Make Your Own Paint With Nature's Colors

DIY projects with earth's rich natural pigments.

| July/August 1999

  • Photography By Joe Coca

Elemental—the rich, timeless hues of earth clays and oxides. They’ve shone from the cave walls of Lascaux and Altamira, France for more than 15,000 years, just as they can add richness and spirit to today’s furnishings and finishes. Mineral pigments range in color from buttercream yellows to rich siennas to warm chocolate browns, and from vivid blues to earthy greens. And they’re nontoxic and easy to use. They can be mixed with water, oil, or wax to be brushed, rubbed, or wiped on wood, plaster, or paint. A thick mixture provides intense color and complete coverage, while a thin one can be wiped on and layered for a subtle glazed effect.


1 part linseed oil
3 parts turpentine
Drying agent

For sampling, use 1 tablespoon linseed oil, 3 tablespoons turpentine, a few drops of drying agent, and about a teaspoon of pigment. For large surfaces, use 1 cup linseed oil, 3 cups turpentine, 2 tablespoons drying agent, and 3 to 5 tablespoons of pigment. Mix well, stirring frequently as you work, because the pigment tends to settle out.

With a brush or rag, apply the mixture to a prepared surface—clean, sanded, or primed wood or wall. Let it penetrate for 15 to 30 minutes, then wipe off excess. More layers can be applied for a deeper color. The finished, dry surface can be sealed with lacquer or beeswax.

Linseed oil, made from flaxseed, and turpentine, crafted from pine resin, both have strong odors that persist for several days. They’re nontoxic, however, and their scent is pleasant.


A textured plaster wall can be washed with two or more layers of sheer color for a distressed look.

• Mix two colors, using recipe on previous page, with 4 parts turpentine instead of 3. This sample uses gold ochre and green oxide.
• Apply one color to textured plaster wall, and allow to dry.
• Apply second color, only hitting the high spots of texture.
• Blend and burnish the colors by rubbing with a dry towel.

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