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Black Pigment | My Favorite Source is the Hardest

There’s a black, gritty stone that lives here at Wild Ozark and I do not know what it is. I *think* it is a form of bitumen, a very poor quality sort of coal. Whatever it is, this is the best source for black pigment that I’ve found. Previous to this discovery, charred bone was my favorite, and I still need that one. Bone makes a flat black, whereas this stone yields a jet black with a little more gloss to it. Both have their uses. I have not tried to make black from antler yet, but I have some to char this winter so I can see how that works.

The rock is so hard I have to use a sledgehammer to break it. This is so loud that I also need to wear earplugs. I always wear eye protection while breaking rocks.

The advantage to using a stone to get black is that I don’t have to wait until winter to make it. I guess I could just build a fire to make the bone or antler black anytime, but we’re so often running low on firewood in winter that I hate to waste the wood that way. There’s no fire involved with using the black pigment from this rock. Just muscles.

I need a sledgehammer to break this black pigment stone.

But it is finally now in small enough pieces to feed into the Phenomenal Rock Crusher. Once it’s crushed, I’ll wash the pigment and separate the heavy parts from the parts that stay suspended longer. If I don’t wash it, this pigment makes a nice even brown. If I wash it, that’s when it gives me the black.

The black rock broken into small enough pieces for my rock crusher to handle.

I’m not sure what it is. All I know is that it makes the best black pigment (and brown), and is the hardest one I’ve found yet to break. Since I forgot to take a picture of it before I broke it up, here’s one from Encyclopedia Britannica that looked just like it.

A photo of bituminous coal that looks just like the rock I use to make my black pigment.
Media Title: bituminous coal
Publisher: Encyclopædia Britannica

After the Crushing

So once the rock is broken into small enough pieces, I put it through the rock crusher. That leaves me with a coarse powder. Then I’ll put the powder in a jar and wash it with water by putting a lid on and shaking the jar. Then I pour the colored water out. Sometimes this uses several jars, until when I wash, the water isn’t full of color. Then I’ll let all the colored water settle out and pour the clear water out. I’ll dry that sediment and use it to make paint. I also use the washed pigment from the first jar to make paint.

Pigment being washed.

Usually, the black pigment in the first jar gives a rough paint because there’s bits of sand and other things that don’t crush down all the way. But with this rock, it does a strange thing. As soon as I start mulling it with the binder, the ‘sandy bits’ just melt. And it makes a nice paint. The other odd thing this rock does is that the sediment I get from the colored water is tarry. It takes a long time to dry out so that I can make the paint with it. That’s the one that gives me the deep black with a little shine to it. The other one just makes a good flat black.

Finished Paint from Black Pigment

Once I get the paint made, I’ll come back and post a picture of it for you. It’s going to take a week or two for it to dry out enough, so it might be the end of August before I get back to it.


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Author/Artist Info
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Madison Woods is a self-taught artist who moved to the Ozarks from south Louisiana in 2005. In 2018 she began experimenting with watercolor painting, using her local pigments. She calls them Paleo Paints, and her artwork features exclusively the lightfast pigments foraged from Madison county, Arkansas. Her inspiration is nature – the beauty, and the inherent cycle of life and death, destruction and regeneration.

Her online portfolio is at www.MadisonWoods.art.

Click here to join her mailing list.

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janet
27 July 2021 4:21 pm

Good to hear from you again although I was wondering about the 2019 post that showed up in my emails. 🙂

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