Red leaves of black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Deep red leaves of the black gum at the end of summer.

Black gum leaves begin turning deep red near the end of summer, sometimes long before any other leaves are starting to think of autumn.

This color is made from the late summer red leaves of black gum (also called black tupelo). It’s a tree native to the Ozarks and one of the few light-fast sources of plant pigments that I’ve found.

Red leaves of black gum, poured into pans and paint swatch painted.

Late Summer Shades

I can actually get three different shades of color from red black gum leaves, depending on when the leaves are gathered and/or how they are treated. The green lake pigment is a very nice shade of green, but it isn’t light fast.

From left to right: green lake pigment, water and ethanol extract, water only extract.
From left to right: green lake pigment, water and ethanol extract, water only extract.

The two brown shades are both light fast, based on my test strips that I hang outside in full sunlight. I leave them out for at least 4 weeks and they get full afternoon direct sunlight.

The green shade was made by precipitating pigments from the water and alcohol extract with alum and calcium carbonate. I love the color, but it doesn’t hold up to the light-fast test. So far it’s doing fine indoors, though.

The center shade was made using a water and alcohol extract, and the right shade was made using only water to extract the color from the leaves.

Red Leaves of Black Gum

The center shade will be included in my Soul of the Ozarks Collection No. 3, the next set of colors to be released which will include 9 colors from earth and plant pigments.

Wild Ozark Paleo Paints, Soul of the Ozarks Collection No. 3
Wild Ozark Paleo Paints, Soul of the Ozarks Collection No. 3

It’ll be to be released on November 23, 2018 at the Holiday Market to be held at the Walton-McBride Studio in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This set will be exclusive to that market until after Dec. 16 and after that I’ll list any sets left at my Etsy shop.

The hours and location for the Holiday Gift Market
Click the image to go to the website: https://communitycreativecenter.org/calling-all-artists-holiday-gift-market/

Making the Colors

gather the red leaves

Depending on when you gather the leaves, it may give you a slightly different shade of color.

Add to a pot of water

If you just use water, a lot of the red will remain in the leaves and not go into the water and will yield a color closer to the right hand image in the photo above.

 

I boiled the leaves gently. It may yield another shade to extract with alcohol and not boil it at all. I haven’t tried that yet, but it’s on my list of things to do.

The extract of red leaves of black gum trees.
The extract of red leaves of black gum trees.

Strain the water out. I use cheese cloth folded over several times.

I use cheesecloth to filter.
I use cheesecloth to filter.

Add solution of gum arabic. This makes a watery paint that will need to be panned several times as each layer dries. Store your paint in the refrigerator or it will mold and/or ferment. That, too, might yield a different color and is another experiment for the future. I’d leave the leaves in for that one.

What are Paleo Paints?

header for paleo paints blog post.

My husband once said my handmade paints reminded him of how the cave men made their paints for the cave drawings. And he was right! And so we called them Paleo Paints.

I make them by crushing rocks, clay, charred wood, and extract certain leaves to create pigments which are then added to a binder to make paint.

The type of binder used determines what kind of paint it is: gum Arabic for watercolors, linseed oil for oil paints, and egg yolks for tempera. Other binders can be used to serve the same purposes, but these are the three most people are familiar with.

I crush the rocks by hand with a mortar and pestle. But before that, I collect the rocks or herbs, or clay or char.

 

Some typical rocks that look like good pigment rocks. I'll pick out the one between the two larger ones.
Some typical rocks that look like good pigment rocks. I’ll pick out the one between the two larger ones.

When I see a rock that looks like it’ll make good pigment, sometimes I’ll crush a part of it on a larger rock out in the field to see what I might expect from it.

A tested rock. Excellent source of pigment for Paleo Paints!
A tested rock. Excellent source of pigment for Paleo Paints!

You’ll often find me with bulging pockets because I’ve seen something wonderful that needed to be made into paint and didn’t go out prepared to carry more than a handful home.

Crushed red sandstone that I'll use as a pigment for my Paleo Paints.
Crushed red sandstone that I’ll use as a pigment for my Paleo Paints.

The colors in my palettes are earthy, and rich with the essence of place. Each color carries with it a story that tells the origins of earth’s history for that particular spot where it lived.

Some of the colors from my first set of handmade watercolor paints.
Some of the colors from my first set of handmade watercolor paints.

By working with these materials to make paint, I feel a sense of collaboration and partnership – a harmony I have no other way to translate other than by making art.

I hope it brings the sacred tunes of ancient and ever-adapting life to your soul when you work with them, too.

Where to Find my Paleo Paints?

They’re at Etsy! Whenever they’re ready to ship, I list them on Etsy. Right now Collection No. 5 is listed. At the time of this post update, there are two sets left.

See this item at my Etsy shop.

I have 5 sets of Collection No. 3 that are reserved for an event from Nov. 23 – Dec. 16 (Walton Arts Center Holiday Market). Once that event is over, if there are any left, I’ll add them to the shop as well.

Collection No. 4 has one color that’s still not solidified enough to ship. Right now you can only pick it up in person on Saturdays when I’m at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market (indoors at the Ozark Natural Foods). Check my schedule to see when and where I’ll be.

So far, I’ve sold most of the original paintings I’ve done using them, but I have a lot of derivative products like prints, stickers, note cards! Those are all at the Etsy shop, too. The shop is still under construction, but there are some stickers listed now.

Links

Here’s my Etsy link: www.etsy.com/shop/wildozark

Here’s where you can see the paintings I’ve done so far: www.paleopaints.com/paintings/

Follow me on Instagram to stay current with what I’m doing: www.instagram.com/wildozark