Handmade watercolor paints (History, tips and tutorial)

The use of watercolors goes back to prehistoric times when colors were made from pigments found in nature. At present we can get watercolors of a thousand different colors in any art store.

But if our ancestors created colors in watercolors with so few materials and used them to paint, document and communicate their lives, why don’t we try to make handmade watercolor paints? Do we really know what pigments watercolors contain?

In this article, we are going to learn together a bit of history and a small tutorial to create your own handmade watercolor paints.

Keep reading to learn more about watercolor diy!

Handmade paint in history

As we mentioned before, the existence and use of watercolor paint dates back thousands of years when primitive man mixed pigments found in nature with saliva or animal fat to form a colored paste that was soluble in water.

The pigments were finely ground and the most used were charcoal, earth, clay and ochres.

Today, gum arabic (extracted from the acacia tree) is used as a water-soluble binder, replacing the use of saliva or animal fat. Watercolor paints are made up of natural and synthetic pigments capable of forming a wide variety of colors.

In addition, the industrial watercolors that we know today contain additives to prolong their useful life, but that at the same time alter the appearance of the paint and the way it works.


Handmade watercolor paints

If you ask me why do diy watercolor paint, I must answer that the colors of nature are unique, vibrant and inspiring and create a connection between us as artists and our tools and materials.

Making and using natural, non-toxic products that can return to the earth is part of a process of raising awareness about the environment in which we live.

Creating art and taking care of the planet are two issues that can go hand in hand, although unfortunately, many of the watercolor paints that we get in stores are made from synthetic pigments whose manufacturing processes are highly harmful to the environment.

While today, it can be hard to imagine a time when paints couldn’t be bought ready to use, things were different a few years ago as artists used to make their own paints and passed the technique from master to student. 

Next, I will explain step by step how to create your own watercolor DIY.

Handmade watercolor paints

How to make watercolor paint?

The making of handmade watercolor paints is part of the painting process once you start doing it you will see that its unique characteristics are very different from those of commercial watercolors.

Manipulating the pigments allows you to create high-quality paints without additives, toxins, etc.

Before starting with this tutorial for the elaboration of watercolor paints, I advise you to:

  • Use protection for your eyes and respiratory tract.
  • You should not use kitchen utensils for this process or do it in your kitchen or near food.
  • Your work area must be ventilated.

Materials & Tools

  • Ground pigment
  • Gum Arabic
  • Warm water (use distilled if tap water is highly alkaline)
  • Honey or Glycerine
  • Glass muller
  • Natural preservative (you can use rosemary essential oil)
  • Watercolor container (it can be an empty container of old watercolors or bottle caps, for example)
  • Spatula

Step 1: Binder Solution

  • Dissolve two-part gum Arabic powder in four parts warm distilled water. Pour slowly and stir for 10-15 minutes.
  • Add one part of honey or glycerine (humectant) into the binder mixture. This ingredient is used to make the paint more fluid and so that when painting it releases the color faster.
  • Add a few drops of rosemary essential oil to the binding solution. This oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties that will naturally preserve the paint for a longer time.
  • Let the solution sit for 24-48 hours for the gum arabic particles to hydrate completely before mixing with the pigment.

Step 2: Pigments

The choice of a pigment should not only be a matter of taste for the resulting color, but also its durability, versatility and the impact that each pigment has on health and the environment.

If you are starting to create your own paints, I recommend using earth pigments, as you will find a huge range of colors in them, from reds and yellows to greens and blues.

  • The pigments must be finely ground to be able to use them, for this use the glass grinder.
  • Place the desired amount of pigment and add an equal amount of binder to the pigment.
  • Mix with a spatula until the mixture has a pasty consistency. If the mix is too stiff, add more binder.
  • Place the paint paste in the glass grinder and slowly grind in circular motions.

Step 3: Trial and error

After grinding the paint paste, test the paint on watercolor paper. Let it dry before rubbing it off with your finger.

If you notice the paint dust coming off, add more binder. On the other hand, if the paint seems too bright, this indicates that you have too much binder and you will need to add more pigment.

Step 4: Into the mold

When you think your paint is ready, fill empty watercolor pans or some bottle caps (to recycle) and let them sit.

If at this stage the paint cracks, next time add a little more gum solution to that particular pigment, as some pigments require an adjustment in proportions. However, cracking does not affect the usability of the finished paint.

watercolor painting

Make handmade watercolor paints!

Handmade watercolor paints are part of a creative process that requires practice to explore, try, make mistakes and learn along the way. Have fun creating!

I hope you found this diy watercolor paint tutorial helpful and answered your question about how to make watercolor paint.

You can also see some phone case painting ideas by clicking here.