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

Collection No. 5, Soul of the Ozarks Series

Collection No. 5 is SOLD OUT.

Collection No. 5

Instead of nine fabulous shades, this one has four. Collection No. 5 has ‘Ancient White’, which is not included in the previous collection, although it is included in the Collection No. 3.

Four colors are more than enough to make incredible art, though.  A smaller set is a more affordable entry point for artists new to the handmade watercolor experience, so I try to alternate between larger and smaller collections in my releases.

This Twisted Tree uses only a single color:

From Collection No. 5 and 4. The Whole Yellow Twisted Tree paint swatch in progress on my Paleo Go prototype.

“Whole Yellow” is included in Collection No. 4 and Collection No. 5 and I’ll have more of this color in future collections.

The Color Stories

Purple Heavies (textured)

All of the ‘purple’ colors I’m making are sourced from a single large rock that I found on our county road after the grader passed over it with his blades. It cracked open the rock to reveal an incredible purplish color. The paint is more of a brown, with some purplish undertones. The Purple Heavies sandstone paint has a bit of texture. These grits can be dusted off of the dried painting if you like. The color will remain behind.

Purple Heavies is a bit of a challenge because it does stain the paper and doesn’t re position well. But wow it is a rich pigment! If you put it down somewhere mistakenly, best find a way to incorporate.

Purple Heavies Gouache (lightly textured)

When I create a paint from a pigment-rich ochre, it leaves a lot of color on the plate once I’m finished scraping it off to put in pans. To avoid wasting the color I like to add some pure powdered limestone to the plate. It creates a lighter version of the same color, with more opacity and a different effect to the paint. It’s hard to achieve much shading but it’s great for things you don’t want to darken too much.

Whole Yellow Sandstone (textured)

This one also has texture. All of the ‘whole’ stone colors do. The yellow sandstone is an incredibly rich color that can achieve some depth of color if you layer the paint or apply with less water on the brush. The yellow sandstone yields a clean yellow color. It’s one of my favorites! Builds, lifts, and repositions nicely.

Ancient White

This is more than ‘antique’ white. It’s ancient because the color comes from limestone found in Felkins creek in Madison county, right near Wild Ozark. It’s likely the large chunk I found once was a part of our ancient sea corals.

Collection No. 4

One of the colors in this collection is taking longer to dry and solidify than I expected, so it’s not yet ready to ship. I do have it with me when I go to markets, though, and if I don’t get snowed in this weekend it’ll be with me at the Fayetteville (indoor) Farmer’s market.

Collection No. 3 (nine colors)

This one is on display and for sale at the Walton Arts Center until Dec. 16. After that, if any are left, I’ll list it to Etsy.

Plant Pigments – Experimenting and Searching for Green

Generally I don’t use the plant pigments because they’re fugitive, meaning they fade over time. Sometimes they completely disappear.

However, I’ve found two sources that actually intensify with exposure to light (full sunshine) and so I am experimenting with extracting the pigments from them.

The Sources of my Plant Pigments

Sassafras makes a nice yellow and orange, whereas Black Gum makes tan and green.

The differences in the colors produced from one plant are due to a few different things.

First, the time of year matters. If I gather leaves early in the season, sassafras gives me yellow. If I gather the autumn leaves, I get the orange. These two colors are sheer in nature but can become quite bright with UV exposure.

If I make lake pigments by adding an alum solution and following with calcium carbonate to flocculate and collect the precipitating pigment, I get yellow from the autumn leaves of sassafras and a very nice green from the black gum.

Maybe other shades will result from using other solutions in this lake process. I’m only beginning the experimentation. Then I’ll also test the finished paints from this way of getting the colors to make sure that they, also, are light fast and UV safe to use in a painting I don’t want to fade.

Many organic and even metallic inorganic will also oxidize and turn brown. This has been a big problem with any plant pigments I’ve used too, except the sassafras. I’m still testing the green from the black gum to see if it’ll turn brown.

How to Test the Color Stability

I test by leaving half of my test strip outside so that it gets full sunlight exposure and open air for 4 weeks. At the end of the 4 weeks I compare the other half of the strip that has remained inside in the dark to the one that hung outside.

A little bit of change is tolerable, but too much indicates that the painting won’t look the same after a decade or two. Watercolors are fragile colors to begin with and I always frame mine, and recommend buyers to frame theirs, under conservation glass to protect it from UV light, even indoors.

Precipitated Plant Pigments

Here’s what the filter cakes from my lake experiment looks like. I’ll write up a full post about what I did and how it looked throughout the process later.

Plant pigments obtained from precipitating with alum and calcium carbonate.
The yellow lump is from the autumn leaves of sassafras and the green one is from the autumn red leaves of black gum.

Where to find my Paints

I sell my collections at Etsy and through my online shop at Wild Ozark, the main website. Eventually I’ll have raw pigments to sell, too, for those who want to make their own paints of any sort from Wild Ozark colors!