Homemade Paint Pigments

Sandra Johnson

Painters and artisans have been making homemade paint pigments since the first crude cave drawings. In ancient times, pigments for various paint colors came from naturally occurring sources such as earth, plants and even insects. Many modern artists still make homemade pigments using similar natural sources.

Homemade paint pigment is typically powdered, the results of grinding natural ingredients.

As interest in eco-friendly paints and other products increases, even homeowners have renewed interest in making homemade pigments for interior, exterior and furniture paints.

What is Paint and Paint Pigment?

There are numerous types of paints, from oil to water-based, tempera to milk. Each type of paint consists of different ingredients, often chosen based on the medium to be painted. Typically, paint consists of a binder, a pigment and a solvent. The binder acts as an adhesive to keep the paint on a surface, while the solvent keeps the compounds in liquid form until dry. Pigments are usually highly concentrated powders derived from various raw materials and added to the binder/solvent mixture to produce color. Some paints include a filler to thicken the paint or aid in adhesion.

Natural Pigments

The practice of using natural elements as paint pigments dates to antiquity. Cave drawings, Egyptian artwork, Roman house paint and even master works of art all feature pigments created from washing, grinding and sifting natural elements. Historically, artists used apprentices to make pigments and mix paints for the artist's personal use. When properly processed, natural elements such as earth, plants, nuts and even some insects offer a wealth of natural colors for modern homemade paint.

Earth Pigment Example

One common homemade paint pigment is earth. Dirt provides quite a palette of colors, from deep browns to rich reds. Washing, straining and filtering helps remove any impurities from the dirt. Grinding with a mortar and pestle breaks up large particulates. The end result is a fine, dry powder that, when mixed with the right binder and solvent, provides truly natural colors.

The Refining Process

Making homemade paint pigment is not a quick process. Depending on the medium, several washing and filtering cycles, along with several grinding stages may be required. Typically, the harder the raw material, the more processing is required. For example, shells from nuts can be ground into a fine powder for use as a pigment, but take far more effort to grind and refine than earth or plant-based pigments. In some cases, it can take days to dry raw materials after washing. Additional processing steps, such as reducing oil extracts from certain plants, may be necessary.