Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How to make shimmering watercolour paints using just two or three ingredients


Our 12-year-old daughter is really getting into drawing and painting at the moment, which makes me so happy!  I’ve always been more of a ‘maker’ and she has very little interest in the crafts I enjoy, so her recent interest in art is bringing me so much joy.


I love experimenting with resin art, and one of the most inexpensive ways of adding colour to resin is by adding coloured mica powders.  I purchased one of these sets of Wtrcsv - 56 mica colours last year, as an affordable way of quickly stocking up on a wide selection of resin colours.


My daughter spotted them and she loved how they sparkle and shine - some of them have a real, shiny, metallic quality to them. 

Last summer, like most people, we had to cancel our holiday because of the COVID-19 pandemic and so I made a list of family activities that we could do together at home. One of the activities I came up with was to make our own shiny, metallic paints out of school glue and mica powder. We were then to paint rocks and leave them around the park for people to find and take home. 


I was hoping that once they were dry, we would add pretty patterns to them, with Posca Paint Markers but my daughter loved the shiny colours so much, that she insisted that we left them as they are.

While we were mixing the mica paint, and seeing how captivated she was by the colours and shine, I started thinking that the mica powders would go much further as a watercolour paint ingredient, so I decided to do some research.

I found quite a few tutorials on how to make watercolour paints out of mica powders and gum Arabic - both liquid and solid.  They all seemed to involve mixing a large quantity of mica powder and gum Arabic, for long periods of time, with a kind of palette knife on a sheet of glass or ceramic tile.  They then skilfully transferred the shiny paint, drop by drop, into several paint pans.  I’m not about to go into production and so I wondered if there was a way of accurately making much smaller quantities of shimmering watercolour paints inside the pot itself.  That way, there would be significantly less waste, clean up and I would be much more inclined to make lots of different colours.

I haven’t done much watercolour painting, but who knows... maybe I might even have a go myself!

To accompany this blog post, I've also made a summary video, which gives a slightly better idea of how the paints turned out- 


After a little bit of experimenting, I came up with this very simple method of making shimmering, watercolour paints;  there’s also a bit of fun science too, which children might find fascinating.


Materials needed to make metallic, twinkling watercolour paints 






The mica colours come in these resealable plastic bags.  Unfortunately, it’s not the most practical of storing methods, but it does mean that you get a wide selection of colours inside a relatively small box.


I’m using these 3ml, clear plastic, screw-top pots.  They’re mostly designed for cosmetics, but they are also a nice size for making sample pots of watercolour paints.


Write the name of the colour on the bottom of the pot in permanent marker so that you know which colour to make if you run out.  I’m also thinking that these will double as colour swatches for my resin craft so that I can quickly see which colours complement each other.


With the pot on the digital scales, turn them on and weigh out 1g of mica powder - I’m always very surprised by just how much powder 1g of mica is!


Flatten down the mica powder with the back of the small spoon and add between 1.2g and 1.5g of liquid gum Arabic.  Don’t worry, it’s virtually impossible to measure it exactly.


(I should point out that most recipes for watercolour paints recommend adding a small amount of honey or glycerin.  I didn't add it to the first batch of watercolours I made, but once I finished one 60ml jar of liquid gum Arabic, I added 6g of glycerin to the second full jar.  The glycerin or honey are supposed to improve the rewetting qualities of the dry paints and prevent them from cracking.)


Leave the gum Arabic to soak into the mica powder for 20 minutes.  You can, of course, be getting on with measuring out more mica colours into different pots while you wait.


Once the gum Arabic has soaked into the mica powder, stir it with a cocktail stick.  You need to take care to start with, as there will probably be some dry mica powder around the edges.  Draw the dry edges into the centre slowly to mix it with the gum Arabic.


I discovered that mica powder and liquid gum Arabic create a non-Newtonian fluid (a fluid that doesn’t obey Newton’s law of viscosity, and changes to being more liquid, or more solid, under stress) which is very pleasing.

If you stir it around you get a kind of clumpy mixture, but if you stab it quickly with a cocktail stick, it starts to turn to liquid.  It’s difficult to tell from the animated gif, but this shows me repeatedly stabbing it with a cocktail stick to turn it into liquid.


Use a combination of stirring and stabbing to combine both parts together.  If you’re able to stab it to the point that it becomes liquid enough to cover the base then you’ve added enough gum Arabic. If you’re struggling to get it to the point where it’s an even, level liquid covering the bottom of the pot, add a drop more and keep stirring and stabbing.


Once it gets to this stage, you can slam it on the table a few times, which both helps to liquify it more, and get rid of any bubbles.



Then leave the lids off for 48 hours until the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with shimmering, metallic watercolour paints.


I made a colour chart of all the different shimmering shades I'd made with the mica powders.  The ones with an asterisk before the name had a tiny bit of glycerin added to the liquid gum Arabic.  I can't say that I noticed a difference in the quality of the colours once they had dried, but I did notice that the colours with glycerin added didn't need as much water or mixing with the brush to rewet the paints.  I think I may add a little more glycerin next time to see the difference that makes...


I’m by no means an expert with watercolours, but here’s a card I made for my parents’ wedding anniversary using these shimmering watercolours, liquid latex and Tonic Studios Nuvo gilding flakes.  It’s not perfect, but I’m sure they’ll love it.



I do hope you’ve found this post useful.  If you have, please pin this image to Pinterest.  It makes a big difference!


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This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the shimmering, metallic watercolour paints.  If you click through and purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you.

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