Shades of Shale

Black shale is a common rock in our creeks and streams. The rocks are brittle and easy to crumble, and make a dark gray rub. A great candidate for making some paint.

And it makes a really buttery textured paint. But my first attempts using this stone for color brought mixed results. Our black shale is oil shale. It’s not oily to the touch, but it had some strange characteristics that proved challenging.

A basket full of black shale, fresh from the creek.
A basket full of black shale, fresh from the creek.

The paint smelled like sulfur and it was hard to wet when it came time to use it. But for a long time it was my closest thing to black, before I found out how to make black from charred things.

But it made a nice shade of brownish-black-gray, and sometimes I needed it.

Recently I decided to try again with the shale now that I’ve got a few new (old) tricks up my sleeve regarding paint-making.

Once the rock was ground to a pigment, I washed it. Washing, or levigation, is an old technique and it has a few different benefits. One is that it removes at least water-soluble impurities. If whatever was making the sulfur smell would go into the water, then it would fix the odor problem, because the water would be discarded.

Making Creek Shale, the color

The color story

So once I made the paint, it was time to try it out. I always make a little swatch of new colors, to see how they look. Again, I decided to use the 12 x 16 watercolor paper for the swatches and experiments, and then put it in my giant journal.

Levigating the shale made a huge difference in quality of the paint! And the lack of odor (so far, at least) is an added bonus. It was always an interesting gray, but the washed pigments gave a paint that is much smoother, easy to wet, and is capable of creating a tremendous range of depth. I can use this one paint for making nearly black to barely gray.

I really like the new and improved features of this paint. Washing the pigment made a huge difference in quality.

Even if it still ends up stinking, this is now one of my most versatile colors I’ll probably include in every palette.

Want to See?

Creek Shale was the second entry in my new journal. I’ll bring it with me on Sundays when I work at Kingston Square Arts, and I’ll probably bring it along at any events I show in. It’s going to be pretty cool as I add more color stories to it. Come out for a ride to Kingston, Arkansas on Sundays and take a look at it one day. I’d love to meet you and talk earth pigments and paints.

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

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