Your Camp What-A-Wonder experience won’t be complete until you head to the Crafts Tent to make a super-special art project to take home with you. Let’s go! On the way, we’ll learn a bit about how paints were made long, long ago.

Today, it’s easy to find paint. Specialty art stores, large retail stores and even local supermarkets offer a wide variety of paints for children to use to create works of art destined for the front of the refrigerator.

Long, long ago, though, these stores didn’t exist. Artists who wanted to paint couldn’t just buy the colors of paint that they wanted to use. They had to make their own homemade paint from scratch.

Cave paintings have been found that are 40,000 years old. The first humans to paint on the walls of caves likely used nearby minerals and materials like charcoal.

The Native Americans that first lived in the United States often made their own paints out of materials they found in the world around them. To make paint, they had to combine multiple materials.

To make paint, you need three things: pigment, binder and an emulsifier. The pigment gives the paint its color.

The binder is sticky and holds the pigment together. The emulsifier makes the paint flow, so that it can be spread on a surface.

Native Americans used many different types of natural materials for binders, including milk, eggs, sap from plants, animal fats, cactus juice and even blood. Common emulsifiers included water and soap-like substances from yucca plants.

To make many different colors, Native Americans were very creative in finding materials to use as pigments. Almost anything that had color and could be crushed and ground into a powder could be used as a pigment. These things included clays, minerals, ores, rocks, soils and many types of plants, flowers and fruits.

In particular, Native Americans often used roots, berries and tree bark to make pigments for face paints. They would crush the items and grind them into a paste to blend with other materials to form paint.


10 Join the Discussion

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  1. I’ve actually tried making paint with my friends. It didn’t really work. See, one day we went on a practice walk with our parents to get ready for our 5k and all around us were mulberry bushes. We collected the berries in our hands until we couldn’t carry any more. Then, when we got home, we smushed them and added water and put them in jars. All it was was soupy berries. The next day, we brought buckets and we got even more berries! So for days and day, we gathered berries, brought them home and tried a new technique on them to make better paint. One day, our mixture was just like water paint and all we used was berries! But, I guess if you wanted to make real paint, you should use the binder emulsifier and the pigment. I really do wish I knew where to get some pigment, emulsifier and binder. Then I could make paint all the time! What a wonderful wonder!

    • What a SUPER, AWESOME, WONDERful comment, Allison! Thank you for sharing your story about collecting berries and making paint from them! We’re glad you stuck with it and tried different techniques until you were able to make the water paint! It sounds like it was a lot of FUN! :-)

  2. Hi Wonderopolis! I was very excited when I found this topic to read! To start out with, I did know for a fact that cave paintings were mostly made from paint, and that paint is made from wild berries! I also knew that some camps make paints out of berries because I have done that at a camp myself. I never knew what pigment was until I saw in the article that it is the substance that gives the paint its color. When I was reading this article I also thought what binder was, until I got to the point in the article where it said that it is a sticky substance or material that holds the pigment and paint together! One question that I have is that if you accidentally splash the paint into your mouth or somewhere around the face, can it be harmful? One thing that I didn’t know before reading this article is that to make paint, Native Americans had to use different materials to make the paint! Another thing that I didn’t know is that you need three things to make paint: pigment, binder, and emulisifier. I thought that you just needed water and berries! Thank you Wonderopolis for having this as a wonderful wonder that I enjoyed learning about!

    • WOW! That’s a LOT of learning about paint and pigment, Team McNeil 9…we’re SUPER proud of you for all your WONDERing! We think it’s really COOL that you’ve made paint at camp before, too. Thank you for sharing that!

      We think it’s always a good idea to ask an adult before you make any type of paint, and make sure they’re OK to supervise you throughout the process. That way, if something accidentally splashes near your face, they can help you! We care about all of our Wonder Friends, and we sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! :-)

  3. Have you guys tried the different kinds of paints? Do they work? I want to, but I’d like to hear your input. I thought it only took pigment to make paint but instead it also takes a binder and an emulsifier. I did not that some caveman paintings are over 40,000 years old. Which is safer berry paint or modern paint? Does modern paint follow the general ingredients: pigment, binder, and ensulfier? I can’t wait to hear your response Wonderopolis!

    • Hi there, Team McNeil 8! Thanks for your comment! We made paint out of berries in Camp What-a-Wonder last year…it was fun! We’re not sure about the safety of all the different paints, and because there are soooooo many brands and styles of paint out there, it’s tough to know all the ingredients in each kind!

      We found a REALLY cool resource we think you will enjoy! Check out this page about some famous cave paintings: Happy WONDERing! :-)

  4. Egg yolks mixed with water 50/50 are one of the oldest binders. Mix well. Add the berries, turmeric, or even flour to make the right consistency. Add cleanser to the turmeric mixture to change it from yellow paint to dark red. (turmeric contains curcumin, an acid-base indicator).

    • Thanks for the great insight into making your own paint, Marilyn! Egg yolks and water have been around for ages, it’s no Wonder they can create paint! We’re so glad you shared your comment with us! :)

  5. Thanks wonderopolis!! I never new that you could make paint out of bark, rocks and soils. Thank you for making me learn! I can’t wait to try this
    at home!!by by

    • We’re really glad we got to WONDER with you, Delaney! Once you’ve made your paint, come back and upload a picture of it to our Wonder Gallery for us to see! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can you make paint out of berries?
  • What did the Native Americans use to make paint?
  • How can you make homemade paint out of things in your backyard?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to make your own homemade paint? You’ll need a few simple ingredients, some help from an adult and a whole lot of imagination!

There are several recipes that you can use to make your own homemade paint. Check out the links below to find a recipe that will work for you:

When you’ve found a recipe, make sure you have the ingredients you’ll need. Get an adult to help you throughout the process. The most fun part will likely be finding the natural things to use as pigments.

What sorts of plants, flowers or berries can you find around your backyard or a nearby park? Try a variety of different types of materials.

Marigolds make great yellow pigment. Red onion skins make purple. You can use pokeberries, strawberries or cherries to make red. Tree bark can give you good earthy tones.

Use your imagination! The natural world around you is your palette. What colors do you see that you could turn into paint pigment?

The freezer section of most grocery stores offers many types of fruits and berries that you could use to make paints if you can’t find what you want in nature. For example, if you can’t find blueberries to make blue, you could always buy some at the store.

When you’ve made some of your very own homemade paint, put it to use! Create a work of art that will help you remember your Camp What-A-Wonder experience. Email or send us a copy of your artwork. We’d love to see it!

Wonderopolis HQ
325 West Main Street, Suite 300
Louisville, KY 40202-4237


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