How to Make Natural Paints Like the Native Americans

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Native American painting traditions predate the arrival of European explorers, with different colors holding symbolic meanings. The paints were made from natural pigments, including minerals and plant material, mixed with a fish-egg binder. While some of the materials used then to make specific colors such as lapis lazuli, might be a little pricey today, you can still make many of the natural paints using the yolk of a hen’s egg.

Paint Mix

Prepare your paints by mixing finely ground or crushed pigments from plants, minerals and other sources with a beaten egg yolk binder. You can also mix your pigments with melted animal fat, linseed oil or milk as binders. Mix a little water to get the consistency you want for your project.For some pigments, such as dirt or clay, you can use water alone. if you prefer.

Brown Paints

The simplest brown paint comes from mixing ordinary dirt with water and brushing it onto the project surface. You can also get a red-tinted brown paint by scraping rust from a metal surface and mixing it with the binder.

Red Paints

Red paints come primarily from iron-rich clays or berries. Native Americans also used certain types of beetles to create these paint colors. Recycle broken terracotta garden pots by crushing them into a fine powder and mixing them with your binder. For deeper colors, you can mash the berries and heat them slightly to release more of the colorful juice.

White Paints

Limestone, gypsum or white kaolin clay produce white paint when ground finely and blended with a binder. Eggshells and sea shells are also good sources for whites, along with white chalk.

Black Paints

Soot or charcoal make excellent paint when combined with an egg yolk or other binder. Like the other pigment sources, they need to be ground finely so that the paint mixes smoothly.

Blue Paints

Native Americans used powdered azurite or lapis lazuli to make blue hues. Because those minerals were not easy to come by, they were used sparingly. Substitute blueberry juice and white vinegar, sunflower seeds or blue-hued flowers for less precious and costly options.

Green Paints

Although green is a prevalent color in nature, it is one of the most difficult to recreate in natural paints. Most of them will be quite pale, but you can still make them from moss and algae.

Yellow Paints

The gall bladder and other internal organs of the buffalo were the most common source of yellow paint for the Native Americans, but you can make yours from the skins of yellow onions or from flowers, moss and other yellow plants.

Tip

  • As long as you can make red, blue and yellow -- along with black and white -- you can mix these to make all the colors found on the artist's color wheel including neutrals and browns.

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