Introduction: How to Make Your Own Viking Age Paint

Picture of How to Make Your Own Viking Age Paint

Mineral paints are relatively easy to make, they do requires some specialized equipment and some of them can be EXPLOSIVE or TOXIC, I won't be teaching you how to make any of those, we'll start with something simple like rocks. In this Instructable I'm going to take you step by step through how to make a basic ochre paint, we'll substitute for some things but what you'll have is a Viking Age paint. Here we go

Step 1: Step 1 Finding the Rocks

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Rocks are where you find them, what you need to look for is first a color that you like and second a stone that crushes easily, I carry a hammer when I'm out hunting cause there's just something about whacking things with a hammer that's satisfying and so I can test how hard rocks are. (IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE - STRIKING A ROCK WITH A HAMMER CAN CAUSE RAZOR SHARP FRAGEMNTS TO FLY AT A HIGH SPEED, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES WHEN USING A HAMMER OR ANYTHING THAT MIGHT DAMAGE YOUR EYES!!!!)

Streams are great places to find rocks that make good paints for a couple of reasons. 1 They tend to contain a selection of stones and 2 the light ones that crush easily are usually on top. If you happen to be located in France there is supposedly the best Red Ochre in the world there.

Many of the stones that make good pigment are sedimentary but not all, malachite is a transitional I think and and there may some igneous pigments.

If you're in town not to worry just head out to your local lapidary and buy some, I've got a piece of Congolese azurite that is a absolute blue, but it's gem quality so I'll never use it for paint, but a guy can dream can't he.

OK you got me, it's not a stream it's a gravel road, but I got some great Kentucky Ochre on this road, like I said rocks are where you find them.

Step 2: Preparing the Rocks/pigments

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Once you've found a rock that you want to try, wash it/them up to remove any dirt/mud.

Next in a container that can take the abuse break them into small pieces about 1 cm cubes or so.

Then go in and sort the small pieces, put the darkest in one pile and the lighter colored in another pile, and maybe grades in between.

I'm using an armoring form here, there about $40-50 plus shipping from Iron Monger Armories, he's got a lot of good stuff for those who like to relive history.  Granite or basalt mortar and pestals probably will work fine, just watch that you're not abrading away, and don't use it for food after that.  Arsenic and other heavy metals are very common in the most of the minerals you use for pigments.

If your stone is all the same color then you don't need to sort.

Drip some water on your rock pieces and decide what you want to use, you'll learn how to blend the more often you make you own pigemnts.

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Step 3: First Grind

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First grind is the easy one, I use a ball peen hammer and my dishing form as a heavy duty mortar and pestal, using circular motions in the form with the ball side of the hammer, grind and crush to dust, not sand DUST.  When you you roll it between your fingers it should feel smooth but don't go beyond that with these tools, there's lots more grinding to do, LOTS!

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Step 4: Burned Ochre

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Sometimes colors just aren't what you want but are close.  Some stones will darken with burning some will lighten, some may be toxic do this safely outside and with small quantities.  We do this at the dust or sand stage to avoid exploding rocks.  Also if you grind it finer and do this the turbulance from the torch may blow your pigments away,  Go gently and carefully here, get adult help if your not an adult.

After burning go to next step.

Step 5: Second Grind

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OK know you need some new equipment.  A metal mortar and pestal, I got mine from a culinary store for about $15 American.

Put your dust in the mortar and start grinding, pressing down on the pestle and moving in a circular motion no twisting, just circles.  Grind until you have powder.  You've got it when you put a pinch in your hand and gently blow on it and it flies away, if there is any residue keep on grinding.

When it blows away go to next step.

Step 6: The Wet Grind

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Add a bit of thickened linseed oil to your powder and grind some more, keep adding linseed oil until your mix has a honey like consistency.  When it is very very very smooth and easily sticks to a brush you have paint that is usable, store it in a air tight container and it can be kept for a while.

You can get thickened linseed oil at most art supply stores.  I don't recommend that you try to thicken your own unless you like the idea of boiling burning liquid exploding all over the place.

Usually with American ochres the best you can do is a reddish or rust colored cinnamon brown of course if your using yellow ochre or you found some blue chalk it will be appropriate to those pigments.

If you're not happy with the color go to the next step, if you've happy go paint something like a shield or a rune stone.

Step 7: Changing Hue

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If your not happy with the color you got, you may still be able to do something with it.  Historically more expensive pigments were used to brighten ochre bases, vermilion, malachite, and azurite are examples.  vermilion is a mercury based pigment and is bad, Bad, BAD, I never use it, Malachite is affordable but still considered semi precious, Azurite can be crazy expensive.  Lapis Lazuli can usually be had in large chinks for not much especially if you crush it and grade it yourself.

If you want to stray a little from the DIY path then buy some linseed based primary colors which is what I do instead of working with toxic stuff.

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Step 8: The Last Grind

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Grind your primary color together with your ochre add other colors as needed then go paint something.

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Step 9: Paint Something

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The great thing about making your own paint is it gives you a holistic feel for something you've done.  When I finish a rune stone and know that I raised it from the ground, carved it and painted it, it puts me directly in touch with my own history.  Like all DIY projects there is a level of satification in in your own craftsmanship that you really can't get any other way.

Now give it away, inspire somebody else, if you like them a lot give them a little thing that they can keep with them, if you don't like them make the project absolutly beautiful and spectacularly huge and heavy.

This stone was a memorial to a friend who passed away a couple of years ago, it went to Pensic War out in Pensylvania and then spent time with her family, I carved it out of Tennesee slate which is like carving glass, you don't get to many oops'.  I'm told that it brought some smile to peoples faces who hadn't smiled since she passed on.


TorB2 (author)2016-06-07

What can I put in it to change to colour?

Rune Cutter (author)TorB22017-01-18

Change what colour to what new colour? If you are working with red ochre you can change it by adding some yellow ochre. If you are working with charcoal you can change to grey by adding ground chalk or burned bone. To help I need to know what color you want to change and what you want to change it to.

Rune Cutter (author)TorB22016-07-21

I'm not understanding your question. To change what colour?

TorB2 (author)TorB22016-06-07

Plz replie dude

Don,t try this at home (author)2010-10-19

Ok i want to try this but i got a few qustions i got black onyx can i crush some of that up?? also i got charcoal powder can i mix that in with the paint to make it darker?

Onyx won't make a good paint in and off itself, because it's normally translucent, the charcoal powder on the other hand will work great for making black paint, just grind it as fine as you can and add a bit of linseed oil then grind a little more. Monks sometimes used lamp black which you can get by holding a polished piece of metal over a candle, then rubbing it with linseed oil to produce a very black paint.

Good luck and let me know how it goes

Also i got black walnut trees in my backyard i know that native americans used them a die could i put some of that in to make it a better brown. I still havent found linseed oil

Since you posted this 5 years ago, I'm sure you already figured this out by now, but for everyone who doesn't know, they call linseed oil "flax seed oil" now. Flax/linseed are one in the same.

be careful when working with the seed balls from a walnut tree...

that stuff stains EVERYTHING....and I DO mean everything....

there is no soap or laundry detergent known to man that will get them stains out....and if you get it on your skin, it has to wear off, as there is no amount of scrubbing that will remove the stains on your skin(it will take anywhere from 1 to 12 WEEKS to wear off....I speak from experience).

If you want to PERMANENTLY set the dye from walnuts, soak for 1 - 3 days, hang the item over a clothes line till dry, then hose it down(from a distance) to get the excess dye out....let it dry again, then was separately... the colors will fade/bleed/whatever it's called on the first 1 or 2 washes.

Again, I speak from experience...

ok but my onyx is black and i don`t got linseed oil will veg oil work and can i mix the charcoal poder ith outher rock to make it darker??

veggie oil will give you a very poor result at best....

I have been blessed in so many ways....

I have a machine that I can run plants & fruit through to extract the oils from....and since I grow my own plants out in the "back 40", I can make my own linseed oil. 8-)

JaneS49 (author)2015-11-20

Could you paint on would or would it come off easily? this is fascinating. thank you.

santrim (author)2015-04-15

Hey there! I was wondering if this type of paint would be ok to use as face/body paint as well? I appreciate it :)

Rune Cutter (author)santrim2015-07-14


as with all pigments care must be observed. Some naturally occurring stones contain large amounts of heavy metals like arsenic, do your research before using this on skin.

Darcy777 (author)2012-05-26

Got to have a fondness towards anyone who says, "I carry a hammer when I'm out hunting cause there's just something about whacking things with a hammer that's satisfying and so I can test how hard rocks are.".

SIRJAMES09 (author)Darcy7772014-02-28

sometimes I think I was born with a hammer in my hand....

never thought about whacking rocks for paint pigment tho...

Rune Cutter (author)Darcy7772012-06-10

Thanks, there's just just something about a hammer that makes you want to whack things

SIRJAMES09 (author)2014-02-28

COOL! TY for sharing. :=)

can you get pigment from plants too? or just rocks?

lazemaple (author)2011-06-23

Maybe its common sense - I'd feel better if you mentioned taking along a pair of safety glasses when packing that hammer to whack rocks... so many compromise their sight because they think 'just this time'.... flying rock shards in the eyeball is risky business

Rune Cutter (author)lazemaple2011-11-01

Done! Thanks for the critical eye and drawing my attention to an oversite, kids read these things and try them, safety should always be first

Rune Cutter (author)lazemaple2011-11-01

True about the clay, and the eye protection, I'm going to school right now on a overload but as soon as I can I'll edit in the glasses, an oversight on my part. actually I'll take care of it now

Nomadsanity (author)2011-10-12

I know you use primitive methods for preference but what would you think about a small ball mill? I recently used a large one (built to tumble clean maille) to crush feldspar (mica) into a powder as fine as talc.

Rune Cutter (author)Nomadsanity2011-10-31

Yes as a rule I stick to primitive techniques as a matter of choice, they tend to require less specialized equipment.

I've never used a ball mill so you'r e a foot up on me as to how it would work, knowing that large ball mills are used to make dry cement I would expect it to work well.

Good luck and let me know how it works.


Nomadsanity (author)Rune Cutter2011-10-31

I will do that. Perhaps I will write an instructable on building a simple mill...

Rune Cutter (author)Nomadsanity2011-11-01

I would enjoy that, always looking to expand my horizons and knowledge, good luck

lazemaple (author)2011-06-23

Very cool; thank you...

lazemaple (author)2011-06-23

there is a lot less grinding if you are lucky enough to have a good source of red or green clay....

urbanwoodswalker (author)2010-05-07

Most ancient paints had a mixture of animal fats in them...or oil...this is a bi9nder that holds the pigment particles together, and makes them stick onto surfaces.

Many did it's true, but this paint follows the instructions of Theophilus in his 12th Century Treatise "On Divers Arts"  you can also do an egg tempera or a casein or milk based paint, the proteins dry into a binder, linseed oil does the same thing except it's a very long chain hydrocarbon in suspension with volatile oils from pressing toasted flax seeds.  The key is the proteins not so much the source.  In lacquers such as shellac insects are the source, every culture had its traditions when it came to pain.


Arano (author)Rune Cutter2010-10-07

with lineseedoil you have unsaturated fatty acids that will form bigger molecules through oxidation

Silver Buttons (author)2010-05-06

This looks like it might be fun to do. I live near Sedona, Arizona, which is famous for its red-rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. It's very soft stone and crushes easily--you can carve into it with a sharp tool. Some friends and I were hiking there last summer and came across a place in the canyon where the rock was a distinctive steel-blue color, very noticeable against the reds and browns. Too bad it was 50 feet up the cliff wall! I bet it would make a nice paint if it isn't too hard to grind.

You should ber careful....maybe its turqouise...and would be valuble indeed....turqouise comes in all kinds of colorations.

It looked more like a limestone type of rock, but with a bluish-gray tone to it that was very obvious against the browns of the other rock. I did a Google search, and I guess limestone can be different colors depending on what other minerals are mixed in with it. But like I said, it was pretty high up the cliff wall on the other side of a shallow creek--I would have needed climbing equipment to get to it!

I've used lapis lazuli, chrysocolla, and turquoise as color bases for paints, you just need to ask yourself how much expense you want to put into the project, almost all of the copper based gemstones make good paint but I don't recommend it for the beginner.  Limestone is the most common sedimentary stone and does indeed come in many colors,  any stone which can be ground can be used as a paint base sense it is suspended in a binder.  As I said earlier if you search about at the bottom of the formation where you saw it you're very likely to find pieces which spall of as part of normal erosion.

Sedona does have beautiful stone, but it's best not to mine it, if you search around at the bottom of the cliff face you'll probably find small pieces of the stone you want, erosion being what it is, and gravity being what it is :)

Believe me, you wouldn't have to mine it--it's everywhere! The soil, itself, is red from the high iron content of the rock strata on which the whole town sits. It's such a beautiful country, the rock formations are amazing. I have friends who can look out their back door and see Cathedral Rock in the distance. I get jealous every time I visit them!

nepheron (author)2010-05-04

 It's great to hear someone else likes to re-inact historical craftswork. I have a thing for making traditional Polynesian hooks and other fishing tools.
Great job!

Rune Cutter (author)nepheron2010-05-05

I love working in bone as well it has a feel that you don't find anywhere else.  I've been doing re-inatment for about 30 years So I have a lot to write about and I'm loving the corraspondance.

meismeems (author)2010-05-04

Thank you, RC, for your recommendation of Havamal....I found the perfect verse.

Rune Cutter (author)meismeems2010-05-04

Good to hear, they're pretty solid axioms and there is almost aways something that applies to someone .

davee52uk (author)2010-04-30

Why not use plant materials ? Yellow from onions, green widely available, red and brown from beetroot etc?

Asura-Valkyrie (author)davee52uk2010-05-01

You can, but these are generally not very light fast and make better inks, stains  and washes than they do paints. Using them on things that are out in the open for the sun and the weather to affect won't make it last long. Either it will fade or in some instances change color! If you add some sort of binder to the mix you may get the color to hold better, but you are always going to get better results using minerals as a paint.

Asura is absolutely right, theres' also that toxicity thing, plants like to defend themselves and when you concentrate things like hazzle, oak and galls you can get some pretty strong stuff.

Azzurite is a mineral that will break down in sunlight too,  I'm told that the sky in the cisteen chapel was originally done with azurite which would have made it very deep blue like cobalt.  Over the years from reflected light and other factors it's faded to the swimming pool blue green that it currently is.

jtobako (author)2010-04-30

Any reason you aren't grinding the softer pigment stone on a hard, coarse grinding stone like granet or basalt?

Rune Cutter (author)jtobako2010-04-30

I knew I forgot to mention something.  Granite is great for a lot of things I just wasn't sure how it would stand up to the abrasives in some of the pigments, if you have a granite mortar and pestal give it a try.  Basalt should be good to and is probably what they would have used historically.

I'll edit that in, thanks for the help

jtobako (author)Rune Cutter2010-04-30

I didn't mean crushing, just grinding, like rubbing chalk on a sidewalk and getting dust.

Rune Cutter (author)jtobako2010-04-30

Some folks use a slab of glass and a modified pestal the name of which escapes me at the moment.

Any grinding method that works, early man may have chewed pigments, not recommended because of toxicity issues,

Another way is to put the pigment between two flat stones and rub the top stone back and forth. 

You just need to make sure that the stone your grinding is softer then the stones your grinding with.

I believe the word for the tool you are describing is a "muller".

Yup that's the beast, thanks Asura

RavingMadStudios (author)2010-05-01

Tres nifty! This is great information on making paint, and a beautiful stone, too.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a frustrated artist, happily married, retired military and a reenactor. I love to find things that I don't think archaeologist got quite ... More »
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