Mixing your own watercolors allows you to make an incredibly archival, very high quality paint that has a more brilliant luminosity (see comparison to commercial tubed paint below) and are free of fillers, preservatives, heavy metals, petroleum-based pigments and toxins. And it couldn't be simpler!
Honey (if you want a vegan version, use glycerin)
clove or thyme essential oil (preservative)
sodium benzoate (preservative)
Oxgal (not vegan)
Step 1: Make the Watercolor Base:
- Mix 1 cup hot water with ½ cup Gum Arabic Powder
- Add in 1/5 cup honey (a little less than ¼ cup)
- Add two drops of clove or thyme essential oil to help preserve it
Preservative Note: For a stronger preservative you can use sodium benzoate – a food grade preservative - 1/2 - 1 tsp. If you are storing this base for an extended period, keep it in the fridge to extend shelf life. These preservative options are natural and mild so they will not preserve the paints at hot or room temps. for long periods of time like toxic, synthetic preservatives do. For permanent preservation, dry them in shallow pans and re-wet as needed.
- In separate bowl, mix 1 Tbsp. honey with 9 Tbsp. of above mixture (1:9). Note: this extra honey is added to help the pigments mix smoothly into the formula.
Step 2: Mix in Pigment:
- Mix 1 part "watercolor base" with 1 part pigment (adjust as necessary). For example, 9 tsp. mixture and 9 tsp. pigment. The most effective mixing is done with a palette knife on a glass palette to start and then further mixing with a glass muller on a glass palette but you can also mix with simply a palette knife or even just a spoon or fork in a bowl.
- Note: Each pigment has completely different properties and behaves differently so determine what each pigment needs. For example, I found that blue needed a little more pigment than 1:1 and terre verte needs less. 10g (.35 oz.) is enough to make around 1-2 full pans of watercolor (depending on the pigment)
- Optional Ingredients: Add 2 drops of oxgall to increase flow of paint. Add 24 drops of glycerine to increase flow and add more vibrancy.
Step 3: Storage Options
- small air tight jars (will last for 2-3 weeks or longer if refrigerated)
- let dry into cakes in half or full pans or any small, shallow container (may take a few days to fully dry). Will stay good indefinitely.
- small, empty aluminum tubes (will last a little longer than small jars)
- The "base" mixture will stay good in a small glass jar for about one month. Be sure to mix it into paints before that happens.
- If the cakes crack when dry, make a note of which color and add more of the gum solution next time or add a few drops of glycerine.
Comparison of these home-made watercolors with professional quality, tubed, commercial watercolors.
Notice the vibrancy in the hand-made colors!
About the Ingredients:
Gum Arabic is a watersoluble gum which is extracted from the acacia tree, and it acts as the glue that binds the pigment.
Honey is a humectant which helps the paint retain moisture and re-wet after drying. Honey is also a natural preservative and a plasticiser, meaning that it increases the flexibility of gum Arabic (a naturally brittle binder) and prevent cracking in the pan after drying. Runny honey is best, rather than the harder variety.
Like honey, glycerin is a humectant and a plasticiser which can be bought at a pharmacy (it is a common ingredient in skincare products). I used both honey and glycerin in my binder because I find too much honey to be very sticky, but either glycerin or honey would work on its own.
A natural antibacterial and antifungal agent, clove oil is an excellent preservative which stops the paint going moldy.