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During an investigation into using dry pigments and beeswax for painting rather than oilpaints, which I’m not enjoying, I’d been reading about making lake pigments and thought it would be fun to give it a try. These are pigments from plants as opposed to rock/earth/metal based colours, and since I already had some remedies as well as dried plant materials for dyeing wool, it wasn’t too much trouble to give it a try.

Plant pigments are presumably fugitive, so my plan is to only use the most light fast ones if I continue on this path, which, since I’ve started so late in the year after a 3 month drought, will happen next year in that case.

What I had on hand fresh were: cuttings from my ribes alpinum hedge (click for plant dye sample), birch twigs (hoping I’d get pink again – NOT), oak leaves, staghorn sumak, and one measly weld plant.

What I plan to try: madder, coreopsis tinctoria, FRESH birch (leaves only), dyer’s chamomile, cochineal, walnuts if I ever manage to get my hands on fresh green hulls, and well, we’ll see. Woad as pigment makes a lovely black mixed with cold wax medium.

I’m yet undecided whether I’ll use the pigments with wax or to turn them into watercolour pans. Possibly shellac ink?

What you need to extract pigments is alum, pot ash, soft water (lots), jars, coffee filters, an XL syringe or turkey baster, steel pot and hotplate for cooking the plant material, mortar for grinding, preferably a mask with particle filter for grinding and for handling the alum/potash.

Once again, this is not a viable income generator without a large space, water supply and drain plus some form of automation/better tools. Right now I empty the water out the window, coffee jar by coffee jar! And, basically, it also requires that you’re a one trick pony. For 50 g of powder so far I need about 600 g of plant matter, which is a very large pot.

And while I was at it, having removed some of the birch twigs, I kept back some sticks for crude painting, since making nature brushes is also on my list of making art supplies close to home.

The pigments take a long time to dry even during a heatwave, so I have another post cooking with more details, images and how-to. See you next week!