Do you know how to make Paint?

Paint has been part of the human experience for tens of thousands of years.

The earliest known cave paintings are to be found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and are of hands – how appropriate!

Scientists have conservatively dated the Indonesian cave paintings at 39,900 years old.   Humans have needed to express themselves in paint for a very, very long time.

Cave paintings, necessarily, were created using materials that would have been readily available.  These tend to be charcoal for black, chalk for white and earth-derived umbers and reds.

Because that is how you make paint.  You take whatever is to hand – whether it be vegetable, animal or mineral – and grind it up into a fine powder.  This fine powder is called pigment.  To make the pigment into paint it then has to be mixed with a binder. 

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It is the type of binder used, that determines the type of paint created:


egg yolk is mixed with the pigment to create tempera


oil, generally, linseed oil, is mixed with the pigment to create oil paint


gum Arabic is mixed with the pigment to create watercolour paint


an acrylic polymer emulsion is mixed with the pigment to create acrylic paint.

What would a life be without paint?

I can’t bear to think …



  1. This is probably most inappropriate but I think that’s the first blogpost that I’ve actually wanted to lick! Thank you for a sane explanation. Interesting about the Sulawesi paintings. I think the Aboriginal ones would have a similarly long history although they repaint them all the time to keep them current (40 000 years later!).


  2. What a beautifully clear explanation of the principles…..but it doesn’t explain why I have a loft full of very-similar but slightly-different tins of paint, accumulated over the years. Do you think marketing might have something to do with it?


  3. I think the whole thing of mixing paint must be absolutely luscious and being a writer I have paint envy. I agree with Colin on the lickable front. Presently drooling!


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