Making My Own Watercolor Paints from Ozark Pigments

Since we moved up here about thirteen years ago, I’ve collected the broken shards of colorful sandstone rocks. I marveled at all the various shades they came in and always wondered if I could somehow find a way to use them for something. In the back of mind, the possibility of making paint from them lurked and mulled, waiting for the right time to bubble up to front and center. That day finally arrived a week or two ago. I’ve been grinding stones, smashing herbs, and making handmade watercolor paint every day since.

Watercolor Trials

Not all of my watercolor-making experiments ended up pretty. Some were downright ugly colors, no lie. But there’s an art to this, and like any other art, it takes practice to get good at it. I’m not there yet. Not only will I need practice to get a good recipe for making the paint, I’ll need practice to learn what ingredient needs to be varied when using different pigments or herbs to make the paint.

And then I’ll need practice to get good at using watercolor paint as an art medium.

So far this process has been extremely satisfying. It’s something really productive and fun I can do with the grand-girls, too. Most of all, the materials for the most part are free, and the smaller parts needed are inexpensive. All of the expense in the final sale prices of handmade watercolors is due to the amount of labor involved. It’s very labor intensive, especially if you’re starting from scratch with rocks or clay or plants.

First Successful Set

These are the colors in the first set I successfully made. Except for the turmeric, all of these are watercolor paints made from stone and herbs right outside the back door at home.

Except for the turmeric, all of these are watercolor paints made from stone and herbs right outside the back door at home.

As I said, I still need to tweak the recipe because some of the colors have too much sheen, and some are too sticky and take too long to dry. I’m not sure some of them, like the Perilla Green, will ever dry enough to not be sticky on the paper.

But for the purpose of making paint, watercolors I can actually use to produce art, I feel successful with this set because I can at least use them to paint a picture. When I get that done, I’ll add the finished work to this page so you can see what I came up with.

Update 9/15/18: none of the first set of paints I made using the plants are light fast, so I’ve abandoned using herbs for making paints. Except for the sassafras. That one actually intensified with exposure and is very light-fast. All of the stone or soil/clay pigments are light fast.

The Colors of Place

The first set of watercolors represent a slice of Wild Ozark. All of them, except the Turmeric, were made from stone and herb right outside my back door. Since I have other yellows from the elderberry leaf and sassafras, the set is complete even without the turmeric. I am still searching for something to use to produce a shade of blue. A friend mentioned the flowers of day flower, so i’ll try that the next time they bloom or I’ll try the leaf and stem from it when I get back home to gather some.

Right now I’m in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. I hope to gather some stones, pieces of brick, and herbs or spices to make a collection to represent this place. It’s something I’ll likely do for every place I visit in the future, too.

First Attempt at using watercolors

My first attempt wasn’t too good. The buildings are wonky and it looks nothing at all like the actual scene. But I managed to prove that I could make color on a page, and even though I don’t like the finished work I can see the potential for the paints.

Update 7/10/18

Here’s a painting I made while here in Doha of a kestrel. I call it “American Kestrel in Doha”. The russet feathers are done with my sandstone watercolor, while the faint blush in the background is made with the dry pigment I used to make the watercolor. The yellow is elderberry leaf and the gray is from black-eyed Susan flower, leaf, and stem. The only color I didn’t have on hand was black, and because of that I resorted to using my black Prismacolor pencil, which did not work well over the gray wing feather tips. I’ll have to make black very soon and try this bird again.

kestrel done in handmade watercolors
Kestrel no. 1, painted while in Doha, Qatar, using handmade watercolors that made the trip with me. Approximately 5″ x 7″. Not for sale.

The next attempt to paint a picture with my first set of watercolors came out much better. My skill showed improvement, and my knowledge of how to work with the paints had grown. There is so much potential for this medium and I’m excited to continue my development when I get home from my trip!

My second attempt at a kestrel, and the third attempt at making a watercolor painting.
My second attempt at a kestrel, and the third attempt at making a watercolor painting, also painted with handmade watercolors while in Doha. Approximately 9″ x 7″. Sold ($150)
Kestrel No. 3, featuring all handmade watercolor paints made from local stone and clay sources. Panic stage navigated.
Kestrel No. 3, featuring all handmade watercolor paints made from local stone and clay sources. Approximately 8″ x 10″, sold ($250).

Going forward with Watercolor

I’ll soon be making more paints and more paintings. As soon as I have a product good enough to offer for sale to others, I’ll list the paints here and at Etsy, and at Kingston Square Arts. Workshops are already being requested. The first one is planned for November, to be held at the Kingston Square Arts shop.

If you want to see the paintings, as I get them done, I upload the final pics to my painting page. I also post my progress pics on Instagram, so follow me there if you like to see the sometimes agonizing process. When they’re finished, they’ll be placed on consignment at Kingston Square Arts if they aren’t sold before I get them to the shop. The first two were sold nearly the day I posted the finished photo to Instagram. I’ll be there on Sundays to demonstrate and answer questions. If you want to know when the workshop is scheduled, check my schedule page often. You can also join my mailing list and get announcements by email, along with the information on how to make the paints and paintings.

Every time I make a painting, I record the steps. This helps me to improve on the next one. It can also help others who are wanting to make some of their own.


About Wild Ozark
Wild Ozark is a nature farm. Mostly we grow rocks. I use those rocks and some of the herbs to make earth pigments and watercolor paints. We also grow native clay that I use for making my Fairy Swing Mushrooms. And then there are the trees. We grow lots of trees. My husband uses some for his woodworking and some for our Burnt Kettle Shagbark Hickory Syrup, but for the most part they stand around creating good air, shade, & habitat for the ginseng nursery.
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About the voice behind this blog, Madison Woods
I'm a creative old soul living way off the beaten path with my husband in the wild Ozark Mountains. You can find my art on display and for sale at the Kingston Square Arts shop in Kingston, Arkansas. It's a tiny little town and a bit off the path to anywhere at all, but a wonderful ride out to a most beautiful part of our state. Besides homesteading, growing plants & making arts & crafty things, I write books and stories. My rural fantasy fiction, written under the pen name, Ima Erthwitch, usually takes place in a much altered Ozarks.

5 thoughts on “Making My Own Watercolor Paints from Ozark Pigments

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    1. Thanks! I should have some time to start with the painting experiments next week 🙂 Brought my papers, paints, and some brushes with me all the way to the other side of the world, lol.