Working With Pure Artist’s Pigments

Working With Pure Artist’s Pigments

Pure Artist’s Pigments by Sennelier

For my latest Great Art Uk Blog, I’m taking a look at Pure Artist’s Pigments in powder form…Great Art UK stock a range of these on the website and also in their flagship London store…I’m using a gorgeous range by Sennelier.

Pure Yellow Pigment in a Pestle and Mortar

I love the image above as it really demonstrates the purity and intensity of the colour you get with pure pigment….Pure pigment is exactly that; just colour!

Working with pure pigment gives you ultimate control as an artist in how you want to make up your paints.

It also gives you loads of options in that you can choose to:

  • Experiment with the pigment as it is, in a dry powder form
  • Colours can be mixed both in their dry powder state, and also when mixed with any of the various binders listed below.
  • Combine with watercolour medium…Gouache medium is also available, though not shown in this blog, and it works in the same way
  • Mix with Acrylic Binder
  • Combine with an oil painting medium
  • Make Egg Tempera using egg yolk
Dry pigment worked onto drawing paper using a soft dry brush or cloth

The image above shows pure dry pigment applied to the drawing surface with a soft brush (You can also use a piece of soft rag, or even some cotton wool). If you need a clean edge, simply mask the area you are working on with removable masking tape, as above. You can vary the intensity of colour by applying more or less of the pigment, and by building it up in some areas to create a stronger result.

Image above shows a loose study made with ultra soft artist’s pastels applied to a base of dry pigment.

*Work created in this way benefits from being stored with acid free paper interleaved to protect from damage, and should be ‘fixed’ using a pastel/charcoal fixative spray for longevity.

Pure dry pigment applied to a damp paper, creating interesting mottled effects.

The image above shows dry pigment sprinkled onto a damp sheet of paper-this produces soft, mottled effects which can be very useful and attractive. You can strengthen the colour in some areas by using a spray of clean water very lightly on top of the sprinkled pigment. If you want to give these techniques a go, you do need to be patient and let the area dry fully, before gently tipping away any excess pigment.

Pure pigments, straight from the jar

The image above shows some of the pigment colours I tried, with tiny amounts ‘spooned’ onto a glass slab ready for use.

Here the colours are straight from the jars…the pigment comes very finely ground, but depending on weather conditions there may be some clumping. Although it is perfectly possible to use the pigments as they come, my preference if I’m going to mix pigment with any binder is to give the pigment a final grind with a pestle and mortar, for a beautifully smooth, silky result. If you look very closely in the image below, it’s possible to see a slight graininess in the paint, here made by combining with watercolour medium.

Pure pigments mixed with watercolour medium
Watercolour paint made by combining dry pigment with a watercolour medium

The very slight grittiness, is easier to spot in this picture…it’s a small detail, but well worth taking the time to use a pestle and mortar, if a really smooth finish is important.

Mixing dry pigment with watercolour binder using a plastic palette knife

You can see clearly the slight grittiness in the sample above; and it is especially noticeable in the 2nd and 3rd strips.

Perfectly smooth results using pigment which has been lightly ground with a pestle and mortar

Hopefully this second sample image is clear enough to see the difference a brief grind in the mortar makes, as the sample paint strip on the right is totally smooth.

Equipment and materials you need:

Key materials used:- ILA Mixed Media Paper, PaintOn Multi-techniques paper, selection of Sennelier Pigments, Watercolour, Acrylic and Oil mediums.

So if you want to experiment with using dry pigment for the first time, I recommend trying a small number of colours; perhaps the primaries, some multi-technique paper, and binders for oils, watercolours and acrylics…

Pure Pigment combined with egg to make tempera, watercolour medium, oil binding medium and acrylic medium in turn.

You will also need:

  • A flat plastic or glass slab or palette/ paper plates
  • Paper towels
  • Brushes for painting and a soft brush for applying dry pigment
  • A couple of palette knives for smooth blending of pigment with binder
  • An egg if you want to try making Tempera
  • Removable quality masking tape for masking
  • A spray bottle for water
  • Mortar and Pestle for grinding (you can often pick these up from charity shops…buy a small one with a good smooth surface)
  • Pots for mixing and screw topped jars for storing paints
  • Plastic spoons
  • Spray bottle
  • Washing up liquid and Sansodor

Pure Pigment with Watercolour Binder

Spooning watercolour binder onto palette to mix with pure pigments

Making watercolours with pigment colour and watercolour binding medium is simple and quick. Simply grind the powdered colours to remove any lumps. Mix with small amounts of watercolour medium, blending carefully with a palette knife. This produces a liquid but saturated paint, which can be ‘let down’ with water, which makes a much more usable paint texture. By adding gradually more water, you can also produce vivid washes.

Mixing Pigment with watercolour medium
Watercolour made with pure dry pigment and watercolour binder

In the top image above, you can see how well the paint blends, by overlaying brush strokes and working quickly wet into wet. The picture below shows a range of experiments with pigment + water + watercolour blending medium.

Experiments using Alizarin Red Pigment and Watercolour Medium
Dry Pigment applied onto paper which has been lightly sprayed with water

The image above shows Alizarin Lake Pigment applied onto a sprayed water base…I particularly like the delicate textures this produces, and the effect works equally well on standard watercolour work.

Pure Pigment with Acrylic Medium

Beautiful acrylic colour blends

This works in pretty much the same way as the Watercolour Medium; simply grind your pigments ready, then mix in batches with acrylic binder medium.

Single colour pigment combined with acrylic binder, showing deeper and lighter coverage

The Acrylic paint made in this way is very liquid, produces good colour and coverage, but doesn’t have the ‘body’ of a typical acrylic, unless you add some heavy body medium, or texture paste-both of which work quite well. My preference would be to use as a liquid acrylic, which seems to suit this method best.

Making acrylic paint with an acrylic binder using both palette knife and brush
Acrylic Experiments

The samples above, show some useful experiments to try:-

  • Left 1: Paper moistened with acrylic medium, with dry pigment in Phthalo Blue applied over the top.
  • Left 2: Fine Acrylic Texture paste applied as a base, with Phthalo Blue applied over the top.
  • Left 3: Pure pigment mixed in with Fine Texture paste.
  • Left 4: Clear binder applied as a base with very subtle amounts of Phthalo Blue and Quinacidrone Red blended on top.
  • Left 5: Layer of standard Amsterdam Acrylic in Turquoise as an opaque ‘ground’ with Phthalo Blue pigment dry brushed on top.
  • Middle panel: Experiments with layers of dry pigment brushed into acrylic binder/ blended with acrylic binder and on top of standard acrylics.
  • Right hand panel: More textured samples made by mixing pigment with acrylic medium and also texture paste-applied with a painting knife, for a more impasto feel.

Pure Pigment with Oil Medium

Mixing ground pure pigment with oil medium using a palette knife

Mixing Oil colours using Oil Binder and pigment is also really easy; simply add a small pool of oil binder to a little mound of fine pigment, mixing carefully with a palette knife as above. As with acrylic paints, oil bound pigments produce a richly coloured but relatively thin textured paint-In order to get the texture you like to work with, it is also possible to add other oil mediums like painting butters. A major advantage is that oil binding medium produces a fast drying oil colour.

Alizarin pigment with Oil Binding Medium by Sennelier
Pigment with Oil Binder
Work space set up for working with oils and pigment

In order to experiment with pure pigment and oil binders, it’s worth trying some of the following ideas:-

Experiments using Pigment with Oil binder

Making Egg Tempera with Pure Pigments

Tempera paints made using egg yolk and pure pigments


  • Prepare your powdered pigments, grinding them in a pestle and mortar to remove any clumping. Tip the colours into dry pots or jars.
  • Crack an egg, taking care to remove all the white and leaving the yolk intact.
Cracking an egg, discarding the white and keeping the egg yolk intact
  • Carefully dry the yolk in the palm of your hand, by rolling very gently on some kitchen paper
Drying egg yolk on kitchen towel
piercing the sac and releasing the yolk
  • Carefully pinch the egg yolk between a thumb and forefinger to pierce the sac that surrounds it. Do this over a clean pot, and allow the egg yolk to flow into the pot leaving the membrane on your hand.
  • This yolk goes a surprisingly long way, so you can divide it between a number of pots, ready to mix different paint colours.
  • Add a little water if the paint needs to flow more easily, or when you want to make glazes.
Mixing yolk into pure pigments in separate pots….surprisingly the yellow of the egg does not affect the colours you mix
Gorgeous rich colour made with pigments and egg
  • *Tempera paints are my absolute favourite way of using pure pigments. The paint produced has a beautiful rich sheen and patina and is lovely to work with. It is a very durable water-soluble paint with a long heritage; used by early Renaissance painters like Botticelli and Fra Angelico
Tempera paints made with pure pigments

Top Tips:-

  • *As with any powdered medium, handle with care so as not to inhale dusty pigment. Pigments come in screw topped jars with inner seals-carefully spoon out small quantities to use (the pigment is pure and therefore very intense and powerful-you really don’t need much!). Keep jars closed to avoid spillage and contamination of colours.
  • Mix sufficient colour for the area you want to paint. If you may need to work over a number of sessions, the paint will keep if stored in a jar with a tightly fitting lid. I keep small jam jars etc…which work really well. I wouldn’t recommend keeping for long periods to avoid the media deteriorating. If keeping tempera paint in this way, try adding a drop or two of lavender oil which helps to preserve the paint and adds a pleasant smell.
  • Cleaning up equipment: Watercolours-as usual wash brushes, palettes and tools with warm soapy water, rinse and dry. Acrylics- be careful to wash brushes as soon as you have finished using them to avoid the bristles hardening. Wash equipment well with warm soapy water, working soap well into brushes to make sure all paint residue is removed. For Tempera-Wash as above, but take special care in cleaning up to avoid traces of egg going off in the studio!! Oils-should be cleaned up as with standard pre-mixed oils. Clean off excess paint using rag or paper, then clean with Sansodor or similar, finishing with a wash in warm soapy water.
  • Plastic glue spreaders or palette knives are good for scraping the fine pigment out of the mortar.
  • I suggest working on Multi-technique/Mixed Media paper for experiments and samples. Watercolours made as above can also be used on specialist watercolour papers and boards, and watercolour canvas. Acrylics and oils can be worked onto specialist acrylic/oil papers, boards or canvas. Tempera paint works well on Mixed media of acrylic papers, or canvas. For work in oils, acrylic and tempera on canvas, prepare with a gesso base for best results.

My Materials list-all available from

  • Sennelier Pure Artist’s Pigments:
  • Sennelier Oil Binding Medium:
  • Sennelier Watercolour Binding Medium:
  • Gerstaecker Acrylic Binding Medium:
  • ILA Mixed Media Paper:
  • Clairefontaine Multi-Technique Paper:
  • Schmincke Painting Butter:
  • Michael Harding beeswax paste:
  • Some soft artist’s pastels, I used Gallery Artist’s Pastels which I love for their rich buttery consistency:
  • Premixed acrylics eg Amsterdam Expert:
  • Sansodor:

I hope you enjoyed reading this Great Art Materials Blog- look out for the next one soon!   Jo

*All text and images © Jo York, and may not be reproduced or used without permission.

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