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Recipe: Professional-Grade Natural Watercolors

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!

Ingredients

or

Optional Ingredients:

  • Clove or thyme essential oil (preservative)
  • Sodium benzoate (stronger preservative)
  • Oxgal (increases flow, not vegan)

1. Prepare Watercolor Medium:

6 Tbsp hot water

3 Tbsp gum arabic powder

2 Tbsp honey

1. Pour gum arabic powder into the hot water and mix until fully dissolved

2. Mix in honey

3. Optional- add 1-2 drops clove or thyme essential oil or 1/2 teaspoon of sodium benzoate as a preservative and mix thoroughly

Notes: Watercolor medium must be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until used. 

This recipe makes enough medium for 20-25 full pans 

2. Prepare Watercolor Paint

Mix 1 part watercolor medium with 1 part pigment (adjust as necessary). For example, if you’re using 1 Tbsp. of the watercolor base, use 1 Tbsp. 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.

Scoop pigment onto glass palette and make a small indentation on top.

Pour medium onto pigment and mix with a palette knife on a glass palette. The texture should feel like toothpaste under the knife; if it feels a little gritty, add a drop or two of more medium and keep mixing.

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. See more notes on mulling at the end of this post.

3. Storing

Scoop and scrape the paint into your chosen container with the palette knife. Store in airtight jars or small aluminum tubes, or let dry into cakes or pans. If drying into cakes or pans, let dry thoroughly – ideally 3 days to a week – in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. For best results, fill pan 1/2 way, let dry 1 or 2 days, then fill to the top and let dry.

To fill 1 full pan, start with 1 teaspoon watercolor medium and 1 teaspoon pigment.

Notes

  • 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. 

Artist Tips

  • 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!