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Making your Own Paint

What is Paint?

While viewing any artifact that involves paint the materials used in the medium is often a significant part of it’s analysis. Although it is believed we have progressed considerably with the development of paint, discoveries provide various lessons to learn both good and bad from examination accompanied with tons of documentation on obtaining archive (quality) specifications from historical works of art. There are many painters who prefer to maintain interest only on the quality of their draftsmanship. But, there will come a time when they will realize that if they want to paint, it becomes an added benefit to obtain some knowledge of the chemistry involved. You don’t have to become a chemist but you should always do some research about the quality of the materials you use (not always what the manufacturer provides) and how they act with each other. Additionally as a safety precaution read up on the thousands of MSDS sheets available online to protect yourself and others from potential hazards. The key is learning to do it safely.

All paints are mixtures of dry pigments from natural minerals, dyed minerals or vegetation dyes and chemical compounds blended with a medium or binder. What establishes the paint used as truly archive quality is greatly dependent on what materials are used and how they are applied.

About Binders

The medium used to carry and/or affix paint pigments to it’s support is known as a binder. Covered in more detail on each referenced page many binders have been used such as: bees wax for encaustic, distilled water and pigment into lime plaster on frescoes, eggs for tempera, milk glue in casein, linseed oil & resins with oil, gum arabic and/or linseed oil with pastels, gum arabic in watercolor,  and acrylic resin polymers in acrylic paint. All such mediums have acquired their own performance values.

Intercoat adhesion

Adhesion with paint is the ability of un-similar particles and/or binders of previous  surfaces to bond to each other. With painting there two types: mechanical and chemical adhesion.

  • Mechanical adhesion involves tooth created to a surface by priming or sanding promote a coat of paint’s bond to the lightly scratched surface. Basically you scratch the surface create “tooth” for the coating to hold on to.
  • Chemical adhesion, is when additional coats melt or bond into the coats previously applied. This occurs when between sessions after a layer has dried and you continue to paint without doing any surface preparation. One coating literally will melt into the previous one and in some cases (such as watercolors) an aggressive action will lift the previous coat. With both mechanical and chemical adhesion,  successful bonding is highly dependant upon being dirt or contaminate free on either the painting surface what is blended in the binders themselves.  Special note: about use of water in paint

Therefore since adhesion is an essential aspect of learning to paint, it is equally important to understand the chemical composition characteristics of the binders used and to understand under what circumstances different paints can be used.


In an effort to prevent contamination and cleanliness in your studio, always store your paint mediums in clean containers or Empty Paint Tubes and make certain they are labeled.


Related links


Earth Pigments – “How to” Artist’s Paints 

Making Artist’s Paint An Easy To Follow Guide
By Tony Johansen, Director, East Sydney Academy Of Art

by Louis R. Velasquez

James Groves Varnish Mediums

Encaustic Wax Medium

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