Make Your Own Paint – Enjoy a New and Rewarding Artist’s Experience

Make your own paint

As an artist, you may already be aware you can make your own paint, but have you ever actually engaged in this tactile process? The notion of making my own acrylic paint appeals to me as an artist’s experience in the same way I’ve wanted to learn how to make my own paper in the past, as a first step in binding my own books. When I think of wanting to use a stamp or stencil in a work, I prefer to cut my own. Anytime there is an opportunity for me to become a more intimate part of the creative process, I’m intrigued enough to give it a try—to insert more of myself into the finished thing I create. (I also love to make my own flour tortillas for tacos when time allows.)

If this sounds like you, too, I highly encourage you to take some time to make your own paint—at least once for the experience. I was worried it would be more complicated and more messy that it turned out to be; I was delighted at how and rewarding fun it actually was.

mandala painting earth pigments

Finished mandala painting, using only earth pigments

Advantages to Making Your Own Paint

Because I may not be able to sway some of you on “artist’s experience” alone as a reason to give making paint a try, here are some advantages that might interest you.

  1. Cost. Buying pigment and medium separately generally end up costing less than purchasing ready-made artist’s grade acrylic paint. (Probably oil, too, but I’m more familiar with acrylic.) Exceptions might be with rare pigments.
  2. No toxic additives. If you’re concerned about what might be in your paint besides pigment and the vehicle/medium, you can purchase earth pigments (I ordered from earthpigments.com) and rest easy that your paint is as pure and simple as possible.
  3. Control. Because you decide the pigment/medium ratio as well as the amount to mix up at any particular time, you can mix up only what you need. You can also control the opacity and the body depending on pigment-to-medium ratio and the acrylic medium you use.

In full disclosure, as I discovered, there are a couple of disadvantages, also. One is that like any free-spirited recipe, unless you make meticulous notes and measure your pigment and medium, reproducing results may be challenging. Two is that you may feel more limited in the colors you can create—particularly if you decide to use earth pigments as I did. For example, I would have loved to create a vibrant fuchsia, but just couldn’t seem to make it happen with the primary pigments I ordered. Learn more about the pros and cons of premixing your own colors, here.

How to Make Your Own Paint

So, enough talking about it, right? Let me share with you how to make acrylic paint!

What You Need

  • acrylic medium of your choice
  • dust mask
  • dry pigments
  • flexible metal spatula or palette knife
  • glass surface (I used Plexiglas, but highly recommend glass)
  • pipette
  • water
make paint supplies

1. Gather materials to get started: a chosen acrylic medium, one or more dry pigments, a metal spatula or palette knife and a hard, flat surface—glass is highly recommended—as well as a dust mask, a small amount of water and a pipette (optional, but helpful).

As I mentioned previously, I chose Earth Pigments’ pigments: Black Iron Oxide, Red Iron Oxide-Y (warm), Red Iron Oxide-B (cool), Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue and Yellow Iron Oxide. For my medium, I used Liquitex’s fluid matte medium.

Earth Pigments recommends using approximately twice as much medium in the mix as pigment, so I used that information as a starting point. In my research, I also learned it was recommended to first mix the dry pigment with a small amount of alcohol or water to disperse the pigment before diving in and adding all the medium. I likened this to beating eggs before adding a lot of dry ingredients.

I also read that using alcohol rather than water made dispersion easier because there’s less of a weight difference than there is with water. However (and maybe I was using too much alcohol), I found even a few drops of alcohol to dry things up pretty quickly. Using water worked just fine.

dry paint pigment

2. Don your dust mask and place a small amount of pigment on the glass. For my first attempt here, I used about a tablespoon total. This made more paint than I expected and used about half this amount from here after. If you’re in need of a lot of paint, a tablespoon may be just right.

mix pigment with water

3. Use a pipette to add a bit of water. Again, I had no idea what to expect here, so I was conservative with the water. Now that I’ve done it several times, I can safely say this isn’t critical, just add some drops—enough that it’s easy to mix into a saucy consistency more than a dry, pasty one. At this stage, try to get out as many lumps as possible, even the teeny tiny ones if you can.

mix acrylic medium with pigment

4. When your pigment-water mix looks pretty well incorporated, add your chosen acrylic medium—approximately two times the amount of pigment mix. Look for any remaining grains of pigment and work those out with your knife or spatula. Your paint is ready to use!

It’s worth mentioning here that there is a tool made for the purpose of grinding pigment as you make your own paint. It’s called a glass muller. Think of this as a mortar and pestle setup for paint. As a first-timer, I decided to give a humble palette knife a whirl—and it seemed to work well for me. But if I continue to make my own paint, I’ll probably explore this possibility.

dry pigments to make warm grey

Experiment with Color-Mixing and Paint Consistency

Some things I learned, playing with different combinations of pigment are that some are dispersed easier than others. Also, some are more powerful in that less goes a long way. I also learned if you don’t grind the pigment sufficiently, those little granules will not only be visible on your painted surface, but they can also be activated in subsequent layers as you brush over them, creating cute little lines of unintended color. (Oops . . .)

The only pigment I used without combining it with any other was Titanium White. I used this to paint a mandala over my background. I then wanted to see how mixing my own glaze would go, so I tried three different mixed glazes—yellow, periwinkle and an olive green. For these my ration of pigment was about one part pigment to four parts of medium. It seemed to work well.

Below are some process photos of my finished painting. I used no paint other than what I mixed from the earth pigments. While I couldn’t make every color I possibly wanted, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of beautiful colors I was able to create.

make paint underpainting

make paint background

mandala painting from earth pigments

earth pigments palette

Here’s a palette showing the main colors I mixed to create my painting, the final three at the bottom being glazes.

I love that the pigments I purchased will never expire and will always be ready to be mixed up for whatever I’d like to paint. I was also pleased with how little pigment I actually needed to complete a small painting (each of my four panels was a 5″ [13cm] square). If I ever need a large quantity of paint for a large canvas, this would be a great way to go.

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