Let’s Make Some Paint!

Last Tuesday was our evening abstract art classes.  It was a special evening this time because we got to make some paint from scratch!  Yes, that’s right, from scratch.  I was very excited about it and looked forward to the evening.  All we had to do was bring our own pestle and mortar as Dieter, our tutor, was supplying all the mysterious ingredients.  Curious!


Key Utensils & Ingredients

Well, what could these mysterious ingredients be?  Firstly, we need the pigments which come in powdered form.  Then comes the emulsion in which they are mixed depending on the type of paint you want.  All blended using a pestle and mortar.  We each had a go with concocting our own paint which was a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, some of the students were unable to find a pestle and mortar which were not available in the nearby shops.  Dieter luckily had a few to lend out and they ended up sharing.  Luckily, I was able to find my own last weekend and had it all to myself.  Ha!



To begin with, we spoon the pigment of our choice into the mortar bowl.  Then we grind it to break down the powder further so the paint doesn’t end up lumpy.  The emulsion is then added slowly then grounded together to blend, adding more until we are happy with the consistency.  We ended up creating five kinds of paints with Dieter explaining and helping us.  The bowl had to be clean and dry using soap and even turpentine before starting a new type of paint to prevent the different solutions from mixing with each other.  Although stains from the pigments do remain on the bowl, that is fine so long as the colours don’t tend to come out on the next batch.



So what paints did we create?

Tempera:  Known as “poster paint”.  Very rarely used nowadays but is the traditional method of painting in 12th to 15th century Europe before oil paint was introduced.  It consists of pigment and egg yolk which acts as an emulsion.  Can be thinned down using water but Dieter thought it would be fun to add some white wine instead!  I do like the idea of using natural ingredients for paining so this might be worth trying out again in future.

Acrylic:  That we tend to use quite often.  Paint is formed by pigment and acrylic binder which is a polymer emulsion composed of acrylic resin.  I won’t get into the chemistry here but this article ought to be an interesting read on how acrylic paints are made.  We used the acrylic binder by ARA.

Watercolour:  Also known as aquarelle.  Formed by pigment and gum arabic which is derived from hardened sap from Acacia tree found in Africa.  Containing a mixture of polysaccharides and glycoproteins, it gives the properties of glue and is highly water soluble, thus suitable for watercolour painting.   If you’re interested in knowing more, this wikipedia link ought to be an interesting read.

Plamat:  I could not find the English translation for this Dutch term but it is a mixture of pigment and chalk with water.  It gives out a pastel colour and comes out matte but light.  A bit like “liquid pastels” so to speak.  Never would have thought I’d come across this medium but it sounds very interesting!  Sounds less messy compared to pastel sticks.  Intriguing.  Something to consider using in future too!

Oil:  We hardly use oil paint because of its strong smell, toxic fumes and slow drying time.  Nevertheless, it’s always good to check it out for comparison.  Here we combined pigment with linseed oil.  What makes the paint smelly is actually the solvents such as turpentine which speeds up drying time and hence “odour free” turpentine is nowadays used.  I never used oil paint before and although I am impressed with the consistency and smooth finish, I think the slow drying time puts me off a bit.

We had a go with creating the five paints and brushed a sample of each on a piece of large paper.  Of course, I thought I’d make it all cute by drawing bunny shapes!


The session was so much fun!  It gave me an opportunity to discover mediums I’ve never come across like tempera and plamat and to try out one I would never dare to like oil paint.  I not only learned about how various paints are made but I now fully appreciate why and how certain paints have different properties from another.  And you can play around with the concept, perhaps concoct various types of paints using the pigment of the same colour and coming up with an interesting painting.  Dieter further suggested starting with pigments from primary colours like yellow, red and blue so you can mix them and create a range of colours.  Now that should be fun!  Thank you so much, Dieter, for this wonderful opportunity.  I’ve learned a lot from it!

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