Colour from the Landscape – Making paint

I’m busy at the moment jumping from one thing to another and I have several ‘makings’, new ideas and experiments going on at the same time. One of the most exciting is that I have been making watercolour paint.


Grinding West Runton chalk with a muller

I enjoy the fluidity of watercolour and last summer I made several drawings using pigments I had collected from the landscape mixed with water. Of course when it dried most of the grainy pigment just brushed off, and ever since I have wanted to have a go at making ‘proper’ paint in order to make drawings of the landscape from the materials of the landscape.


Grinding Hunstanton chalk – this chalk is whiter than the yellowed West Runton chalk

I finally collected together the right equipment (including the very handsome muller at the top of the page), ground up my pigments and had a paint making session. I have gathered five different materials from beaches along the North Norfolk coast. They are: chalk from Hunstanton, chalk from West Runton, yellow ochre from West Runton, Red clay from Cley, and sea-coal from Wells.


Hunstanton chalk and gum arabic/honey binding solution waiting to be ground with the muller

I have used gum arabic and honey as the binders for the pigment. Gum arabic is sap from the acacia tree and you buy it in large, hard, brittle crystals that have to be ground down to a powder and then dissolved in water. Honey is also added to the gum Arabic to make the solution fluid and easy to work. Honey is a humectant: it helps to pull in water so that the dried pan of colour gets wet and is able to release colour more easily onto the brush.


Red clay ground to a buttery consistency


My little paintbox of colours from beaches on the North Norfolk coast.


From left to right the colours are:

Hunstanton chalk white, West Runton chalk white, West Runton yellow ochre, Cley red,

Wells sea-coal black

I’m remarkably pleased with these paints. I have managed to grind the earths down to a surprisingly fine texture and I’ll show you the resulting paintings next time!

If you would like to have a go at making watercolour paint I’m doing a workshop at the Contemporary Textile Fair at the Landmark Arts centre, Teddington, TW11 9NN where we will be grinding and mixing pigments to make different types of paint. Hopefully there will be time to paint with it as well.


20 thoughts on “Colour from the Landscape – Making paint

    1. Eileen Coates

      Looking forward to your workshop Debbie. Years ago I decorated my pots with the clay in our garden. I love the idea of using the material of the landscape to describe itself.

  1. Marjorie

    I love the’ve inspired me to have a go, Debbie! I’m sorry that I live so far away, otherwise I’d be signing up for your workshops!

  2. Valerie L Delaney

    I so enjoyed reading about the creation of the paints. I have blue lays beneath my ground .it was left by the moraine from the glacier which formed this valley. Even now in certain areas if it is exposed it is damp and sticky. When dry I had similar problems using it on paper, it hardly hold its colour. I must make some paint!

  3. lauraqueenofallhotmailcom

    Wish I could hop across the pond for your workshop! have fun, I’ll just have to wait to see pics.

  4. Ann Stephens

    Lovely gentle results ……beautiful colours.
    There are many jars outside my door – with plant material in them +fabric …solar dyeing gently ….love the colours nature gives ..
    Look forward to see some images made with the ‘new’ paints.

  5. Jillayne

    Love what you’ve done here, and wishing England wasn’t so very far away – your class sounds wonderful. I recently bought several earth pigments prepared by Maiwa in Vancouver and am keen to work with them, but preparing one’s one, from local sources would be a very gratifying experience. Thank you so much for this very inspiring post.

  6. Prav

    Beautiful colors . I personally love watercolors to death. You inspire me to make may own paints. Thank you for sharing your process.

  7. Pingback: Colour from the landscape – Painting | debbie lyddon

  8. Wendy Klotz

    I love what you are doing with local pigments. I have tried using different ways of using them on fabric with not much success. Too bad Canada is so far away – would love to attend your workshop. Coming to canada any time soon?!


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