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Why I Make Paints From Soil

How and why to make paint from natural soil pigments. This is the first of a number of short posts exploring my personal journey and motivations to create paint from soil and natural pigments, use these beautiful natural colours to create artworks, and share some of my techniques. Subscribe to my website to learn more.

natural pigment monoprint
Garden Soil Monoprint

For many years I painted with commercial paints, mainly oil colours. However around four years ago I started experimenting with garden soil. As a keen organic gardener I have a long fascination with soil, with composting, and with the interactions of micro-biology and plant roots. I did a number of oil paintings and drawings of the vegetable plants and seedlings in the garden, and also of plant roots. These paintings explored the interactions of roots with soil and the different layers within healthy soil - from the rich organic layers above to the mineral layers and rocks below. I felt that artists tended to focus on the parts of plants that were above ground, but as a gardener I wanted to bring attention to the hidden parts of plants in the soil. This can enable an appreciation of the whole plant as opposed to just that part of plants we can see.

Then one day I started to experiment with soil itself. I cleaned and filtered some garden soil, to create a smooth paste, mixed it with water and made a number of mono-prints. Because the soil was mixed only with water, the vibrant natural colours disappeared quickly as the soil dried, the paint cracked and largely fell off the paper. However I got some good photographs and my soil exploration journey had begun.

Above is one of my first mono-print soil experiments, where I pressed some rosemary from my garden into soil and took a print off it. It was rough but had beautiful textures.

Soil painting is a journey for the artist that starts with looking for coloured soils and ends with sharing beautiful natural paintings. We walk on soil but we rarely think about it. Yet soil is precious. We come from soil and we return to soil. Soil provides our food and many of the resources we need in our lives. Healthy soil supports biodiversity and a rich ecology. Soil painting is an innovative way of raising awareness of the beauty and preciousness of soil. Prior to the invention of commercial paints and pigments all paints were made with natural pigments, maybe derived from soils, insects or plants. Neolithic cave paintings were made with soil mixed with such as animal fats. Renassance painters used handmade paints with pigments derived from the furthers corners of the known world.

Finding and making ones own paint is an act of craftsmanship first and painting second. It provides a deep connection between oneself and the environment.

Here is another of my early mon0-prints, exploring the vigour and texture of a gnarly old plant that had been uprooted in the garden.

natural pigment garden soil monoprint
Garden Soil Monoprint of Uprooted Plant

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