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Ozark Pigment Profiles | Paleo Paints

I’ve finally been making the paints long enough to see some repetition in the colors. They’ll never be exact from batch to batch, but I’m getting a sense of what to expect from the various rocks I use. Here are the Ozark pigment profiles of the ones I use most often.

The Pigments

Red

Red sandstone is one of the most easier to spot of the Ozark pigment rocks right here in our own creek. They’re also scattered along the driveway. When they’re wet, they’re noticeably red. When they’re dry, they look like lots of the other rocks.

Red sandstone is one of the Ozark pigment colors that's easier to spot when it's wet.

Special Red: The smooth red stones from Kings river are much more red than the sand stones from the driveway.

Red Heavies

When I grind a pigment, sometimes I’ll ‘wash’ them to divide it into ‘lights’, ‘middles’, and ‘heavies’. Sometimes I only have enough to start with to get heavies and middles. And sometimes the stone doesn’t produce many ‘lites’. But red sandstones are almost always going to give me all three layers if I grind enough to begin with.

Red Middles

This is the middle fraction, separated by water, of a red sandstone found in King’s River. The King’s River is the namesake of our home town, Kingston.

Red Lites

This is the lightest weight fraction of the pigment. When I separate them in water, this is the part that takes the longest to settle. Once it settles, the sludge is allowed to dry. Then I crush it again and make the paint. It’s usually very very smooth.

Special Red

Sometimes named True Blood, Blood of the Ozarks, Fresh Earthy Blood. There’s a smooth red stone that lives in the Kings river. I can only ever find small chips, but it yields the finest red pigment of all. When I’m able to gather enough of it to wash the pigment, I’ll have Sp. Red Heavies and Sp. Red Lites. Often, it’s just going to be whole pigment because the supplies are pretty limited. If this color is included on a palette, it generally brings the price up by $20. If ever I find the mother-load of this special red stone, the prices will drop down to normal. In the meantime, if you want this red, it’s going to cost you, lol.

Red Middles (or Lites) Gouache

When I make a paint from a rich Ozark pigment rock like that red sandstone mentioned above, there’s usually a lot of color left on the mulling plate after I’ve scraped all that I can of it off. Rather than rinse off the plate and waste what’s left down the drain, I’ll add a spoonful of calcium carbonate (a purified limestone) and make a paint from that. It results in a lighter shade of the original color, and it’s often more opaque than the original.

Red plus Pink

Sometimes, instead of using the calcium carbonate, I’ll use one of my neutral Ozark pigment powders. This is a combination of the Red Lites and Pink Lites. They’re complimentary colors and I only had a little bit of each, so together they make a nice suede brown.

Whole Red Clay

This is a paint made from our native red clay that you’d see in road cuts. It’s the same stuff laid down for road beds on our dirt roads. This doesn’t exist naturally right here on our property, but it’s pretty prevalent in surrounding areas not too far away.

Yellow and Orange

Yellow Ozark pigment.

Yellow is one of the most abundant colors here at Wild Ozark.

Whole Yellow

This is the color from the whole yellow sand stone. It’s not washed or separated.

Yellow Gouache

A lighter shade of yellow. See description for the Red Middles Gouache, above, for more details on how this Ozark pigment is made.

Sassafras Root Bark

The bark on a sassafras tree root becomes bright orange and flaky once it’s had time to weather in sunlight and rain. I harvested the bark from a tree that had washed offshore at one of the low-water bridges along Felkins creek in Madison county of northwest Arkansas. Sassafras is one of only three plant pigments I’ve found to be light fast. The other two are red leaves of the black gum (tan) and black walnut (brown). The plant pigments give sheer colors much like I expect store bought watercolors do. Again, this isn’t a strictly Ozark pigment, as sassafras trees are found all over the eastern US.

Elusive Green Ozark Pigment

So far I haven’t found a really green green Ozark pigment source that is also light-fast. But I have found a greenish stone yields a paint that does look green enough for cedar trees, at least. The ‘lites’ remind me of french green clay in color and texture.

From a gray-green colored siltstone that lives in the creeks.

I still don’t know what kind of stone this is, but I think it is a shale of some sort.

Green Lights Gouache

I used the lightest portion of the gray-green silt stone to make this color. The light weight is separated out by water washing (levigation) whole ground pigment. It is a ‘gouache’ because of the addition of calcium carbonate powder to lighten the shade and brighten the tone just a touch.

Green Heavies

This is the heavy fraction of pigment from a gray-green silt stone. It is the layer that separates out first when levigating (water washing). This gray-green stone is one that I have a hard time finding, but it offers the closest thing to a light-fast Ozark green that I’ve made so far.

Ancient White

This is as close to a white white that I can get unless I buy purified lime or calcium carbonate. It is a slightly off-white color, a shade that might be called ‘antique’ white at a paint store. Not quite as white as ‘eggshell’. However, if I wash it and separate the heavies from the lites, I can get a very clean white. After that, how white the paint is depends on how unpigmented I can get the binder.

Creek tumbled limestone from Madison county, Arkansas.

Most of the limestone I find around here is white, but sometimes it has rust inclusions or stains on it. That makes it unsuitable for a ‘white’ paint. Every once in a while I’ll find a nugget, or even a chunk of nice clean white limestone. That’s the ones I look for. It’s a very hard rock to grind, in spite of being chalky and seeming brittle. This rock also is one I find in Felkins creek, here in Madison county, Arkansas.

Black

Bone Black

Not necessarily an Ozark pigment, but bone makes the deepest black.

Charred bone makes the blackest of blacks. It’s an opaque, flat, velvety black. I used deer vertebrae, but any sort of bone can be used. This is one of my most often used pigments, but I can only make it during winter unless I want to burn a fire outside. Ordinarily I use the woodstove in winter.

Shale Gray

This makes a smooth gray paint with brown undertones. It’s a pigment that has to be washed before processing. There are sulfur compounds in the shale that make the paint stink if it’s not washed first.

Brown

Brown paint from the hard rock.

This really nice average brown comes from a black sandstone with some odd properties.

Brown Brown

It’s one of the hardest stones to grind, but once the media is added to it and I begin to mull it on the plate, the hard bits dissolve and become smooth almost instantly. It’s a good brown for many of my nature art applications. The color is comparable to the stain from black walnut hulls. It’s one of my favorite Ozark pigments to use, but one of my least favorite to make.

A Note about Color Reproducibility

All of my colors are made from natural foraged rocks, clay, or other resources. While I may be able to come close to reproducing the color later, it’s very unlikely I’ll get an exact match. There’s enough pigment in each of these pans to paint several paintings in the style I produce. A little bit does seem to go a long ways. But if you want to make sure you’ll have more of the exact same shade, inquire to see if there is more from this same batch. It may not be in the same form, but should at least be the same color. I often pour cubes at the same time as I’m making a set like this one.

The Meaning of the Collection Name

I call my paint collections “Soul” of the Ozarks because my paints come from the origins of our not-really-mountains. The Ozarks aren’t mountains. What looks like mountains to us is actually the dissected floor of an ancient ocean. After it was an ocean, there was dry ground and swamps. The plant fossils I find here are from that time period, some 300 million years ago. The rocks were here before that. So to me, it feels as if the color is coming from the very soul of this land. So I call my Ozark pigment sets Soul of the Ozarks, and then number the collections.

Soul of the Ozarks Sets and Sample Dot Sets

I’ve got a few sets of Paleo Paints ready to go in my shop. Over the next few weeks, as the ones curing now dry out, I’ll be adding more. Some are displayed on found driftwood bits. One will go on a fossil rock I found. Others will just be mounted on heavy-weight watercolor paper and labeled. These will be more affordable because less packaging is involved. Still yet others will be in tins with hinged lids for portability. I’ll have single colors, too. Keep an eye on this page because it’ll update automatically as I add more to the shop. As I add more dependable pigments to my portfolio, I’ll add them to the profiles above. These are all colors made from Ozark pigment.

Painting with Paleo Paints

These paints are so easy to use because literally all you have to do is wet your brush, then wet a spot on the paint, and then paint. However, there may be a learning curve if you’re accustomed to tube watercolor paints. Some of the pigments take longer to wet than others. Not all of them go down on the paper with the same characteristics. Some lift off if you’ve made a mistake, and others stain the paper. If you draw your outlines in paint before you start on the rest of it, like I do, it’s a good idea not to use one of the ones that stain. If you do, you’re going to just have to work with whatever you’ve put down the first time. That’s probably true with tube paints, too.

More like gouache?

Working with earth pigments is probably a lot like using gouache paints. I’ve never bought any from the store (gouache or watercolor) but I guess I ought to so I can give a good comparison on how mine work as opposed to store-bought. It’s on my list of things to do. In the meantime … If you’ve used mine as well as store bought tubes or dried, if you can give me and the readers some feedback on how they compare, I would appreciate it. I think the main difference may lie in the composition of earth pigments as opposed to synthetic pigments. Mine definitely lack the bright, clear colors.

Here’s my most recent three paintings:

Madison Woods is an artist and paintmaker from Kingston, Arkansas.
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Author/Artist Info
________________________________
In the summer of 2018 I began making watercolor paints from the rocks, clay, and other resources of our land here in the Ozarks. My artwork is made exclusively with these paints. I call them Wild Ozark Paleo Paints, because they’re made in a way very close to the same way paints were made when man first put a hand-print on the wall of a cave. My specialty is painting nature, specifically the nature that surrounds me here in the remote hills of northwest Arkansas.

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Madison Woods
@wildozark (Instagram and FB)
[email protected]

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12 May 2020 6:27 am

[…] In a roundabout way, I worked with rocks even before learning about their pigments. Before pigments, it was their composition that I dealt with – inorganic trace metals and minerals. Though I really enjoyed analyzing soils and materials to see what parts contributed to the whole, I have found… Read more »

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23 April 2020 6:27 am

[…] You can read about the colors and pigment sources at this page: Ozark Pigment Profiles […]

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20 April 2020 2:43 pm

[…] insight behind the paint-making part of my business. If you’d like to know more about the colors and sources, drop by this other page, too. And if you’re interested in how I actually make the paints, here’s a couple of […]

janet
16 April 2020 9:01 pm

I like all three paintings, Madison. It must give you great pleasure to make and use these paints from your earth. It gives me pleasure to think about it.

janet

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