Making your own watercolors allows you to make an incredibly archival, high quality paint that has a more brilliant luminosity than tubed pro-quality watercolors and is free of fillers, preservatives, heavy metals, petroleum-based pigments and toxins.
And it couldn't be simpler!
- Clove or thyme essential oil (preservative)
- Sodium benzoate (stronger preservative)
- Oxgal (increases flow, not vegan)
1. Mixing the Watercolor Base
Mix 1 cup hot water with ½ cup Gum Arabic Powder. Then, add in 1/5 cup honey or glycerin (a little less than ¼ cup). To help preserve the mixture, add two drops of clove or thyme essential oil. For a stronger preservative, you can use sodium benzoate, a food grade preservative (1/2 - 1 tsp.)
In separate bowl, mix 1 Tbsp. honey with 9 Tbsp. of the above mixture (1:9).
2. Mixing in Pigment
Note: Each natural pigment has different properties and behaves differently, so you will need to adjust accordingly. For example, we find that Ultramarine Blue needs a little more pigment than 1:1, and Terre Verte needs less pigment.
Optional: For more thorough mixing, mix the pigment and the mixture with a glass muller by making circular motions over the paint, then using the palette knife to scrape the paint back into a pile and mulling again.
Store in airtight jars or small aluminum tubes, or let dry into cakes or pans.
- If you are storing the watercolor base for an extended period, refrigerate to extend shelf life. These preservative options are natural and mild so they will not preserve the paints at hot or room temperatures for long periods of time like toxic, synthetic preservatives do.
- Add 2 drops of oxgall to increase flow of paint. Add 24 drops of glycerine to increase flow and add more vibrancy.
- If the cakes crack when dry, make a note of which color and add more of the Gum Arabic solution next time. Alternatively, adding a few drops of glycerin helps as well.
More of a visual learner? Check out our Vibrant Earth Watercolor tutorial!
About the Ingredients:
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.
Gum Arabic is a water-soluble gum which is extracted from the acacia tree, and it acts as the glue that binds the pigment.
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 use 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.