Making Watercolor Pigment from Mud

I’ve been wondering if pigment could be made from clay and I learned that it can from a book called, “The Complete Decorated Journal” by Gwen Diehn. First I used clay from the Matanuska River flowing near us. It is a glacier-fed river with lots of silty clay along the shore.  There is also a stream a few miles away near Sheep Mountain with golden-yellow mud along the bank. Perfect for pigment!

I started by mixing the silty clay with water, then strained it through a fine mesh sieve. That got rid of the sand. Using several layers of cheesecloth, I strained it again. Finally, I strained it through a terry cloth. I tried to use a tee-shirt as suggested in the book, but I couldn’t get anything but clean water to go through it. After allowing the muddy water to settle, I poured the clear water from the top and allowed the remainder to dry to a pudding-like mud, then mixed in several drops of gum arabic.

I used the silty river pigment to paint this scene of the Matanuska River below. I was so disappointed with the deadness of the color.

Matanuska River painted with glacier silt pigment and a little bit of Sheep Mountain mud.

Painting with the river pigment is like painting with…well, mud. Watercolor pigment should be responsive by moving across the paper, not turning to sludge. I repeated the process with the Sheep Mountain mud. This was entirely different! This pigment was rich and moved across the paper beautifully.

The grass in the foreground is Sheep Mountain mud.

This sketch below is looking over the Matanuska River, very near our home. I used some of the Sheep Mountain mud and none of the silt from the river.

Chugach Mountains and the Matanuska River

The sketch below is of a neighbor’s house.

The leaves have been gone for a while, but it was fun to paint them when they were golden.

13 thoughts on “Making Watercolor Pigment from Mud

  1. Cool Suzie….I like the gray mud, it so lools like the gray mud…Beautiful Sheep M
    tn. colors…I wonder what the ratio of pigment to clay is at Sheep Mtn ?

  2. Suzie, I enjoy all of your sketches with your clay as the medium. I have had fun with this through the years. I live in Missouri and we have lots of beautiful red clay. Since this is the “Show-Me” state, I try all kinds of things to paint with, but usually paint on my good watercolor paper.. Hot press, usually. Keep up the good work and having fun.

  3. I am not anonymous, either. I thought it would automatically show my name. I am BettyJo Bennett Ruble.

  4. Martha, you are most definitely not anonymous! I don’t know what the ratio is, but the book said to look for clay. I’m sure it is because the particles are smaller and that is what is needed for pigment. I guess if you use larger particles it would be a mosaic! Ha!

  5. Thank you, Rachel! Wish I had done some sketching when I lived in Oregon. Such a variety of things to sketch in life. You sketch with words, I sketch with mud…

  6. Thank you, Leslie. I waited until the sun shone on the little twig to make the shadows, but it still looked too “clean”. Splattering is such fun!

  7. Thanks for stopping by, David! I’d never heard of it either, but that never stopped me from playing in the mud! Now I can paint with it. Who says you have to grow up?

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