Water colour is a transparent paint medium that consists of a pigment with a water-soluble binder. The paint is used with water and can be applied in thin layers due to its transparency and builds to a vibrant, rich colour.
In order to make water colour paint we need to mix the raw pigment with the binder which is essentially the ‘glue’ that sticks the pigment to the paper. As pigment is not water soluble, if we were to wet the pigment and paint it onto paper, once dry the pigment would start to come off. By contrast, a dye which is water soluble, would be absorbed into the paper changing the colour of the paper itself and no layer colour on like a paint would.
The water colour binder itself is water based, so the pigments become suspended into the binder and once it has dried, the colour remains on the paper as applied.
To make the paint, you will need the following items.
- Glass Slab ( Tempered glass is needed, I use a glass chopping board but marble board would also do)
- Glass Muller
- Measuring Spoon
- Palette Knife x 2
- Water spray bottle - small
- Water colour pans, shells or empty tubes for storing the paint once made.
It is often advised that the glass board must first be prepared especially when mulling earth pigments; this is done by dry mulling silicon carbide onto the glass to give it a frosted look. The reasoning is because earth pigment are generally bigger particle sizes and as such can be harder to mull, so having a surface that is frosted will aid the mulling process. However, I personally did not notice much difference in the mulling process between a prepared and a non prepared ie smooth surface except that I lost much more pigment to the tiny grooves in the surface.
First start with putting a small amount of pigment into the middle of the surface and begin by adding the exact same amount of binder. Using your palette knife, gentle mix the two together until combined. Some pigments will combine easily and others are extremely hydrophobic and it will seem like you do not have enough binder but after a few minutes of mixing, there is a change in the surface tension and they mix. All pigments need different amounts of binder, and this can only be learnt through trial and error and meticulous note taking, but starting with 1:1 ratio is generally a good starting point. I find the majority of the earth pigments I use do not deviate much from that ratio except by a few drops.
Using the glass muller, mull the paint in circular or figure 8 motions until the paint is smooth, this can take a few minutes to 30-40 minutes depending on the pigment make up and particle size. By mulling, you are not only grinding the particles smaller, but you are also aiding even dispersion of the pigment particles in the binder fluid. Once the paint is smooth, test the paint on paper, keeping track of timings, quantities, binder recipe and pigment codes for future use. You may need to continue mulling or if you are happy with your result, the paint is ready to use as it is or it can be dried in a pan. It is possible to buy empty paint tubes if you prefer tube paints, however, I prefer pan paint, so I put my paint into 2ml pans, empty palettes or even sea shells and left them dry before use.
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