Making Paints from Minerals
This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Students prepare simple gouache paints using common minerals that are typically of sedimentary origin (e.g., hematite, limonite, kaolinite, glauconite), and use these paints to produce artifacts that are consistent with cultures that are of interest to each student.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
- Students will be able to describe the difference between color and streak.
- Students will be able to describe an example of a connection between geology and a culture that is of interest to themselves.
- Students will be able to explain why certain minerals are particularly common in the sedimentary environment based on composition of the crust and chemical weathering processes.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Students will be able to be able to deduce some minerals available to a given culture based on its primitive painted artifacts.
Other skills goals for this activity
- Students will be able to use the internet to find appropriate articles for research.
- Students will be able to write an abstract.
Description of the activity/assignment
This activity runs over two classroom sessions with a take-home assignment in between. During the initial classroom meeting students investigate the properties of minerals that would be make them suitable for use as a pigment in a water-based paint (streak, hardness, solubility). Students then work with natural materials, including powdered minerals, to make a palette of gouache paints (opaque watercolors) which students can keep.
Over the next week, students conduct online research to find a culture (past or present) that incorporates the class's limited color palette into their painted artifacts, and emulates their art form to create an art object using their paint. Students conduct research on the region and culture through a geological lens: where are they located? What is the climate? What is the general physiography (mountainous, volcanic, plains, etc)? Where do they get their pigments? Do the colors/paints have symbolic/spiritual meaning? What use/meaning would your homemade artifact have in this culture? This information is compiled into an abstract-like form, to be written up as a curatorial display tag in a museum gallery. In addition they must mark the location in which their culture exists on a blank world map.
In week two, students display their works around the classroom, and post their "curatorial tag" and map beside their display. Students are asked to organize themselves (and their displays) by geographic region, in order to initiate student conversation and to place the exercise in a geographic context. In a gallery walk fashion, students examine each other's work, and document similarities and differences between the environments and styles, and the consistency of the limited palette of black-white-red/brown-yellow-(green). The class ends with an instructor-led discussion of the ubiquity of these colors due to the ubiquity of certain minerals in the sedimentary environment (white clay, hematite, limonite, along with charcoal), and leads into a discussion of mineral formation by weathering.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Download teaching materials and tips
- Assignment Handout for Paint Preparation and Application Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 205kB Nov7 08)
- Instructions for Paint Preparation (Acrobat (PDF) 55kB Nov7 08) Step-by-step directions to prepare watercolor paints using mineral powders, including the grinding process, and preparation of the gum Arabic-based vehicle.
Edwards, L., and Lawless, J., 2003, The Natural Paint Book. Rodale Books, 192p.
Finlay, V., 2003, Color: A Natural History of the Palette. Random House, 464p.
Pigments Through the Ages http://webexhibits.org/pigments/index.htmlHow to Paint a Mammoth http://www.primitiveways.com/paint_a_mammoth.html