Recipe for watercolours made from powdered pigment

All pigments have their unique beauty and identity, indeed it is this diversity that offers such enjoyment for the artist. There is no such thing as a bad pigment, just differing attributes.

Pigment powder

Once you begin making your first home-made watercolor you will quickly realise that different pigments have different properties. Some are transparent, some opaque, some grainy and some smooth, others stain easily whilst some sit on the surface of the paper. Many refuse to mix while others blend smoothly.

Permanence has got to be one of the most dwelled upon obsessions, and indeed if you imagine yourself immortalised in the parade of great artists after your death you’ll probably be making efforts to use the most enduring materials. But, there is no reason not to accept the inevitable degradations over time – after-all most things degrade – in which case why not splash out on those few UV unstable colours and see what happens.

Realistically most of the pigments sold here will give a good long life. But take some inspiration from the Mughal miniature painters whose techniques of burnishing their pigments and keeping their pictures stored away unless summoned into the light for display, have kept these works in pristine condition for centuries.

Tools and materials

A glass muller is used to mix the materials below into a nice smooth paste

Marble or glass slab to grind on

Putty knife – to mix stuff together without getting your paws dirty

Gum Arabic – a binder, purchased as crystals, mixed with very hot water (but not boiled) to a slightly thinner consistency than honey. This is the bulk of the medium used to suspend your powder pigments.

Clove oil – used in the dental world, will make your watercolor smell so nice. Some colors seem to mould more than others. Wet or liquid Ultramarine in a jar too long soon starts to smell. Some drops of clove oil will sort this out, it’s a fungicide.

Glycerin – is a plasticizer, and helps to soften the gum arabic which is quite brittle when it dries

Honey – is a humectant, and helps the paint retain mosture (especially in pan paints), you can also use corn syrup of a combination of the two.

Dextrin is an extender or filler, used to bulk out and thicken the paint without noticeably affecting the color.  Dextrin can be made from wheat starch mixed with water.

Ox gall – is a dispersant, for those stubborn pigments that clump and aggregate or hate to mix with water.


Humectant Mix 2 teaspoon honey in 1 tablespoon corn syrup – alternatively just use one or the other.

Dextrin – if required – dissolve 2 – 1 white wheat starch and boiling water. Stir until smooth.

Vehicle mix

3 tablespoons gum arabic solution

1 tablespoon glycerin

3 teaspoon humectant

6 drops ox gall

2 drops oil of clove

Refrigerate until needed.


1. Mix a tablespoon of pigment with a little distilled water until the pigment is all moist, then gradually add medium, turning it back and forth into a paste with a palette knife

2. When you have a creamy consistency use your muller to break the pigment aggregates. Keep going until you can’t feel the grinding texture smooth away (it’s a feel thing), add touches of water to keep the mixture moist.

3. Collect the mixture using the palette knife in a porcelain bowl and leave dry. It’s ready to use.

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