The tools and techniques to make fancier paint are simple, and were even used in the Stone Age by our artsy ancestors. To make better paint, we need to focus on making more pigment. The following project is the foundation for making different kinds of paint and even color crayons from rocks.
You will need:
- Scrap piece of cloth
- Stone mortar and pestle
- Clear glass jars
- Canning funnel
- Fine-mesh filter (tea strainers work well)
1: BREAK LARGER STONES INTO SMALL STONES
If the rock is bigger than a Ping-Pong ball, it needs to be broken up. Bring it to a hard surface (like a larger stone) and cover it with a piece of fabric. Use a hammer to hit the stone
through the fabric. If it doesn’t break after a few whacks it is too hard for the mortar and pestle.
2: TAP STONES INTO GRAVEL
Gather soft stones (see Project 1) and bring them home to your workspace. Set up outside if it’s nice out, or use a range hood or fan in the window if you have to be inside. Choose small stones to begin with. Place a rock about the size of a marble in the mortar. Tap the rock lightly with the
pestle. Continue tapping, each time a little harder, until the rock breaks open. Now tap
on each piece until it breaks into gravel.
TIPS: Wear eye protection and a dust mask while you are processing pigments, especially
large amounts. Work in a well-ventilated area, like outside. Work with small batches instead of trying to grind too much at once.
3: GRIND GRAVEL INTO POWDER
Use the pestle in a circular motion with downward and outward pressure to grind the gravel into sand. Keep grinding until the sand turns into powder. The goal with this step is
to make pigment that is as fine as flour. When you think you might be getting close, put your fingers in the mortar and feel the texture at the bottom of the bowl. If it feels sandy, keep grinding.
4: COLLECT YOUR PIGMENTS IN A JAR
When you are happy with how fine your pigment is, pour it into a jar through a funnel. Hold up
the mortar while you use your fingers to sweep the pigments into the funnel. The stone mortars and pestles can be pretty heavy for little kids, so it might be best if older kids do the heavy lifting while younger kids do the “sweeping.” If there are still some larger particles of stone, use a fine-mesh filter to sift them out when you are pouring the pigment into the jar.
TIPS: You can make a rich, black pigment from charcoal (see Projects 10 and 11). Process it in the same way as you do with stones.
Take your time and enjoy being part of a long tradition of paint making.
Super Fine Trick
If you want to make super-fine pigments, try this cool trick from the Stone Age. You only need a little bit of water and two jars with lids.
• Put your finely ground pigments in one of the jars.
• Then, add just enough water to cover the pigments.
• Put on the lid and shake it up for a few seconds. When you stop shaking, the bigger pigment particles settle to the bottom first, leaving the finer ones swimming around in the water.
• Collect the fine pigments by slowly pouring the liquid into the other jar, leaving the sludge in the bottom of the first jar. The stuff you poured off is ready to be mixed with a binder, or it can be set aside to dry. Now you have some super-fine pigments!
The Organic Artist for Kids: A DIY Guide to Making Your Own Eco-Friendly Art Supplies from Nature By Nick Neddo
This craft feature was originally published in JUNO Early Spring 2020