Paint from Red Sandstone

Today I made several different shades of paint from red sandstone.

When I make a paint from a pigment-rich stone, like this one, rather than waste what is left on the plate after mulling and scraping up the paint, I’ll add either calcium carbonate (white white) or one of my other pigments to create a blend.

The Process

Making Paint from Red Sandstone

Find the red sandstone

First, I gathered the rock. Here’s how this stone looks if it’s on the ground. They’re easiest to see when damp, so most often I’ll get them out of the creek.

A red sandstone in the driveway. They're easier to spot when damp or wet.
A red sandstone in the driveway. They’re easier to spot when damp or wet.

Grind the rock

I ground the rock up with a mortar and pestle. If I’m starting with a rock larger than a marble, I’ll first break the rock into smaller pieces with a larger rock. I do that part outside.

Wash the pigment

Once the rock is ground, I’ll add it to a quart sized jar and fill the jar with water. When there’s a lot of pigment present, the water will be a strong color. If the water clarifies quickly, then I don’t separate it and will just pour the water off and dry the pigment that has settled.

To separate, pour off the colored water into small jars and leave the heavier part (the ‘heavies’) in the original jar. Then let it settle. These are what I call the ‘lites’ or ‘lights’. If there is still a lot of color in the water after fifteen or thirty minutes or so, I’ll pour it off again into more small jars and let that part settle separately. I call that part ‘lite lites’. The heaviest portion that is left in the jar after pouring off the color water is what I call ‘heavies’.

Remember to label everything. Otherwise you’ll have a hard time remembering what is what when you get ready to start making the paint.

Why bother washing?

Heavies, Lites, and Lite Lites will often yield enough difference in shades to make it worth the effort. Sometimes it doesn’t. The red sandstone usually does. Aside from the difference in shade of color, there is a difference in texture. Heavies of any pigment are generally grittier and lites are always very smooth.

Dry the pigment

After the sediments have settled and the water is clear, pour off the clear part and keep the sediment. That is your pigment. Let this dry. I use a desiccator for this sometimes.

Sieve or grind

Once the pigment is dry it may need to be ground up more in the mortar, or if it’s a solid cake (the lites do this), you’ll need to break and sieve it so that there are no clumps when you begin the mulling.

Mull the paint

This is assuming you’ve already prepared your media. There’s no method to my madness in the order I made the paint, but I started with the ‘lite lites’.

Making paint from red sandstone-Add a little pile of pigment and make a dent in it. Add the media to the dent and let it soak in for a little while before stirring it good with the spatula.
Add a little pile of pigment and make a dent in it. Add the media to the dent and let it soak in for a little while before stirring it good with the spatula.
The red sandstone lite lites on the mulling plate.
The red sandstone lite lites on the mulling plate.

Once I’d scraped all I could off of the plate, there was still a lot of color left behind. This particular pigment is so pervasive it almost stains the glass. So to avoid washing it down the drain, I’ll add a teaspoon or so of calcium carbonate (pure limestone) and use it to pick up the rest of the color.

When I make paint from red sandstone, I don't like to wash the residue on the plate down the drain so I use calcium carbonate to make a lighter shade of gouache.
When I make paint from red sandstone, I don’t like to wash the residue on the plate down the drain so I use calcium carbonate to make a lighter shade or gouache. Most of my handmade watercolors are more like gouaches than transparent watercolors because of the nature of earth pigments. But the limestone powder makes it even more opaque.

Rinse and Repeat to make more shades of paint from red sandstone

I followed the same procedure for the other two fractions (heavies and lites). But instead of using only the calcium carbonate at the end after scraping the plate as clean as I could, I added some of my other pigments. To the lites I added a yellow lites. And to the heavies I added pink lites.

Red Sandstone Paint Swatches

The Finished Paints

All the color variations of my red sandstone paint.

Madison Woods is an author, artist, and Paleo Paint maker living
with her husband in northwest Arkansas far off the beaten path. She uses paint made from rocks, and mostly Ozark pigments to create her paintings.

Contact Info:
Email: Madison@wildozark.com
Instagram: @wildozark
Facebook: @wildozark

I’ll have some of the paints I’m making this week for sale at the Little Craft Show in Bentonville on December 7, 2019. Whatever doesn’t sell there will be listed at my Wild Ozark shop soon after. If you’re in the area, come out to see my original paintings, prints, and handmade watercolor paints. All of it features Ozark pigments!

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