Handmade Watercolors


I’ve been studying the manual process of creating your own watercolors. Last October, I ordered tons of books about the history of color and about hand-gathering rocks and turning them into usable paints. It’s a very interesting journey going into the historical accounts of paint innovations. We have come a long way from using pig bladder as casing of paints!

A lot of instructions are available in old texts especially from Cennino Cennini who, in detail, walks you through how to prepare grounds and vehicles to pigments and varnishes.

After weeks of reading and research, I took a leap and ordered a selection of colors online from an American store, http://www.NaturalPigments.com. It was a set of “dry pigments” in small plastic jars. I also ordered a glass muller on Amazon and a few other ingredients that I know would be difficult to find.

When they arrived I readily went on and created my first batch. Alas, it was a failure as my mix for the vehicle (adhesive and whatnot) did not work. The pigments were hard to activate and once wet, they turned a darker color which does not happen with most manufactured paints. I put it off for months and decided to try at it again but this time with a store-bought medium from Sennelier available at http://www.ArtNebulaPH.com and having read more about the process.

The first batch of paints took approximately a week to cure and properly dry. It would have probably taken less time to dry if I didn’t fill the pans all in one go. The paints are creamy and rewet easily!

However, I find the curing time to be too long so I made another personal recipe mimicking the Sennelier medium. Success! It took only 2-3 days for the batch to fully dry and still with the same results. The general recipe for a vehicle or watercolor medium would be a mix of honey, gum arabic, preservatives and water. You can add in more of other ingredients like fillers and modifiers depending on what characteristics you want to achieve for your paints.

With more confidence, I started to push through with my initial plan of creating my own watercolor from scratch. Yes, from hand-gathered rocks, soils, and other organic materials. This is where Pinta PH comes in!

I started with the rocks that I have collected from a past Bataan trip where there are a lot of ochre deposits near the sea.
The general process is, first I select and segregate the rocks according to like-colored categories and I  process them to make sure that I have same particle weights of specific pigments which (now in powder form) will be mixed with my adhesives and other preservatives and ingredients to deter mold and ensure permanence one on the watercolor paper.

Crushing the rocks to a fine mound of powder is a task not to be taken lightly. You have to sift multiple times and even do other processes to segregate the particles that weigh differently. But I was able to create a mound like so with some patience.

Below, I mix them all together with a palette knife and mull with a glass muller. This ensures fluidity of paint and that all pigments are covered with the medium/vehicle mixture I made.

After some time, I compared the mixture before mulling (top) and after much mulling (bottom). The grains of the rock are much more apparent before mulling the mixture. For store-bought dry pigments mulling is kept to a minimum but for this process, much is needed.

I transfer them to half and full pans and let sit in a dry place making sure they are covered so no dust invades the paints. Once dry, tadah! I’ve made a couple colors already with the the manufactured pigments (blue and yellow) and my own concotions of Bataan Brown and “Uling” black (the ones inside the metal tin) with a sample of the original rock for visual comparison.

It’s a very fun and educational experience, each pigment or material i use, I alter the ratio of my adhesives and ingredients since each have their unique characteristics. I also keep notes on when and where I get my materials. Sort of like personifying or making the paints a representation of their origin – like place-making or map-making.

Looking forward to discovering new recipes and learning more. I will have a few of my local paints up for sale soon too!

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