How to Make Aboriginal Paint

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Most of the paint in Aboriginal art is derived from ochre.
Most of the paint in Aboriginal art is derived from ochre. (Image: boomerang image by Horticulture from Fotolia.com)

The Aboriginals are the native people of Australia, an island continent between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. In the 1970s, Aboriginal tribal leaders decided to promote the permanent recordings of their ceremonial stories in painting to prevent the complete loss of their culture. Using traditional paints that were used for skin and tree bark, Aboriginal artists painted on Masonite boards and later, on canvas. Australian museums began exhibiting the work in the 1980s that represent the mythology or "dreaming" of these native people. By following the traditions of the Aboriginals, you can make your own Aboriginal paint.

Things You'll Need

  • Ochres
  • Cheese cloth
  • Mallet
  • Glass jars
  • Saliva or blood
  • Spinifex gum
  • Charcoal
  • Dry clay

Mine ochre from special sites in Australia that Aborginials find sacred. Ochres are rocks that contain iron oxide, giving rich warm colors to Aboriginal paints. Bake your ochre in the sun for 24 hours to dry out completely.

Place the ochre in a cheese cloth and twist closed. Hit the ochre inside the cheese cloth with a mallet to grind into a fine powder.

Mix one part ochre in glass jar with one part saliva or blood. Some traditional Aboriginal painters mixed the ochres with kangaroo blood. The saliva or blood will bind the pigment. This paint is ready to use. Put the remaining unused powdered ochre in a clean glass jar.

Mix your one part pigment with one part spinifex gum, which is resin from the Australian grass tree, so it will bind properly to your canvas. You do not need this step, but many Aboriginals traditionally used spinifex gum to prevent their paint from chipping. It will help the paint last longer.

Add one part saliva to one part ground charcoal to create dark paint in a glass jar. Add one part spinifex gum to one part of your charcoal mixture to make it stronger.

Place one part ground white clay inside a clean glass jar with one part saliva and one part spinifex gum for a light cream or white paint.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you cannot travel to Australia, you can purchase ochre from specialty art stores.
  • If you cannot find spinifex gum, you can substitue it with acrylic paint binder. Many Aboriginal painters use this instead of spinifex gum.
  • You can grind different types of clay for Aboriginal paints to give your browns and reds.
  • Different ochres will produce yellows, browns and reds.
  • Wear a mask when pulverizing ochre, charcoal and clay.

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