What are Paleo Paints?

The Paleo Paints

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.

Paleo Paint Workshops

Do you prefer hands-on learning? I offer workshops to share the information I’ve learned so far. Most are single day workshops, but some of the more advanced ones will meet more than once because the process can’t be finished in one day.

Where to Find my Paleo Paints?

They’re at the WildOzark online shop whenever any are available.

You can also see them (and try them out!) in person on Sundays when I’m at the Kingston Square Arts. Check my schedule to see when and where I’ll be.

I’ll try to keep them stocked at Kingston Square Arts in Kingston, Arkansas, but availability is usually limited. I ordinarily only make more paint when I need more for my paintings. There’s a corner of the gallery back by the register that belongs to Wild Ozark. Lots of excellent pottery and art in there, so it’s worth a stop if you’re going through town on the way to your outings on the Buffalo!

Original Works?

Some of my originals are for sale. You can see all that I’ve finished so far at my Paleo Paints page: www.PaleoPaints.com.

If you see one you’re interested in, contact me to inquire.

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

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

Prints, Stationery

I have a lot of derivative products like prints, stickers, note cards! Those are all at the KSA gallery, and when I do events I bring some with me.

E-commerce options:

Wild Ozark shop

About The Artist

I live in northwest Arkansas with my husband on 160 acres far from paved highways. This gives me a front-seat ride with nature and is a huge influence on my life and work.

When I’m not painting or writing, I’m probably smashing rocks or out soaking up some nature and gathering photographs. I use the earth around me to create the paints for my works. My focus is on the Ozark pigments, but I will on some occasions use sources purchased, donated (people send me rocks!), or collected during travels. I love to capture the essence, the very soul of a place, with its earthy colors.

In direct contrast to that, my favorite subjects are creatures of the air. Raptors fascinate me because they’re gorgeous, yet deadly. I believe I like to paint them not only because they’re challenging, but also because they’re a dynamic opposite of the earth from which my paints are made.

When I choose a subject I look for flow of movement, intended movement, or an expression in the eyes that I want to capture.

Additionally, since most of the colors I use are created from wild-crafted rocks here in the Ozarks, I look for subjects with colors I can represent with the earthy colors in my palette.

I’m self-taught and only use the paints I make for paintings. I also use Prismacolor pencils for drawings.

Timeline: Paintings, Career Benchmarks, Awards and Accomplishments

  • 2018 July – began making paint, began painting
    • July – completed Kestrel No. 1, Kestrel No. 2
    • August- completed Kestrel No. 3
    • Sept- Pelican No. 1, Crow No. 1
    • Oct- Fox No. 1
    • Dec- Twisted Tree No. 1
  • 2019 Jan- Goshawk No. 1, Goshawk No. 2 “Rhapsody”


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

Black. The Messiest Color Start to Finish.

Making black paint from wood char.

Sometimes I’m overzealous with the black. More honestly put, I am almost always too generous with the black. I put more on than I need and so end up taking a lot of it right back off.

Why I love Black

And that highlights one of the great things about my black handmade watercolor paint. It comes back off.

Not all of the colors will do that. Some of them stain the paper, so even if I remove the paint there will still be the stain.

Another nice thing about this black is that it can be manipulated on the paper. I can pull out very thin lines with a lot of control in placement.

It will bleed into or blend with nearby colors, though, so you still have to use caution if that effect isn’t your intent.

The other thing I love about the color black is its metaphysical properties.

I make the black from wood char, and this year I’m going to make a special batch of black paint from the wood that I burn on Mid-winter’s Day. I’ll call it ‘Winter Solstice’. I may also burn some bones to make Bone Black.

The black made from wood char will look just like the other blacks that I make, though, so the only difference will be the metaphysical. I’m not sure if there’s going to be a difference in the bone black, because I’ve never made that one before. So we’ll see.

It’s the Hardest to Make

Sum total effort expended, I have to say this color wins hands down. With the other colors, it all starts by picking up a rock. And yes, crushing rocks is hard work.

But it doesn’t compare to procuring firewood. Even though I’m not the one doing the hardest of the labors involved with bringing wood to the wood-stove, the part I play is hard enough. If I buy a load of firewood I still have to load and then unload the truck. But when we’re cutting our own firewood, I pick up the logs as Rob splits them, load and unload the tractor bucket.

I suppose it would a LOT less effort if I only burned wood to make this paint, though. Instead I am just trying to use a by product of something else so that the heat produced isn’t wasted.

It’s a Mess to Make

It starts with a tree, in this case. You can also make black from charred bone but I haven’t done that yet.

So the mess begins with sweating. It’s warming work to do my little part of getting the firewood into our house.

But the actual paint-making begins with a lump of charred wood. The charred part needs to be thoroughly charred, with no un-burnt  wood and not so burned that it is only ash.

Some good chunks of char that I'll use to make black paint.
Some good chunks of char that I’ll use to make black paint.

Carbon black gets everywhere. It goes into the air if you grind it, so it’s a good idea to wear a dust mask when doing that. This time I used my blender to grind it so having a lid helped a lot. But when I poured the powder into a jar, fine clouds of black floated into the air.

If you spill any of it, it seems to get on everything and spread everywhere.


Carbon is the basis for the color black, and while it isn’t the most abundant element in the universe or even the earth, it is a very abundant source of pigment for me.

The very definition of ‘life’ is often dependent on whether or not carbon is present. It is what makes ‘organic’ organic. The reason is because carbon is the basic building block for all things alive or once-living.

To read my musings on the philosophical/metaphysical aspect, read my post at the Wild Ozark blog. In summary, to me, black represents the very basic component of all that is life. The struggle to maintain the balance between black and white is what life is all about.

The Making of Black

Mulling black paint from wood char.
Ground up wood char on the mulling board, with media. Ready to make into paint.

So this was the way I made black the first time. It didn’t work very well. The ground up char doesn’t want to mull into the media the way other rock and clay powders do.

Now instead of trying to mull it, I put some of the powder into a jar and just shake it every day to transfer the color into the media. When the heavier particles sink to the bottom I keep the liquidy part and just let it evaporate out of my pans and refill the pans as often as it takes to get them full.

The key is to get enough of the powder to stain the liquid media so that the resulting paint is dark enough to be called black.

Finished black paint.
Finished black paint from the previous time I made it.

In the photo at the top of this page, you can see the little tray I’m using. I want to see if it’ll turn out dry cubes intact. If it does, I can do away with some of the plastic pans and just put these paint cubes into my tins without them.

I’ll update this post later to let you know how that worked.

Have a wonderful solstice, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! I’ll be at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market this weekend and next, and most Saturdays during the winter market hours. You can check my schedule to make sure I’m there if you want at wildozark.com/schedule/.