Paint Your Wagon: Homemade Paint  

You’ve created something wonderful from bits and pieces of wood or vines, and can’t wait to giving it that finishing touch. Perhaps it’s a birdhouse for the yard, or a garden gate, or even a piece of furniture for your home. Does it make sense now to dash off to a hardware store and buy a commercial paint to finish off your project? Is that living simply? Why not experiment with some of the painting methods that have been in use for hundreds of years, and are made primarily from ingredients you may already have?

Before we start, there are a few ingredients that you might not be familiar with. You should first spend some time learning about these and finding local sources from which to purchase (or better yet, barter for) them. These include slaked (hydrated) lime, litmus paper, whiting (chalk), and linseed oil. The rest of the ingredients are common household items.

Milk Paint
Gently heat four cups of milk to which you have added 3 tablespoons of white vinegar. The milk will curdle and turn sour. Now, add one ounce of slaked (hydrated) lime. You may want to check the pH balance of your paint at this point, since getting it just right will increase its lifespan. Litmus paper can be used as a gauge. Dip the paper in the milk, and if it turns red, it’s too acidy and needs more slaked lime. If it turns blue, it’s too alkaline, and you should add more sour milk to dilute it. Once you have the pH in balance, mix in about 2 pounds of chalk type whiting until you have the consistency you desire. Mix well. A bit of pigment can be added now if you wish. This paint can be used on furniture or walls to give it a soft, antique look. It’s not as long-lasting as commercial paint, so if you want your project to really last, give it a coat of shellac for protection.

Potato Paint
Need some plain black paint? Just indulge in a little bad cooking, and you’ll be all set! Get about four or so large potatoes, and bake them at about 300 degrees until fully cooked. Now comes the bad cooking part. Crank up the heat to about 450 degrees and cook the heck out of the poor spuds until they are totally blackened and dry. Remove from oven, and let the pathetic lumps cool. Now, grind them up as thoroughly as possible. A mortar and pestle is traditionally used to do this. Add a touch of linseed oil to the potato powder, not too much, just enough to make it a bit runny. Viola, black paint! What a great way to make good use of old wrinkled potatoes!

Add 3/4 pound of rice and 1/2 pound of sugar to 7 pints of water. Boil this mix until the rice falls apart and dissolves. Take off heat, and add a pint of raw skim milk. Add slaked (hydrated) lime a little at a time, mixing well, until the consistency of a thin paint is achieved. This is just one method of producing whitewash, there are many different recipes available. This particular one dries to a soft, satin finish. Many whitewashes get stronger with age, and a quality antique whitewash may not even come loose with paint remover, I’m told.

Earth Pigment
This is a project that takes advantage of nicely colored dirt you may have on your property. Any soil will work, but clay soils with their rich colors are especially good candidates for this project. Take an old pot that has been retired from cooking duties, the larger the pot the better. Fill it about 3/4 full with water. Take a few shovelfuls of your selected dirt, and add it to the water. Bring to a boil. Boil for at least two hours to extract as much color into the water as possible. Strain the mixture to separate the water from the earth and stones. Return the earth and stones to your property, their job here is done. Let the water sit overnight to allow all sediment to settle. Carefully pour off the top water, leaving sediment behind. Now you’ll want to pour this water into shallow pans and set out to evaporate. This will leave behind your pigment. Scrape it up and pound it with mortar and pestle to obtain a fine powder. The more water you can generate up front, the more pigment you will be able to glean. This powdered pigment can now be stored in glass jars, and is ready to be added as a coloring agent to your paint mixes.

When You’ve Finished Painting…
After you have completed your painting project, you’ll want to clear out any paint fumes. Here are a few natural methods to try. Set bowls of old coffee grounds around the room and let them absorb the odors. Another more traditional method is to dunk a handful of hay in water, shake out the excess moisture, lay the wet hay on cookie sheets or other shallow pans, and let the hay soak up the smell.

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