Have I ever talked to you about the secrecy that exists around making paint?? Yeah, I think so. When I started making paint I couldn’t find a lot of information about how to do it. I was amazed by that. People have been making paint for a long long time now and the internet is a place where you can find anything, even your soulmate. Yes, really. I found Jan in 5 minutes, but I still haven’t found a good binder recipe on the interwebs.
I once made the mistake of asking another paint maker about her pans. Not recipes or binder ratios, nope … pans. She wasn’t going to share anything about her business with me.
Pans, they were friggin’ pans.
This blog post is not about my annoyances about other people and their secrets and I’m not going to bash others here. It’s just an illustration of how secretive people can be about their paint making business.
Maybe it’s not really that odd, I read somewhere that artists that made paint quite some years ago were also very secretive about their recipes.
“I decided I would be more open about my process”
I think it is important and most of all fun, to share my process with you guys. And when I stumbled upon that big solid wall when looking for information, I decided I would be more open about my process.
Before I go on, I would like to say that, luckily, not all paint makers are so very secretive. I already met some awesome paint makers that do like to talk to me about their process.
I also got more cautious about whom I share my information with. I sometimes get messages from people that aren’t even following me, or who are following me but never really interact with me, asking me how to make paint.
In this post I would like to tell you a bit more about my workflow. Especially my workflow when it comes to working with new pigments.
When you order a pigment you have never worked with before, you have not much of an idea what to expect.
Every pigment has its own characteristics. Some pigments are very easy to work with, others are a pain in the bum. I could write a whole blog about pigments and their characteristics, but I won’t tire you with that today.
I “created” a binder recipe that is pretty straightforward; 1 part gum arabic and 4 parts distilled water. Through trial and error I found out it’s best to keep it simple and to not add the humectant to the binder as some pigments need less humectant than others. I found that out when some paints hadn’t cured even after a month of drying.
Not one recipe is the same, and not one recipe is the best. You find out what works best for you. It’s like cooking.
So I have my binder that functions as a “baseline”.
With every new pigment, I use the same binder. Well, not the exact same binder, but the same recipe. I also always use the same ratio binder to honey with a new pigment. And I always use the same ratio binder, honey and pigment
When a new pigment arrives, I start with very small amounts. Sometimes it takes several tries before you find the recipe that works, so you don’t want to waste too much pigment and binder.
While mulling I watch very carefully what happens and write everything I notice down. Some pigments absorb the binder quickly, others don’t, some are very gritty, some need to be mulled for 15 minutes others for 60, etc.
While mulling I swatch the paint in different stages. I want to see how the paint changes while mulling. I also want to check if the paint stains or rubs off. I keep watching that paint; do I see pigment particles or maybe bubbles in my paint. Because all these things tell you something.
If paint rubs off after drying it could mean it needs more binder or needs longer mulling. Bubbles in your paint is most of the time a sign that pigment particles are stuck together creating little pockets of air. All these things are written down in my notebook.
If the paint rubs off heavily, I keep on mulling to see if that works. If after a long time of mulling the paint still keeps rubbing off the paper after drying, I add a bit more binder. And again, I write it down. This is very important because you really want to remember what you did if you want to recreate it!
When my paint is smooth and doesn’t rub off, it is ready to be poured.
I pour my paint in layers.
When I pour the first layer I keep a close eye on it in the hours following. I want to know what happens to that layer; how quickly does it dry, do I see cracks appear, or maybe bubbles, does the paint dry at all, does it shrink, how much does it shrink, etc. Again, everything I see, I write down! Because all this information tells me a story and helps me to determine my next steps.
For example, cracks in the paint could mean I didn’t use enough binder (although I can’t really decide on that at this stage, I also need my tests during the last stage). Paint that won’t dry, could indicate too much use of humectant. Because for example honey attracts water from the air to keep the paint moist. We want that! But not too much since we also want our paints to dry eventually.
Testing the cured paint
When all the layers of paint in the pan are dry I start my last series of tests.
First of all I have a look at the pan, and ask myself “do I like what I see?” I personally don’t like big cracks in my paint. Big cracks in the paint could mean I didn’t use enough binder. Not enough binder could result in paint rubbing off the paper. I already checked that during the mulling stage, but I will also test for it now. If the paint has cracks but doesn’t rub off, it’s good to use. But I would repeat all the steps again and use a little bit more binder to see if there’s a difference. If it results in less or no cracks, and the paint performs as well, I would prefer the paint without the cracks. But if it performs less, then I would settle for the paint with cracks. Paint that doesn’t dry at all, could also be the case. This, most of the times, is the result of too much humectant in the paint. So if this happens, I’ll make the paint again, adding less humectant.
Next I will check how well the paint activates. It needs to activate easily, or it won’t be a joy to paint with. Mica’s tend to activate less easily. I never skip this step.
Lastly, I test how the paint performs on different kinds of paper. Making washes, see if I can lift the paint (this can be tricky, because if you can lift the paint also depends on the paper you’re using), layering the paint, etcetera.
After I write all my findings down in my notebook (did I mention my notebook already?), I will start over again if I think the paint needs improvement. Sometimes I’m lucky, and the first recipe I try works like a charm.
So there you have it, that’s how I work with new pigments.