Homemade Paint: Make Your Own Paint

Making your own paint—in a wide range of colors and effects—can be fun, satisfying and less expensive than buying an off-the-shelf product.

| July/August 2005


Blue-green casein paint achieves a soft and light hue, perfect for the bedroom.

We generally think of paint as complex and somewhat mysterious in composition, but it is, quite simply, a combination of pigments (that provide color), fillers (that determine opacity and coverage), and some type of binder or glue (that adheres to a wall). It’s actually pretty easy to make paint from casein, a milk protein, or starch from grain flour. However, you’ll need to be willing to experiment with the amounts of ingredients you use. Your results may not be perfect at first, but with some practice, you can mix up nontoxic, homemade paints in a flash.

Making Paint from Clay and Starch

The paints made in many traditional cultures used flour (rice, rye, potato) to create a starchy binder with clay as a filler and pigment. In the southwestern United States this traditional type of paint is referred to as an “alis” from the Spanish word alisar, which means “to make smooth.”

Starch paints with clay can be applied over a wide range of surfaces, but they’re generally incompatible with joint compound. They’re not water resistant, so they’re most appropriate for interior use. However, they can be coated with a glaze of linseed oil and citrus thinner, casein emulsion, or a silicate primer for additional protection. Use starch/clay paints shortly after you make them, as they’ll spoil. They can be refrigerated for a short time, but doing so results in a gradual loss in binding power.

About Clay Paint Ingredients

• Powdered clays and fillers can be purchased from suppliers of ceramic materials. Colors typically include white, beige, terra-cotta, and red.

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