Hello Skip to My Lou readers! I’m Ashley Pahl from She Makes a Home. I’m a work-at-home mom with two girls: one will be entering first grade in the fall, and the other is just starting kindergarten.
We’re home together in the summer, and rarely does a week go by without finding fruit-stained shirts in the wash. It was the day I watched my girls snacking on sweet cherries with red lips and fingertips that I wondered – what would it be like to paint with berries?
Let’s make Naturally Homemade Watercolor Paints!
I know what you’re thinking: isn’t it easier to just buy a watercolor palette and stick to that? We do our fair share of painting in my house, so I wanted to do something a little different. We experimented with many different plants, from fruits to root vegetables, leaves, and flowers. Making your own natural watercolor palette is not just a fun way for parents and children to spend time together; it’s a fantastic opportunity to see how art connects with nature.
At the end of this post, I will include some science and nature-based questions to increase the education value of this little art project.
You will need:
- 5 Tablespoons white vinegar
- 6 Tablespoons corn starch
- 6 Tablespoons baking soda
- 3 Tablespoons corn syrup
- an assortment of plant material, from flowers to berries, tomatoes, citrus, leafy greens, beets, carrots, etc. Collect items for nature, or use what you have in your fridge, pantry, or freezer
- a juicer; alternatively, a masher and/or fine grater; muslin cloth or a very fine sieve
- a paint palette, ice cube tray, or clean egg carton
- glass mixing bowl
Begin by mixing together the vinegar, baking soda, corn starch, and corn syrup. A small glass bowl or glass measuring cup works well. Whisk together until completely smooth and free of lumps. Pour into paint palette compartments until half full; or, if using an ice cube tray, fill each “cube” with about a tablespoon of the mixture.
Next, extract the juice from your plants. To make the coloring for the paint, we want undiluted liquid from these plants, and as little plant material as possible. If you have a juicer, you are in luck! Juice each type of plant separately. If, like me, you do not have a juicer, follow these steps:
Use a hand-held food processor or a potato masher to mush plants such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, black berries, tomatoes, etc. This will work for any juicy plant with a thin skin. Move the mushed material into muslin cloth and squeeze juice through it like a filter. Allow juice to collect in a small container. Alternatively, you can use a fine sieve like those used for steeping tea or a reusable coffee filter.
For root vegetables such as carrots and beets, use a fine grater to create a mushy pile of root material. Grated root material can have its juice squeezed through muslin cloth or pushed through a fine sieve with a blunt object, such as the end handle of a wooden spoon or a beater (as pictured).
For leafy material, such as spinach, tree leaves, and flower petals rip them up slightly, and very firmly squeeze and massage them in the muslin cloth until the juice drips through the cloth and into a container. If using the fine sieve, a wooden spoon handle will work wonders.
Now that you have your pure plant juices, add 1/4 of a teaspoon or less of the juice. Stir the juice well into the corn starch mixture. Allow to dry completely, up to two days. Because these paints use natural juices, they should only keep for 1-2 weeks, refrigerated.
If you have leftover juices, don’t let them go to waste! You can start painting with them right away. Dip a wet paint brush into a juice and get started.
After painting, talk with your children about the project. The questions below are geared more towards older children, but they can certainly be simplified for younger children. There are three main learning components to this project: art, science, and nature.
The Nature Component: how many natural colors could you find? How many shades of green? How many colors can they find in their own back yard or local park? Did the colors turn out as they expected? Were there any surprises? Which plant had the most vibrantly color juice? Which plant was the dullest? Which plants were the most difficult to extract color from?
The Science Component: what gives different plants their coloring? Why are some plants green, some flowers purple, and some berries red? Why don’t blueberries stay blue? How do eyes perceive different colors?
The Art Component: what exactly is pigment? Research together how artists used to make their own paints. What were they made from? Which artists were associated with which medium? After painting with your own paints, keep an eye on the dried paints. Do any of the paint colors change over time?
I hope you enjoy this project. While it can be a bit labor intensive, it really is all about the process and learning together.
Ashley Pahl is a Michigan-based painter, stationery designer, and blogger at She Makes a Home. Perhaps best known for her paper goods shop on Etsy, she was a Featured Seller in 2012 and sells her paper art in independent stores and galleries around the world. Ashley lives near Lansing with her husband, two children, and two rambunctious cats.