• Lennon Kuzniar

DIY Watercolors and Geometric Designs

Hello everyone!! Welcome back to our aspiring artists’ blog, where we discover monthly art projects that will hopefully inspire you all to get creative in unconventional ways! This month, we will be making our own watercolors and using them to create a beginner-friendly geometric design.

Luckily for us, so many artists have already found ways to make their own watercolors using spices, fruits and vegetables, and some food coloring— let’s explore some of them now!

While you could just add some food coloring to water, you'll need quite a bit of food coloring to get a good pigment, and it can be pretty difficult to create your desired hue if you only have the primary colors to work with.

Instead, a different (but also more involved) method can produce some much better colors. You'll first need to gather at least a cup of each fruit or vegetable in your desired color:

  • Beets, strawberries, raspberries for red

  • Carrots, orange peels, yellow onion skins for orange (you might want to combine a few of these to get as much pigment as possible)

  • Kale, spinach for green

  • Blueberries, blackberries, red cabbage for blue and purple

In a small saucepan, combine your cup of fruits or vegetables with two cups of water and boil on medium heat. Once it’s boiled, leave your mixture to simmer for an hour. Then, let cool to room temperature and strain it so that you separate the pulp (or peels) from the pigmented water. If desired, you can add a few tablespoons of powdered sugar to thicken it a bit (but you probably won't need to for this project).

Boiling the vegetables and fruit skins is important in order to extract the pigments. However, when it comes to some of the fruits (like raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries), you can mash them up in a bowl and strain them to remove the pulp and seeds and use the juice as your watercolor. This might not give you quite as much pigment, but still works well if you don’t want to boil them.

Finally, we have our third option, which requires a few more baking ingredients and some spices. For this method you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of water

  • ¼ cup of flower

  • 4 tsp of cornstarch

  • At least 1-2 tbsp of each of your desired spices (you might need some more if you want a bit more pigment)

  • Some food coloring (optional, but helpful for a bit more pigment)

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the water, flower, and cornstarch until it’s a milky color and the consistency is smooth. Then, separate the mixture into small individual cups— this recipe will give you enough for about 5 or 6 colors (keep in mind, you really don’t need much liquid for each color, and you’ll get a richer pigment if there is less liquid anyway). Once you have your individual cups of liquid, add some spices and whisk until fully combined.

  • Turmeric for orange, ground ginger for a more yellow-orange

  • Paprika for red (cinnamon with some red food coloring also works well), and smoked paprika gives you a bit more of a brownish red

  • Cinnamon for brown

  • Matcha powder, or ground oregano/thyme for green

I decided to try this method because I just love the earthy tones it produces. From left to right, these are the spices I used: cinnamon and red food coloring, matcha powder, cinnamon, and turmeric.

This is what the pigments looked like when I tested them out:

Now that you have your watercolors, let's use them!

You’ll need a piece of paper (watercolor paper is definitely preferred, but regular paper will do in a pinch), a pencil, a paintbrush with really small and narrow bristles, and a stencil (if desired).

On your piece of paper, draw a large shape. It can be any shape—block letters, geometric figures, or just a big blob. I chose to do California, so I printed out a line drawing and traced it (which served as my stencil).

Once you have your outline, draw a bunch of dots inside of it. Don’t make them too close together— you’ll see why later. Once you have a shape filled with dots, lightly draw lines connecting them together to make a bunch of mini geometric shapes. They can be any shape, and they can be as uniform (or not) as you want. I chose to make them all triangles:

Don’t worry if they’re not perfect or the same size, just let go and enjoy the process. The lines don't have to be very straight, either, because it won’t matter very much in a minute.

Now, take whatever color(s) you want and trace your pencil lines. After dipping into the water, I would shake off your brush a couple times just so there’s not a big drop of water on it that could splatter all over your drawing (although, if that’s what you want then go right ahead; don't let me stop you). This is how mine turned out:

Next time I might try using a smaller brush to get my lines a bit more narrow and precise. Otherwise, I love this technique! It’s so simple, but it makes such cool designs and it’s so therapeutic to complete.

Some tips to keep in mind:

Keep a cup of water handy to clean your brush every once in a while, and you can also use it to dilute the color of your lines if you so desire.

With the spice mixture, you will have to stir them up every few minutes to keep the spices from settling to the bottom and diluting the pigment.

Once a few of the lines have dried, you might notice that the pigment is not as bright as you’d like, so an easy fix is to just go over those lines again with more watercolor.

Working with this media can take a bit of getting used to, but once you get a feel for it, you’ll start to feel like an artistic water bender.

For some variation, you can draw your shape and your lines with a white crayon (or some melted candle wax), then add your watercolors to the spaces between the lines. The wax will repel the water and your lines will remain untouched by the color. If some color does get on the wax, it’s really easy to wipe away with a small, dry paint brush.

So grab your fruits, vegetables, or spices, and let your geometric design unfold!! Come back next month for our next creative project!

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