As I try to focus in on the materials I use in my practice, examining their environmental impact and the way they can symbolically or physically connect to the natural world, I wanted to explore creating my own watercolour pigments. In doing so, I hoped I could find further connections to nature in my materials, while also understanding exactly what goes into making these pigments and potential environmental impacts. As a starting point, I chose to use a collection of brightly coloured tulip petals to see how the colours would translate.
Above image: Blue, purple, yellow and pink tulip pigment in dry and wet form and painted onto paper.
Making the pigments:
Step 1: Dry
To turn the petals into pigment, they needed to be fully dried out. The process of leaving organic material out to dry is always longer than you think, and they still retain moisture even when they feel dry. To dry out my petals, I left them in warmer conditions to speed up the process (an oven on a very low temperature works well).
Step 2: Grind & Sieve
Once dried, I then ground down the petals into fine, dry pigment (it is at the stage that you will know whether the material has been dried out enough). I used a standard pestle and mortar to grind my petals, this process was quite lengthy and I did still end up with larger bits of petal. To get rid of chunkier pieces, I sieved the petal pigment so that I was left with finer pigment.
Step 3: Making watercolour
To turn my dry tulip pigments into watercolour pigment, I used this Jackson's Art blog as a guide - Making Handmade Watercolours with Dry Pigment - Jackson's Art Blog (jacksonsart.com). To test, I mixed a small amount of dry pigment (1/2 tsp) with Gum Arabic (1/4 tbsp) and some honey (1/8 tsp). The resulting paste had quite a sticky texture, but the colour of the pigment was showing through stronger so I decided to test them.
Step 4: Painting
At first it was a little tricky to get used to the texture of the paint, it was difficult to apply smoothly, but I think this was more down to the consistency of the dry pigment (it needed to be finer). I tried to saturate areas heavily, making sure I added plenty of water to help blend the pigment out. I found that for some of the pigments, particularly the blue, the colour changed significantly from wet to dry. I would say the most successful pigments, in terms of depth and tone, were the blue and purple.
The next step will be to experiment with the quantities in the paste and to also try mixing pigments together, both when dry and wet. Overall, I am pleased with this as a first experiment for making my own watercolours, hopefully I can produce some interesting paintings from these.