How to make your own watercolor paint
Making your own hand-made watercolors can be a fun and rewarding experience. You get the satisfaction of having the exact color you are looking for, combined with the pleasure of using something you made yourself from scratch. Also, the act of mulling the watercolors is relaxing and enjoyable in itself.
The basics of watercolor making are rather simple: You take a powdered pigment, add a liquid binder, and mull them together to mix and grind the fine particles.
- Pigment Powder
- Watercolor Medium
- Palette Knife
- Grinding slab
- Glass Muller
- Empty Watercolor pans or tubes
Preparing the pigments
What is a pigment?
Pigments are crushed particles that provide the colors to paints. Some are synthetic and created in a lab. Some are derived from natural materials such as crushed rocks like hematite, turquoise, jasper, and malachite.
For obtaining pigment powders for your own watercolors, there are several options. You can purchase powdered pigments online, or create your own earth pigments by grinding materials in a mortar and pestle. You can make pigments from foraged materials such as charcoal and soot, soil, acorns, turmeric, or even dried flowers.
Some of the ones I’ve purchased that I am experimenting with are below:
You want to be careful when working with powdered pigments as some are highly toxic when breathed or consumed. Gloves, a respirator, and safety goggles are recommended when working with the more toxic minerals. Whatever pigment you choose, make sure to do your research on it first.
Making the Watercolor Medium
For the medium, you can either buy pre-made watercolor medium, which can be rather pricey, or you can make your own.
To make your own, you need hot water, gum arabic powder, clove oil, and honey.
I use this Gum Arabic powder https://amzn.to/3PZWvZe
And this Clove Bud oil https://amzn.to/3GkAIIq
- Mix one part gum arabic powder in three parts boiling water. Pour slowly and stir continuously for 10-15 minutes. Once dissolved, pour the mixture through a muslin cloth to strain out any clumps or impurities
- Add one part honey to four parts gum arabic solution. This makes the paint more fluid and easy to work with later. Honey is also antibacterial, so it will help preserve the paint for longer
- (optional) Add 1 -2 drops of clove oil to the mixture. This also aids in ensuring that no mold grows on the paints, and acts as an additional preservative.
Mixing and Mulling
Mulling is the process of evenly suspending the pigment particles in the binder. This is done using a grinding slab and a mulling tool. I got my mulling tool on Amazon here https://amzn.to/3YUXk9o , but professional mulling slabs are rather pricey, so I used a glass cutting board that I used etching paste to give it a frosted texture.
I’ve also seen others use marble slabs.
Once your watercolor medium is ready, measure out your pigment powder and make a little mountain of pigment in the center of your grinding slab. Use the back of a spoon (or measuring spoon) to make a well in the center of the pigment.
Pour an equal amount of watercolor medium into the well and let it set for a minute to absorb some of the pigment.
Using your palette knife, gently fold the powder into the medium, mixing as much as you can before adding more binder until all the pigment is mixed in and it has a paste-like consistency.
Take your glass mulling tool, and slowly grind the pigment mixture in a circular motion, spreading it across the grinding surface in a thin layer. Use your palette knife to pool the mixture back in the center and repeat the process of grinding and mulling. If the paint is still too stiff to mull smoothly, add more binder.
Test the paint during the mulling process by swatching it on a piece of watercolor paper. Allow the paint swatch to dry before rubbing your finger over it. If the paint dusts off of the paper that indicates a little more of the binder is required. If the swatch appears too shiny it indicates there is too much binder and more pigment should be added.
Continue mulling until you have the consistency that you desire for your paint.
Pour the mixture into pans and leave them to set. If the drying pan cracks, next time add a little more gum solution to that particular pigment. A little cracking is not a huge issue though, as it is still good to paint with.
If the paint is still too gummy after it has fully dried, then try adjusting the amount of honey used.
Empty pans are hard to find at most craft stores, but can usually be found at fine-art supply stores like Blicks, and of course online. These are the ones I use https://amzn.to/3hTA3nT
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