Making watercolor paint out of natural pigment, tutorial.
How to Make Plant Based Paints in the Pacific Northwest
At their best, store-bought art supplies can be of high quality and convenient. At their worst, they carry unnecessary expenses and toxic ingredients that can distance artists from their craft. The Pacific Northwest is naturally rich in plant life, a traditional source of paint color for humans throughout history. Nontoxic, affordable, and accessible, making your own plant-based watercolors also allows you to customize the color and consistency of what you create from it's earliest stages.
1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons baking soda
1/2-3/4 cup boiled plant extract
Gather 2 cups of plant materials per desired color (see sections on color and shade).
Boil 2 cups of water in saucepan.
Add one cup of plant material to water.Allow to simmer for at medium-high heat for 7-10 minutes while stirring the mixture with spoon and eyeballing it's developing color.
- If needed, add second cup of material.
Allow the concoction to boil down to a stronger color and thicker consistency for at least 5 more minutes.
Remove your plant pigment extraction from the stove top and let it cool in the open air while you assemble ingredients for the next stage.
Repeat extraction process for each color of paint you intend to make.
Creating paint base
Mix baking soda and vinegar in bowl with whisk or fork until they are a single solution.
Mix cornstarch and corn syrup into the bubbling solution.
Stir until completely dissolved.If cornstarch globs just aren't mixing in, put the paint base over very low heat and stir until they fully dissolve.
Putting it all Together
Using a funnel to channel liquid, fill individual compartments of ice tray or other container (see "Things You'll Need" section) with equal amounts of base.
Cover clear base with an equivalent layer of pigment extract and mix gently within each compartment.
Keeping your product:All paints made with this method should last at least a week under refrigeration. To extend shelf life, add a small amount of vitamin E (tocopherols) to paint after it's been poured into its final container and before it goes into the refrigerator.
- Yellow: Two main native sources of yellow pigments are Oregon grape (Mahoniaspp.) and Alaska yellow-cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis). Oregon grape is common throughout Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. It's underground stems or rhizomes can be boiled for yellow pigment. Alaska yellow-cedar has a more limited range, preferring areas with higher elevations and longer cold seasons. Its inner bark is very yellow, and very pungent.
- Yellow/orange-brown: Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)and red alder (Alnus rubra) get their common names from the brilliant color of their pigment-rich inner barks. Water-based dyes made from cedar or alder are likely to exclude oily pigment compounds, picking up a mixture of earthier tones that may come out more brown than red.
- Red-purple: Some willow (Salixspp.) barks release a deep red color into hot water when boiled for 15-30 minutes. Willow bark can be used year round. Steer clear of Sitka willow (Salix sitchensis) as it will yield a dull grey extract. Non-native blackberries (Rubusspp.) are a viable, convenient option in late summer and early autumn. When processing blackberries, be cautious with where you discard seeds. Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is a major invasive in our region.
- Green: The most abundant pigment in nature, chlorophyll, is especially prevalent in our surroundings west of the Cascades. Green pigments are at their highest concentrations in the spring. Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves, which emerge in the spring, usually release their emerald color into water very efficiently when boiled fresh.
Shade, Value, and Texture
- Black: Black paint is traditionally an ash and oil mixture. Theoretically, pulverized charcoal (art supply variety or otherwise) should substitute for freshly burned ash just fine. An oil-based paint will not mix well with watercolors, so it may be best to add as an accent after water-based layers have already dried.
- White: A simple grated chalk paint solution can act as a lightener, texturizer, and even as a thickener to water-based pigments. Grind chalk with a grater, add a teaspoon of water, and mix. If the consistency is still too thick, add another teaspoon. Repeat until it resembles a gluey paste.
- Neutrals/Beiges: The dregs of your french press can enjoy a second life--as paint!Simply re-brew at desired strength and darkness. You can use it straight or follow the watercolor recipe above. I suggest using molasses instead of corn syrup to assist the potency and permanence of the color.
- Paint Medium: Egg whites and their vegan counterpart, boiled flax seeds, are home media the author has used for years to add body and shine to otherwise matte art surfaces. A search around the internet turns up hair gel and yogurt as other alternatives.
- Fresh plants will release their color into water much faster than dry plants. If you're using dry plant material, keep in mind that it will take on water in its initial boiling stages rather than immediately releasing its contents. Try boiling 2-4 minutes longer than fresh material.
- Not all plant-based paints are edible. This recipe is not super tasty either. So don't risk eating the paint you make just because it's not full of petroleum byproducts or heavy metals.
- Harvest responsibly! Use fallen branches over live trunk bark. Pay attention to how much you take from stands of native plants. Be aware of of any regulations prohibiting plant material removal in any areas you want to harvest in.
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