Summer School: How To Make Paint

Jun 28, 2016

This week in our "Summer School" series, we get a lesson in how to make paint from scratch. There's no food coloring here though. Instead, Montpelier-based wildcrafting artist Nick Neddo is here to teach us how you can use stones to create a unique pigment.

1.  Choose your stones. "I'm going to make a pigment with the bluish-green rocks," Neddo explains, after sorting through a collection of rocks from his travels. "I'm going to gather them up and put them into my granite mortar and pestle." Softer stones are easier to work with.

Neddo says he first smashes a few rocks into smaller pieces and then grinds them down for "as long as it takes to get a nice powder."

2. Pour the powdered pigments in a jar, preferably one with a lid. "I don't want to spill any of it because it's pretty precious stuff," Neddo adds.

3. "Add a little bit of water to it, to cover the pigment,” Neddo says. “I don't want to put too much water in – just a little bit."

4. Put on the lid and shake the jar.

5. "As I've stopped shaking this, immediately the larger of those pigment particles, the heavier ones – those are settling down to the bottom of the jar first,” Neddo says. “All the fluid that's still kind of floating around with pigment" is the more valuable commodity. So that's what Neddo uses as the basis of his paint, by pouring it off from the heavier sediment into a new jar.

6. Add a binder to the pigment and water. "The job of the binder is to keep the pigments suspended in the solution," Neddo explains. Egg yolk, glue, honey and natural oils are all options.

Another possibility? "It can really be as simple as spitting in it," Neddo says. "Saliva happens to be a wonderful binder. It's kind of perfect, actually." In this case, however, Neddo chooses to go with an egg yolk.

7. "Now the trick is just to mix them all together, and then I'll work with it and see if I like it," Neddo says. Modifications can be made if needed at this stage. “If it's too thin, I'll add some more pigment. And if it's too thick, then maybe I'll put in another egg."

8. Try out your homemade paint. "Grab a piece of paper or some other surface to paint on, and give it a go," Neddo says.