Introduction: How to Make Your Own Viking Age Paint

About: 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 right and then figure out the nuts and bolts of things. A…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.