adventures in handmade watercolour paint

I've ventured into unknown territory, making my own watercolour paints, for my own use (not to sell). The entire paint-making process has always fascinated me, the way artists through the centuries have made their own paints out of natural pigments. The same is still the case today, even though we have a lot of synthetic alternatives to those natural pigments (some of which are no longer available and/or far too expensive for an amateur artist's pocketbook). Paint is basically a pigment dispersed in a paint binder - a medium that adheres the pigment to paper, so it won't just flake off when dry.

So far, I've made paints from 15 pigments... and I have another 27 yet to try!

The paint you see in these photos is malachite (PG39) - a lovely cool 'mint' green which is transparent, semigranulating and nonstaining.

I only make small batches at a time, filling only 2 or 3 half pans per pigment, but that will last me for a bit. I started with a few favourites that I use often (i.e. staple primaries and go-to earth tones). Once I had some of the basics made, I then branched out to some new-to-me pigments that I've never used before. To record all of my paints, I started a "paint recipe" sketchbook and it's been fun adding to it, testing colours and mixes, etc. Volume I is already full, as I used a full page spread for each pigment (details/history on the pigment, swatches, etc.), so I'll need to start a new sketchbook soon. In volume II of my recipe book, I will only do a 1-page spread for each pigment in order to fit more colours in.

Being able to make my own artist-grade paint instead of buying it already in a tube is very economical. While the majority of work comes in the form of cleanup afterward (ugh), the mulling itself is really quite fascinating and relaxing. There are actually many videos on ASMR channels devoted to paint mulling, so I guess I'm not the only one who finds it soothing.

Here's a bit about the process...

Wearing a NIOSH-certified facemask (to prevent inhalation of pigment dust), I mix the dry pigments with gum arabic and then the mulling process begins. I use a frosted glass muller on a roughened glass sheet to mull the pigment and binder until they're well combined and smooth. I also add in a bit of distilled water, liquid honey and less frequenly a drop or two of glycerin - ratio/amounts differ for each pigment. There are no 'set' recipes for watercolor paints, as they vary tremendously and specifics are often guarded as 'trade secrets' of homemade paintmakers, which is understandable. (It's a lot of trial and error to get things just right!) You need to figure out the sweet spot of binder to pigment for each batch - lots of tweaking. Every pigment is different; some pigments have the tendency to initially resist mixing with the binder, while others combine much easier. It's a mixed bag. The muller is used to disperse the pigment into the binder - it helps breakdown agglomerations, pigment particles that clump together due to moisture, static, etc. This makes the end product much smoother and can also improve the saturation of the paint.

Besides the malachite, I've not photographed any of the paints I've made, but will share more later.


  1. Aaaaaaaugh! This is awesome! You're killing me. What a gorgeous pigment, too. I am also fascinated by paint making, way to go!! So. Cool.

  2. Lori thefragile7393 LJDecember 09, 2019 11:34 pm

    this is beautiful!! You have such patience to make your own.


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