Lapis Lazuli and Red Jasper Watercolors

Lately I’ve been experimenting with grinding various stones into powder and then making watercolor from that. Some of the stones I found myself but here’s two that I bought.

Lapis Lazuli Pigment

I’ve had this tiny piece of lapis lazuli for many years. The actual process of extracting lazurite from this is more than just hitting it with a hammer. From what I’ve read it involves oils and clay that’s used to remove impurities like pyrite and clear minerals, but I don’t have all the needed materials and my piece is so small that there wouldn’t be enough pure pigment for me to make paint. Therefor the impurities are going to stay, even if only to add some bulk. Grinding this was surprisingly easy.

Lapis Lazuli Watercolor

The paint I made from it was a gentle smokey blue that’s very granulating. You can’t see it in the photo but there’s little glints of sparkle from the pyrite. If it looks a little greenish it might be because the water I was using had already been used for other paints and needed to be changed. Maybe the impurities are a factor too.

Lapis Lazuli Pan

That little stone ended up being just enough for a full pan of watercolor. Some of the paint swatches it’s sitting on are from store bought tubes and some I made myself from dry pigment I bought, but there’s a few in the top right corner that were made from stones I found. These swatches are all from me trying to figure out which colors I want to include in my new travel case.

Red Jasper Pigment

This is red jasper that I mail ordered. It was completely different to grind because it was so much harder. The card that came with it said it was a hardness of 6.7. I don’t know the hardness of any of the other stones I’ve found but none were as hard to grind at this one.

The pigment was a little duller than the stone itself. A lot of pigments become lighter and duller as they’re ground more finely. The lapis lazuli was the same way.

Red Jasper Watercolor

Here’s the finished red jasper paint. It’s not as red as I was originally hoping, more of a brown, and still a little gritty. It has a nice granulation though and a good amount of darkness and opacity to the paint at full strength. Maybe someday I’ll order some yellow jasper.

There’s a lot of other stones that I’ve tried turning into paint and I still have more to experiment with, but I thought these were two of the more successful ones.

Anthracite Coal Watercolor

Anthracite Watercolor Swatches

When I was looking for interesting rocks at a local rock shop to grind into pigment I found a piece of anthracite. I knew various forms of coal or related materials could be made into paint, so I thought I’d try it. I don’t know what the lightfastness of this is, but it’s probably not very good. Even so, I really like this slightly brownish black watercolor paint.

The wet on wet swatch is my favorite because it was so inert in the water that it easily retained interesting visual textures. In the light wash you can see that there’s a few very tiny loose particles in the paint. I just wiped one of them off the paper, so maybe I needed to mull the paint longer. The pigment had a little resistance to mixing with the wet ingredients, but not nearly as much as when I tried making viridian watercolor a few weeks ago.

Making Anthracite 1

Here’s the tools I used for making the pigment. The mortar and pestle are stainless steel and I only use it for grinding pigment. This is the second time I’ve used it like this. The first time I was doing this exact process but with some pieces of tiger’s eye a few weeks ago.

The goggles are obviously to protect my eyes, since little pieces of anthracite kept flying everywhere. The steel block that the anthracite is on is meant for making jewelry. I ordered it from Amazon specifically for doing this kind of thing. The hammer is 3 lb because with more weight I can move the hammer more slowly, giving me more control, and still have the same impact force.

Making Anthracite 2

The anthracite has a lot of interesting textures in it. In some places the pattern of the cracks almost looks like wood, and in other places it’s very glossy and looks like obsidian.

Making Anthracite 3

I found that tapping very lightly with the hammer was best, even though it seemed slow, because otherwise the little pieces would fly everywhere. Holding the hammer just below its head gave me more control. I found that holding my hand on one side of the block and tapping with the hammer angled toward that side helped a lot to prevent pieces from flying off the block. It’s not necessary to break it down into a fine powder at this point, a coarse powder is all that’s needed.

Making Anthracite 4

Here’s the finished pigment, ground much finer with the mortar and pestle. It turned out to not be as fine as I thought. When I actually put this under the muller to make paint it still felt pretty coarse, but it smoothed out a bit as I mulled it.

I still have most of the anthracite left, which I may grind up later and use to make oil paint.

Self Made Watercolor in Tubes

12 Tubes

I’ve been pretty busy the last several days making and tubing a set of watercolors for myself. I had gotten 12 tubes from Daniel Smith recently and I wanted to make one paint for each of them.

12 Tubes Swatches Tall

I can’t guarantee perfect color accuracy from my scanner, but here’s the swatches for each paint I made. I really like the way Pozzuoli Red and Nicosia Green Earth look next to each other. The Shungite Black Ochre was different from the rest. When I was mixing it with the gum arabic I noticed patches of a slightly oily sheen on top of the liquid. I know that a pigment like lamp black is naturally oily, so maybe this one is too? I really like the paint it made though and I’m planning on making a painting with just this and maybe some of the titanium white.

Here are some things I would recommend for making your own watercolor paints-

• A basic recipe includes gum arabic, honey, and glycerin. It may take some experimenting to find a good balance of ingredients and to know how much pigment to use. Different pigments seem to require more liquid to avoid being thick and pasty, while others may become very thin and watery with the same amount of liquid added. I’m still experimenting to find a good balance, but most of these paints here I made with about 1 part gum arabic to 2 parts pigment, by volume, and a few drops of honey and glycerin.

• Start with a few inexpensive pigments, such as burnt sienna, so you can practice without worrying about the cost if the paint doesn’t work out well on the first few tries.

• Making your own gum arabic from a powder and some warm water costs less and is very easy to do. I mixed 1 part powder to 2 parts water by volume and got good results. Just let it sit in a jar for a while until it’s fully disolved.

• There are alternatives to gum arabic, such as dextrin, that may be cheaper and produce different results. I haven’t used it yet, but dextrin is supposed to make a thicker watercolor paint than gum arabic. I’ve also tried using peach tree sap and have gotten good results with that too. One of the best parts of making your own paint is that you can produce results that handle differently from what standard commercially made paint offers, so feel free to try different things.

• Mulling/grinding pigment with a glass muller on a glass plate is important for fully coating each pigment particle in vehicle, which in this case is the gum arabic/honey/glycerin mixture, as well as breaking down large conglomerates of pigment particles. Some pigments require more mulling than others.

• Until you gain more experience and confidence, avoid using toxic pigments. Most of the paints I made here are non-toxic, but even they would be bad to breathe in the fine dust of the dry pigment. Toxic pigments can pose a serious health risk in their dry form before being made into paint if they are breathed in. Wearing a dust mask would be a good idea when handling dry pigments.

Some advice for buying pigments-

• Buying a larger amount of a pigment at once will mean a better price per gram, but it’s probably not necessary to purchase a huge amount of a pigment unless you know you’ll be using a lot of it. The two large jars in the first photo above contain one pound (453g) each of ultramarine (left) and mars yellow (right) from Blue Ridge that came in bags. I got them for an extremely good price, $14 for blue and $8 for yellow, but that might be more of those pigments than I’ll ever use in my life. Next time I think I’ll get half pound bags.

• Buying about 100g (weight) or about 4oz (volume) of pigment at once is a very good and common amount. It’s enough to make several tubes of paint with, so it’s cost effective when you consider the jar/bag of pigment probably cost the same or less than buying just one tube of pre-made paint, and it’s usually inexpensive enough in that size to buy several different colors to have more variety.

• Try finding unique pigments that aren’t made into watercolor paint by any brand. That way you can add these new paints to the watercolors you already use. For example, there are many varieties of natural yellow and red ochres, green earths, and both raw and burnt siennas and umbers but many brands of paint will only make one or two of each. There are also pigments used in oil paint that are also suitable for watercolor but that no one uses.

• There are many companies that sell dry pigments. You may find that one company sells pigment “A” for a high price and pigment “B” for a low price, but another company may be just the opposite. Some companies have high prices on all of their pigments. It’s a good idea to shop around and know what’s available. I found that Blue Ridge has some of the best prices on pigments, but the selection is a bit limited. They are available in 0.5 or 1 pound bags. Natural Pigments offers one of the largest selections of natural ochres, siennas, umbers, and green earths available in may different sizes, as well as other rare and specialty pigments. Daniel Smith has a limited selection of pigments available but only in 2oz jars or 1 pound bags. Some other companies that I haven’t ordered from yet include Kremer Pigments, Kama Pigments, Earth Pigments, and many other brands of paint that also sell the same pigments they use to make their own paint with.

• Remember that the point is to buy a pigment, not romance. Many paint makers sell their own pigments that they use to make their paint but at ridiculously high prices. They may be hoping that their brand name and reputation for making high quality paint will convince you spend $100 on a small jar of pigment that can be gotten elsewhere for $20. When looking at these pigments, ask yourself this- “After I make this into paint, will the final cost of materials for that paint be less than just buying a tube of the same paint from someone?” If the answer is no, then the pigment you’re looking at is priced too high. You should be able to make at least two or three tubes of paint from a small jar of pigment that’s the same price as buying it pre-made from a brand of paint.

• Of course, there are some rare pigments, such as lapis lazuli, that will cost a lot no matter who you buy them from and are not necessarily overpriced. It would be better to practice with cheaper pigments before investing in one of these.

Pill Box Watercolors

This is a weekly pill box that only cost something like $1.50 I think. I wanted to fill each of the seven spaces with paint I made so I could take it traveling, but by the time I got the first two done I was getting tired of making paint and cleaning up after each color. Also I was almost out of paper towels from all that cleaning. The other five colors I just squirted into it from tubes that I bought.

Hand Carved Wood Pen

A few years ago I was out hiking and came across some branches of a Manzanita tree laying on the ground. The red bark of these trees is extremely smooth and without any roughness. It doesn’t even look like they have bark because it’s so smooth. I took some sticks from it home thinking that I might try carving a wooden pen from them. It worked well but I don’t draw with ink very often so I just put away the pen and the rest of the sticks, until today.

Wood Pen 1a

I carved a new pen with an X-ACTO knife, using the same sticks I founded several years ago. I didn’t follow any instructions for this and I don’t have a lot of experience, but I just carved it in a way that I thought would make sense.

Wood Pen 1b

Only the tip is carved. The rest of the pen still has its bark and you can see how smooth it is.

Ink Test 1

Here’s a few test lines that I drew on Strathmore drawing paper, 400 series. All of these lines were drawn with the pen dipped into the ink just once. The lines were extremely thin and I put a coin next to them for comparison. Some of the lines are thinner than a hair. That ink I dipped the pen into is Noodler’s Black. I just recently got it. I don’t have much experience with different inks, but I read a lot of good things about this one on different websites so I ordered this from Amazon. I really like it so far.

Wood Pen 2

This is the pen I carved a few years ago with old ink stained on it. It seems like it’d be easy to make the tip be different sizes to get thicker or thinner lines.

As is drew with the new pen the lines got thicker because the tip was becoming duller as I used it. Drawing with these is a lot of fun, and for some reason I don’t feel like the drawing has to be perfect. Maybe it’s because the pen I’m holding isn’t straight, and the lines are a little rough when you look closely, so I feel like it’s also okay if the drawing also isn’t straight and a little rough.