3 Strategies for Getting More Out of Mineral-Based Pigments

The blank page of a new painting can be terrifying, can’t it? That blank sheet of paper can have a contagious effect, and all my good intentions for my next painting can vanish as I contemplate that clean white sheet. A great painting prompt can help give me a place to start from, and when I work with a prompt, like today’s optional World Watercolor Month prompt of “BRONZE,” I try to be imaginative and free associate for a while so I don’t take the prompt too literally. (Click here to read my post about “stretching prompts like rubber” from WWM 2021.)

As I thought about the word BRONZE, I thought about offering a lesson on painting metal; it’s a true artist challenge to learn how to see past the literal – use silver paint to paint a silver teapot – and paint the reflections and shadows that create color and form on the object being painted. But I started thinking instead about how metal like bronze is made from minerals like copper and tin, refined through various processes, and how that compares to the watercolor paint we use.

Wonderful Watercolor Sources

Watercolor paint is made from a variety of materials, both organic and synthetic, and organic pigment is often mineral based. Minerals are mined and processed and combined with a binder to become paint. Paint manufacturers work with chemists to develop new paint colors and refine their processes for existing colors, and colors can vary greatly between manufacturers because how the pigment is processed will influence the color that results. While some colors have been used for thousands of years, new discoveries in color are still being made today, making it an exciting field of study!

As an artist, I get to experience pigment and the minerals that make up some of my favorite hues in a more personal way. Personally, I would rather use my paints than spend a lot of time studying what they are made of, but whether or not I understand the makeup of my favorite colors, I can use their natural characteristics to make my paintings more interesting and beautiful. Some of these mineral hues are most lovely when I choose to do less with my paint and let water and gravity do the work for me.

Watch the video demonstration here: https://youtu.be/3IiC-0Mt5sA

If you have been working with paint that has granulating or sedimentary tendencies, or mixing your own hues in your palette, but you’re painting with a fairly dry brush and a lot of control, you might be amazed by how your colors will change when you start inviting flow and gravity into your washes. Try starting a painting session by playing with some practice washes, placing color and using a spray bottle to invite flow, and slow down and notice what your colors are doing as they move.

Here are three ways you can invite flow and notice color characteristics that you can later use intentionally to make your paintings richer and full of fascinating color:

1. Play with your leftovers.

I like to leave my palette and dirty water in my studio for the next painting session. When I start a new session, I can first notice how the colors I used in the previous session have settled in my water containers; this shows me which colors have sedimentary characteristics and which are more staining. Then I notice how the mixes of color from the last session have dried. This will show me which color mixes tend to separate as they dry, and that they might respond similarly in a slow-drying wash on my paper. From there, I can choose to work with those colors and experiment to see how my observations affect my paintings.

2. Spritz and Wash.


I love using my spray bottle, rather than my brush, to move color. Using a spritz of water will lift color without scrubbing or stirring pigments together, and the flow that results will be more complex or organic. A spray of water will soften edges irregularly which I also find beautiful. When my hand is moving the brush I can easily be too controlling, so working with spray is a way of letting go and working more intuitively.

3. Create Watermarks and Pigment Channels.

As your warm up starts to dry, try adding water after the paper has started to lose its sheen, but before it’s completely dry. You can use a spray bottle to rinse the entire wash, or a wet brush to create channels or rivulets for the water to run. The new water will move surface-lying pigment, while heavier pigments cling to the paper, and new variations of color will be revealed, while also creating edges, watermarks or blooms.

Even if you only own a few colors of watercolor paint, there is never a reason to get bored with watercolor! The combination of water and pigment creates so many different passages of color and the range from delicate and nuanced to vibrant and bold is unrivaled in any other medium. Make time to play and observe your own pigments and you will find yourself wielding color more confidently in your paintings.

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials, World Watercolor Month

8 thoughts on “3 Strategies for Getting More Out of Mineral-Based Pigments

Leave Me A Comment!

%d bloggers like this: