binder and the paint is fine. If your binder is also sourced locally, your paint will be that much more authentically local.
 
Madison Woods
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Cindy - thank you!! I've been looking at sweet gum resin, too, but just haven't had time to experiment with it yet. That was the plan, to have a paint entirely of the Ozarks! Oh, I can't wait to start collecting the sap too now.
 
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Cindy McKee wrote:Madison, I registered just to suggest that you try using the sap from wild cherry trees growing in the Ozarks instead of gum arabic. You can use the sap from any Prunus tree to make your binder. I get the balls that ooze from my peach tree to make watercolor binder and the paint is fine. If your binder is also sourced locally, your paint will be that much more authentically local.



Welcome to Permies! Hope you stay around, sounds like you have great information to share, we always want to hear cool info :)
 
Madison Woods
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My website is still down, but it's beginning to show some sporadic signs of life. If it's not back up by tomorrow I'll see if I can dig those posts out of the database and move them to another site I have under construction just for the Paleo Paints and art.
 
Madison Woods
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Here’s a rock I found the other day that will make a good color.
BD06969D-53CC-4969-91E4-B16EC31B2756.jpeg
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Cindy McKee
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BTW, I love your kestrel.
You (We) can use fugitive plant dyes to make a traditional painting, photograph it and make tons of prints from the photo, while the original painting fades.
That way, lots of native plants can be represented.
I say that, because I have trouble mulling clay pigments. I have to use them in casein binder. Rocks are something I haven't even tried.
 
Madison Woods
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Thanks :) The kestrel used russet sandstone, wood char, creek shale, and landslide clay. The clay is some that turned up in a landslide we had in 2015 on our property. A whole bench came down, and found a really nice lepidodendron fossil in it too. I will probably eventually use all those fugitive colors too, because some are really nice. But for the sake of building some income, people seem to want originals. I do scan everything though, and then also make note cards, prints, and even stickers from them. The crow stickers have been really popular.

What gives you the trouble with mulling clay? I start with it dried and powdered and sieved. and it does get sticky while mulling so I tend to make it a little wetter, even to the point of just mixing it with a spatula in a small jar so it can be of a pourable consistency if it's really giving me trouble.

I'm working on getting some cherry sap to try btw. We have a lot of wild cherries here! A friend is going to try and gather it. Do you know if the sticky balls will form at this time of year or only in spring?

To use the rocks, I pulverize them in the mortar/pestle.

My website is still having problems, and I've made things a little worse before they're going to get better. So I'm transferring those posts over to the new site as I get time. Also trying to get ready for a big festival coming up and have a lot more to do with that. I so want to get back to the painting and paintmaking. It's going to be a while yet.
 
pollinator
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Have you folks tried using honey as a binder? I’m not making my own paints (though I may since you have inspired me, when I have more time), but my favorite commercial brand uses honey as its binder. BTW, very impressed with your beautiful kestrel! Just lovely.
 
Madison Woods
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Cindy Skillman wrote:Have you folks tried using honey as a binder? I’m not making my own paints (though I may since you have inspired me, when I have more time), but my favorite commercial brand uses honey as its binder. BTW, very impressed with your beautiful kestrel! Just lovely.



Hi Cindy, I do use honey in the media, but honey by itself would just remain very sticky and never dry. It's the gum that actually does the binding, but gum Arabic is only one of the gum possibilities that can be used. It just has to be a water soluble gum. One of the other commenters above mentioned that they use the peach or wild cherry gums and high on my list of things to try this year are some of our native binder possibilities. I'm really hoping the sweet gum yields a good binder, since we have so many of those trees here. I'm glad you love the kestrel! Right now I'm working on a series of Twisted Trees and I'm really loving those. On my list of things to do soon is to make my own oil colors using the same pigments, and a goshawk is first on the list of things I want to paint next. Keep in touch and let us know how it goes when you start making some paints!

Here's a Twisted Tree monochrome done in the color I got from a tan colored sandstone. It made a beautiful earthy yellow. I'm not finished with one of the roots in this photo, but you can see where it's going :)

web.jpg
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Francis Mallet
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Madison Woods wrote:Francis - Awesome! Post some pics to show how it does.


You asked for it :P

After I saw this post I built myself a rock crusher. It's like the 3rd time in my life that I got to use a stick welder it was fun!



Then I went to the beach and picked up rocks :)
I always loved picking rocks and now I've got a reason to do it lol



After a couple of whacks



All done! Still gritty but surprisingly fine. It turned out more gray than white.
I also picked up sun bleached seashells. Those are very white I'm curious about how they'll do.



A nice purple one with dark veins. We have lots of pretty rocks on the beach.
It's quite difficult to capture accurate colors with my phone.



This is fun :) I wonder how the color will change once I make paint.



I received a stainless steel mortar last week, I have gum arabic and clove oil. Now I just need time.  I tried grinding the white rock in my mortar and with some work I can get a very fine dust. I'm excited about grinding the purple one too!
I don't think I'm committed enough for a muller just yet, they are expensive and I'm a bit like a weather vane (who knows what I'll be into next spring).

This has made me aware of my region's geology, things that were invisible to me before. Thank you for bringing more color into my life Madison :)
 
Madison Woods
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OMG Francis, I'm so jealous of your rock crusher!! You could skip the stainless mortar and go straight to porcelain with something like that doing your initial crushing. I have to use a hammer on the pestle in my stainless mortar just to crack the rocks to coarse powder. Now I'm going to have to recruit my son to make me something like that. I think with a larger sized pipe section with a bottom to put it down into, that's pretty much a super-sized mortar and pestle combo. But maybe one a wee bit lighter would do the trick for me, lol.

If you like to paint, once you make your colors maybe you'll be hooked for life and that muller will begin to be more enticing. Just don't get the larger sizes or you'll need a huge plate to mull on. I made that mistake, thinking I'd just get the bigger one so I wouldn't have to scale up later. Well, it's just too big for working on my kitchen counter so I got the medium, which works, but I'd still prefer the mini, I think. So after the first two outlays of money, I'm going to wait until I make some money before I buy the mini.

I love the colors of your rock pigments. Thanks for sharing your experiment! Tomorrow I'll be working on more colors and making some prints, stickers and note cards from the tree I just finished painting. My little Etsy shop is just beginning to get some visitors so I am being optimistic in my 'getting ready' to make sales, lol.
 
Francis Mallet
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Thanks Madison. I got the idea from rustic andy over at lumberjocks.  (Rock crushers for inlay)

Mine is too tight a fit, it's more like a piston than a pestle. I intended to use it by hand but then it will send puffs of minerals flying in the air. I don't want to breathe that stuff! Instead I I load a bit of rock in the cylinder then put back the piston and whack it good with a small sledgehammer.

First attempt :)


Some notes for next time:
I don't like the stainless mortar. It stained my hands black and I feel it put some gray in my pigments. I'll try with a porcelain one next time.
I should have filtered the dissolved gum because there is crap and undissolved crystals in my media.
And I think understand the need for a muller now, the dried paint feels coarse compared with my pigments. (pigment clumps?)
 
Cindy Skillman
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I wanted to weigh in on grinding rocks. If crushing and screening them is working well for you, then just ignore me. (LOL) But if it’s giving you fits, you might try a rudimentary ball mill to reduce your well-crushed rock to a fine powder.

I’ve wanted a ball mill for quite a while for fine-grinding pottery glazes, but of course at that size they’re ridiculously expensive. However, for small quantities I think a hobby rock tumbler would work well. You put your colored minerals in along with some small ball bearings (or similar) and grind away. How long it takes will depend on the hardness of your chosen mineral(s). I’m not sure (like I said, I never actually did it) but it’s possible you may also need to add water. I’d try it without water first, though. Fewer steps involved that way, and no messing around with drying out the resultant fine sediment (aka your pigment). (Edit: you do use water... see the video I posted a little ways down.)

If you don’t want to buy/scrounge a rock tumbler, you could also try this: https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-Ball-Mill-in-5-Minutes/

(Edit: The author of the link suggests (among other things) using lead balls. I wouldn’t do that... too soft and of course, toxic. Stick with steel or other hard, nontoxic metals. Tiny glass or ceramic beads may also work, depending on how dense/hard your minerals are.)
 
Madison Woods
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Love the colors. My stainless isn’t losing color but I wonder if eventually it will and think I should find some other way to do the initial grinding too. I have a small porcelain one I use for finer grinding. The muller does grind it further but some of the paints are still grainy after mulling. Mainly what it does is mix the pigment more thoroughly into the media. Some stones do grind down much finer than others, too. So much more experimenting I want to do and so much more to learn. I know someone using a rock polisher with stainless steel balls to make it work like a ball mill and it gives a really fine powder result. But then again it’s using metal that may stain gray too.

Edited to add:

I only have my phone right now and replies are a pain to do but I just also saw the comment from you Cindy- the tumbler idea is one I want to try too. I might see if the porcelain balls work.
 
Cindy Skillman
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I just stumbled across a YouTube video where they’re using a tumbler/ball mill, and they *are* using water.

 
Madison Woods
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Here’s some colors I made this week, and the latest painting. I’ve tried my husband’s old rock tumbler and I see how that could work well but his is old and I think the liner in it is degrading. I need to get a new one but other things are in the priority list for now.
2264A4BC-105B-43FE-A3A8-42042EDB71DA.jpeg
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This week’s colors.
B1F3144A-7890-46EA-A2D2-A52D515C728F.jpeg
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Latest painting.
 
Madison Woods
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Cindy Skillman wrote:I just stumbled across a YouTube video where they’re using a tumbler/ball mill, and they *are* using water.



Cindy, I tried it both ways and it seems to definitely work better wet. It's also better in that the dust cloud doesn't happen when you open the lid and pour out the contents. But our tumbler is very old and the liner is degrading, I think. I found a place to order just the liner for our tumbler, so I'll do that today. It is contributing color and unwanted components to my pigment. I hope it's just because it's old and the new one doesn't do this too.

This rock dust is terribly hazardous, btw, for anyone new reading this thread. Don't breath it and wear a dust mask or respirator to do any of the parts that create dust. At least with the rocks around my house, they're mostly sandstone and the silica is what does the harm when you inhale the dust. I have to say I haven't paid enough attention to this myself but will be going forward so I'm able to keep doing this work for many more years to come.
 
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Madison, did you end up getting your mill?  I'm looking at this one now, and have a question into them about what I should be using:

https://unitednuclear.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=25_35

For $100, it seems like it would save me so many hours of grinding pigments and being exposed to the rock dust (which I am very concerned about).  I'll keep you and others on this thread updated if I decide to go this route.  
 
Madison Woods
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Dana Driscoll wrote:Madison, did you end up getting your mill?  



Hey Dana, after Cindy's suggestions earlier, I've been experimenting with an old rock tumbler that looks a lot like the $349 one listed on your link. At first I didn't think it would work because the liner on it was old. But I found out where to get new ones and have been happy using that. I still resort to the mortar/pestle for small quantities, but the tumbler does a great job. I'm still not convinced that the rubber liner isn't giving some color to the lighter rocks, though. Hubs is going to make me one from stainless without a liner eventually, but that will be a couple of years down the road.

I'd be interested to hear how the one you get does. yes, if it works it'll definitely help with the rock dust and save you a lot of aching hands.

For grinding media I've been using two 2" stainless bearings, and handful of 3/4 inche ones, and a kilo of the ceramic beads. I'd stay away from the lead and lead/antimony ones, and the chrome plated.

Even with the mill/tumbler, I still have to break the rocks up to smaller than 1" chunks for it to work well. Otherwise, it just polishes rather than breaks the rocks.

The latest paint I made was from charred bone, and it made an incredible black. Just recently came back from a pigment gathering trip. I'll be making paint again in June, but have taken a break for the month of May to spend time with the hubs who is home from his overseas job on vacation. When I get the next set done, I'll make some notes here about how it goes with the tumbler and the results.
 
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Hi Madison, your artworks are beautiful.

I forage my own inks in Sydney, Australia and I'm using them to learn how to paint. Here is a list of the colours I use:

Tumeric yellow: powder steeped in alcohol and strained
Spirulina green: powder steeped in alcohol and strained
Pokeweed pink: minced and strained, cloves added for preservative
Acorn cap grey: acorn caps boiled in water and ferrous sulphate mordant (rusty iron nails work too)
Eucalyptus tree sap red: boiled and mixed with gum arabic
Elderberry red/brown: boiled, strained, cloves added
Gyprock/drywall white: powdered, mixed with water and gum arabic, allowed to settle and excess water poured off
Charcoal black: powdered, mixed with water

Many many more colours to come, its quite addictive!. Hope this information is useful :)


 
Madison Woods
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Hi Ben, thanks for sharing! I am going to branch out more into plant pigments this year too, I think. That’s an impressive list you have. My only concern about them is light fastness but I’m just going to get the image scanned as soon as it’s dry and that way I can at least make prints and notecards. But it’s the only way I’ll get blues and greens in my local palette.
 
Ben Schiavi
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In the list I mentioned, spirulina and pokeweed degrade in light very quickly, but tumeric holds up pretty well. For a lightfast blue you can dissolve copper in vinegar and salt in an uncovered container for 1-3 weeks, adding more vinegar if it evaporates too much. I got this information from a book called "Make ink" by Jason Logan
 
Madison Woods
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Thanks for the book reference. I actually have copper on hand to try that and just haven’t done it yet. I need to move it a little higher on my to-do list!
 
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Really nice artworks! Just saw your blog and I already found some interesting topics.
 
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Wow - there are some impressive projects. I'd never even considered do-it-yourself pigments, and my experience with ball mills is a little more industrial, like this: https://www.3agsystems.com/blog/mining-comminution-crusher-ball-mill-advanced-analytics

Such beautiful colors!
 
Madison Woods
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Marcelo Smith wrote: my experience with ball mills is a little more industrial



Oh my. I long for a bigger contraption for crushing my rocks, but that's a bit much! So far my little rock tumbler slash ball mill is working as long as I go outside to break up the rocks a bit first. Here's a nice earthy yellow I'm in the middle of making right now:


Working on the biggest painting yet, of a red-tailed hawk. If you decide to start making pigments and painting, come back and share with us! It can become an obsession... just a warning.

Edited to add the url for the pigment. It doesn't look like it's working as an upload: https://www.wildozark.com/yellow-ready-to-mull/
 
Madison Woods
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Fred Norman wrote:Really nice artworks! Just saw your blog and I already found some interesting topics.



Thanks Fred, just saw this reply. My writing is split between two separate websites, so not sure which one you saw. The color experiments and the actual finished paintings go to paleopaints.com, but the musings about the things I'm doing and anything else go over at the wildozark.com website. I started the paleopaints site when wildozark was broken for a week or two, and then just decided to keep it. Thanks for visiting either one!
 
Madison Woods
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Here's another one, fresh off the easel. All of these colors came from rocks made into watercolor paints. I call it "Destination Unknown". If you'd like to see the whole process (of making the painting, not the paint itself), I have it all at a blog post on my website: Red-tailed Hawk Painting

 
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How to make Everything uploaded a video where he's making oil paints using linseed oil and minerals.



Not as pretty as the stuff you're doing here, but neat to see how he makes it.  
 
Madison Woods
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Hey, r ranson, I always loved watching Bob Ross. Yes, you can make any kind of paint at all once you have the pigment. I bought tubes and materials to make the oil paints a few months ago, but haven't had the time to start experimenting with that yet. I only just began with watercolors when I started making them in summer 2018, so I'm going to give myself more time with that for now. Plus I started doing a series of the raptor birds and I'm not sure if I should swap media in the middle of it, or maybe that would add more interest to them if I do. I think I'll stick with watercolor for now. It's so much easier to grab and go with a work in progress, mainly. I don't have a dedicated studio space for working, so the mess of oils might be more than I can do in my kitchen. Oh but I want to try it badly, lol.

Here's the latest finished work, all in Ozark pigments, watercolors. I tend to swing wide between projects. The birds are very time and mind consuming, so in between them I'm beginning to do nature fantasy to give myself a different sort of experience.

 
Villains always have antidotes. They're funny that way. Here's an antidote disquised as a tiny ad:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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