One morning in early December I read an article about Rembrandt's paints. At the time, I didn't know how much impact it would have on me, but it started my curious mind down a path of obsessive learning. Now with the free time I have due to the quarantine, I finally have time to actually do this project. Yeah, watching my 20 year old event and wedding photography business basically fall apart due to quarantine sucked, but I can be happy that despite all the awfulness, I do have this project in my life to bring me joy. And maybe some money, we will see. Help a broke photographer out and make some art. Or hang some art I make. You do you. I'm so broke! Anyway, back to my story:

If scientists figured out how to make his famous Impasto, does that mean someone else has figured out all of his actual paint recipes? As it turns out, yep, it sure does. I dove all the way in. Rembrandt, arguably the greatest artist of all time, used handmade paints. He made colors out of rocks and minerals from around the world, so what's stopping me from doing the same thing? I mean, all the same kinds of rocks are still found around the world, right?

Once I figured out the super obvious (obvious to me now, anyway) fact that a person could make paint on their own, I just had to learn how to do it for myself. Initially, my intentions were to make oil paints like Rembrandt, but surprise of all surprises, I actually love making watercolor paints. I love making the pigments most of all. (Shocking right?)

In early January I found myself in downtown Cincinnati near Suder's Art Store. Suder's is this amazing art supply shop that has been serving Cincinnati artists since 1924! For a couple weeks I had been dreaming of getting the materials I needed to get started and make my first paint, so when I saw that familiar facade I just decided to go with it. Treat yo'self!

This was all before COVID-19 when I thought I actually had some money. Ha.

I suspected at the time that this would turn into a pretty obsessive interest of mine, so I wanted to be able to say this super cute fact in my future famous paint maker bio: I got my start in Cincinnati, Ohio. I wanted this sentence to be true all the way down to the glass muller I used, so I told the voice in my head that told me to get materials online to save money to be quiet and I joyfully dropped 95% of my broke sad bank account's contents at Suder's and grabbed the basics. It wasn't THAT much, I'm just really broke sometimes. Walking out of the shop with my little cardboard box of supplies was, and is still, such a joyful moment. I felt like I could take on the whole world! It's amazing what a new weird hobby can do for my brain. Total joy!

I bought a few basic pre-made pigments, a muller, a glass plate, and a bottle of linseed oil. It was time to make some oil paints!

It was not time to make some oil paints. It was time to bungle making oil paints. It was also time to accidentally dye myself and several of my belongings a beautiful red. (French Cousin- currently available in my Semper section!)

It turns out it takes a whole bunch of pigment to make oil paint and my cheap brain kept chiming in. I got pretty frustrated making such small quantities, so I decided to check out YouTube and see if I could find tips or tricks. Maybe someone was having my same frustrations? Maybe there were other hella cheap artists out there who were also having a hard time scooping costly materials onto their tables and then accidentally slapping them with their hands and petting their cats before realizing. Maybe?

This led me to learning about watercolor paint making. I found a video of this really exceptionally cool looking woman mulling watercolor paint at her desk by a window. It was just so PEACEFUL. At the time, I'd never used watercolors before and they were really intimidating. I had the same feelings about oil paints, but the excitement of potentially bragging about the Rembrandt set I'd make would get me through it. (It didn't, see above.)

I really went for it guys. As soon as I found the first watercolor paint mulling video, I was sold. It's so peaceful! If you like those ASMR videos, you'd probably enjoy these. I watched everything I could find, and every video was intended to answer my questions, but then they led to new questions, rinse, repeat. I learned that to make watercolor paint I needed to make a binder for it. Easy enough. After you have a binder, you add pigment, then you use the paint muller until the pigment is evenly spread through the binder. Sometimes this is really easy! If you are using Mica powder as pigment you don't even need to mull it, you can mix it with a paintbrush or a spatula. Each pigment is a little different.


Not only did I make paint, I made NINE HALF PANS OF IT. How satisfying! But wait, what do I do with nine pans of watercolor paint?

Cue the husband: i dunno, sell it? do people buy that stuff?

It turns out they super duper do. There's a whole bunch of artists who use and appreciate the unique qualities of handmade paints. Thank you, husband!

Now, let's talk a bit more about how cheap I am. I'm that friend who thinks they're always broke. It doesn't matter how much I have, if there's a debt under my name, I have whatever I have minus that. So, basically, I'm always broke. Thanks car payment, medical realities, and the student loan for the degree I didn't finish. (#Americanliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife)

It wasn't long before I circled back to the cost of my materials. Watercolor binder is thankfully pretty inexpensive to make. All of the ingredients are fairly common and you can purchase large quantities for what I consider to be pretty great prices. (reminder: so cheap. i am so cheap) Then we have the pigments. Pigments are not cheap. Pigments range from "moderately justifiable, not THAT bad" to "You have got to be actually (censor) kidding me" in cost.

Cue that first article about Rembrandt's paints.

Well he was out there making paint out of rocks. I can get rocks. I wonder if I can also make paints out of rocks? I mean, that was, after all, the original goal.

Short answer: Yes, people can totally make paint out of rocks.

I have this super darling, incredibly sweet friend named Jenny. (She has the cutest baby boy I've ever met.) We talked about taking walks together to try to combat the winter blues, and one day in January a really nice day presented itself. We met out at a local park and went exploring with the intent to find some rocks to turn into paint!

Not gonna lie, I felt pretty insane walking into a park with a tote bag to collect rocks. Am I allowed to? Should I....? I mean spidey sense says no, but hey, let's risk it. If taking rocks from a city park is the worst thing I do this year that's not so bad.

We ended our walk with full pockets and 8 amazing new colors of rocks to try! I was on top of the world because this means that the WORLD is my art supply store!

Problem: As it turns out, you have to crush up rocks to make them into pigment. This is a whole lot harder than you expect it to be.

I bought myself a badass new cast iron mortar and pestle after unsuccessfully searching for one at a few thrift shops. This thing is going to outlive us all! (I am not sponsored by anyone, but I would be pretty fine with it if I was. Wink)

When my mortar and pestle arrived, I decided I would start with the softest of the rocks I collected. On the walls of this waterfall I found an incredible grey clay!

Let's paint a picture. I'm located in Ohio, so winter here is a thing. I'm originally from Texas, so the idea of hanging out in my garage in January is not crazy. It's crazy here. SO! It's 20 degrees outside and I am dressed like Ralphie's Little Brother from A Christmas Story, new cast iron mortar and pestle in hand with a space heater under my arm. I make myself a little workshop where my husband's car is normally parked and get to work! EVERYTHING IS GREAT! ENDORPHINS ARE EVERYWHERE! I am making a pigment by hand that is unique to my area! Seriously, everything is coming up Carlynne.

Turns out, grinding up rocks in a mortar and pestle is super duper hard work. I thought for sure that the clay would practically fall to powder when coming into contact with that heavy mortar. It didn't. After two hours of questioning my life choices I managed to complete one ounce of hand ground pigment.

Only one ounce.

BUT I HAD AN OUNCE OF PIGMENT NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD HAS! So it's all ok. (But don't forget, these colors can be yours!) I list all of my earth pigments in the Terra section.

I gathered up my things and headed up stairs to see about making some paint with my fancy new pigment.

With fancy new free pigment in hand, I joyfully started trying to turn it into paint. Mulling clay is a lot rougher than mulling professionally sold pigments! To turn this into paint I mulled it for an episode of Downton Abbey. I love the paint mulling process! It's peaceful work and it forces me to take some time for myself. Art brings joy in both its process and its finished product!

So, I make paint now. I love the idea of collecting unique pigments during my travels, and hope to continue this project for many years.

UPDATE: April 2020:

After weeks of obsessive research I tried my hand at making Lake Pigments. Lake pigments are pigments extracted from plant matter using mineral salts and just a whole bunch of time. Each batch is unique, low yield, and made by hand. You can find all of my science experiements in the Flora tab.

UPDATE: February 2021 I moved to the upper peninsula of Michigan because all of the fancy rocks in every color imaginable

UPDATE October 2023:

Well somehow this turned into a thriving business, and no one is more surprised then I am! I have gotten off track with my earth pigments due to the popularity of my makeup paint making videos on TikTok (where I currently have 1.1 million subscribers; that is insane) but behind the scenes I have been back at it and will have some truly fantastic new earth pigments available very soon. Oh and I had a baby, she is my sweet darling and is 7 months old.


Bergette Pigments
PO Box 173
Bark River, MI 49807

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