Below are general how-to instructions for use with
Paint and Pigments Kit. If you are interested in individual
natural earth pigments and hide glue stabilizers you can find
those in our Glues,
Hafting, and Pigments product category.
Even though their main focus was usually utility,
Native Americans did not tend to skimp on colors in their work.
Whether this was for “medicine” or for simple effect, the finest
of modern made primitive replicas and other traditional art will
seek to echo this sense of color and flair. In addition, if the
restoration of actual artifacts is desired, using natural pigments
can benefit historical collectibles by maintaining accuracy of raw
Considering the choice of raw materials available
for the ancient needs, as well as the subtle color effects of
natural pigments on finished goods, the use of acrylics or modern
colors is not recommended.
Creating Paints From Earth Ochre
Too mix and use natural paints you will
need the following items:
• Brushes appropriate to the specific project
Small shallow plates of plastic, ceramic or metal
• A small
metal cup or jar lid that is heatable
• Heat source and
• A small flat-surfaced mixing stone
Natural oxides and earth ochre pigments may simply
be rubbed onto art objects to achieve a color effect, but the
piece will tend to smear pigment onto everything it touches.
Paints are mixtures that combine pigments with a stabilizing
medium that keeps the pigment where it is applied. The simplest
way to stabilize pigments in primitive paints is to mix the
pigments with a dilute solution of natural glue. Natural
Animal Hide glue is a perfect traditional medium for this
Animal hide glue is a water soluble,
heat-sensitive material available in the form of small amber
colored granules. It will dissolve slowly in cool water and much
more rapidly in hot/warm water. Solutions that are thick enough to
gel when cooled are generally too thick to use for paints and
should be diluted.
For a natural paint base, a very dilute (watery)
solution is best. The solution must be strong enough to bind the
pigment particles when dry, but not so strong as to gel when it
cools before drying.
Place about two tablespoons of water in a metal
cup that can take some heat. Almost anything will do, even a large
spoon. Heat the vessel gradually until the water is hot (but not
boiling). Put a very small amount of hide glue into the hot water
and continue to heat, stirring once or twice at first to help the
The solution will appear to get cloudy as the hide
glue dissolves. When it is cloudy enough to become
non-transparent, the solution is about right. The un-dissolved
glue will be in the bottom of the cup. A very slight stir or two
will help to ensure the mix is even.
Place the desired color of pigment on a plastic or
ceramic mixing plate in a small pile.
Pour a small amount of the dilute hide glue onto
the pile of pigment. It takes less liquid than you might think to
get a good mix. Leave any partially dissolved glue in the
heat-able container as you want only pure liquid on your mixing
Take the mixing stone and grind the pigments into the
wet glue until a consistent color and texture is obtained. If your
paint tends to gel immediately upon cooling to room temperature,
add a very small amount of clean warm water to the pile and remix.
Using a mixing stone is not necessary if you are
wanting a thin paint mixture for detail work. For a thin mixture
simply add more of the glue and water binder solution and mix
thoroughly with a paintbrush until desired consistency and
thickness is reached.
If you smear all of your paint onto the bottom of
the mixing plate during mixing, don’t worry. After you do the
immediate project, you can let your mixing plate dry and the next
time you use it you need only spit into the plate or add a little
water to re-liquefy the paint. The hide glue is still there. Use
your brush to mix the paint before every stroke.
Paint your project with enough to be just thick
enough to color but not too thick to avoid build up.
Make sure you use a different mixing plate and
brush for each color, then store them for the next use and
re-liquefy as stated above.
Hide glue stabilized paints are colorfast but not
at all waterproof. Protect your finished painting project with
paste waxes as outlined below.
Sealing and Protecting Pigments
After your project is artfully pigmented, you may
wish to avoid the just-off-the-assembly-line look that most modern
pieces have by using paste waxes and natural ochre pigments.
Paste wax such as Johnson’s is a good medium to
use for stabilizing a finished surface. Mixing pigments with wax
will tend to blend and unify the colors to give an overall
pleasant appearance. Polishing with a buff or a soft cloth after
the wax dries gives a hand-rubbed look that improves almost any
Be sure your piece is thoroughly dried, especially
the hide glue and bindings. Application of wax will stop the
drying process and should only be done with completely dry
Heat your wax until it is very soft, and/or almost
liquefied. This is best done in the sun, as open flame and wax
vapors are a fire hazard and dangerous to your health. Most
sealing wax vapors are toxic to breathe, so avoid allowing the wax
to heat to the point of creating excessive vapors. If vapors are a
problem, do this task outside and uitilize a fan to blow any
vapors away from the project area.
Mix the appropriate amount of ochre pigments in
the softened wax. Generally, a half teaspoonful of dark pigment in
a cup of wax is plenty, but you may need to experiment to get the
best mix depending on the desired effect you want for your
Most useful colors are the dull/dark yellow and
the black magnetite or iron oxide. The color of the wet wax should
be a dark greenish black for a used and ancient look.
Apply pigmented wax liberally to the piece. Be
sure to get wax into all the recesses. Wipe away excess and dust
the piece to ensure dirt in the crevices. Allow piece to dry
Buff with a rotary buff or by hand with a soft
cloth to bring a polish to the high points of the piece. If done
correctly (and maybe after some further experimentation to perfect
the process), you will most likely be impressed by the final
We hope you were enjoyed the information in this
how-to article. For other lessons in primitive skill building and
traditional weaponry replication please check out our GoKnapping
Kits product category. There you will find other all inclusive
lessons in skill sets like flint knapping, knife making, and arrow
Copyright 2015 Elliot Collins