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  • Writer's pictureFiona Jackson

"The Art of Making Watercolour Paints with Gum Arabic: A Beginner's Guide"

Watercolour painting is a beloved and versatile medium, used by artists for centuries to create delicate, translucent paintings. One of the key ingredients in watercolour paints is Gum Arabic, a natural binder that helps the pigments adhere to the paper and stay in place. In this blog post, we'll explore the history of watercolour paints made with Gum Arabic, what Gum Arabic is, where it comes from, and how to make and use a Gum Arabic solution for watercolour paints.

What is Gum Arabic?

Gum Arabic is a natural gum made from the sap of acacia trees, which grow in arid regions of Africa and the Middle East. The gum is collected by making incisions in the bark of the tree and allowing the sap to ooze out and harden into a resin. The resin is then harvested and processed into a dry, powdered form that can be easily dissolved in water.

Gum Arabic has been used for centuries as a natural binder and thickener in a variety of applications, including food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. In the art world, it is best known as a key ingredient in watercolour paints, where it serves as a binder that holds the pigment particles in suspension and prevents them from sinking into the paper.

A Potted History of Gum Arabic in Watercolour Painting.

Gum Arabic has been used as a binder in watercolour painting for thousands of years. The earliest known examples of watercolour paintings date back to ancient Egypt, where artists used Gum Arabic to bind the pigments and create delicate, translucent paintings on papyrus scrolls. Gum Arabic was also used by medieval manuscript illuminators, who used it to create bright, luminous colours in their intricate illustrations.

During the Renaissance, watercolour painting became a popular medium for artists in Europe, and Gum Arabic continued to be used as a binder in watercolour paints. In the 18th and 19th centuries, watercolour painting became particularly popular in Britain, where artists used the medium to capture the beauty of the British landscape. Many of the most famous watercolour paintings from this era were created using Gum Arabic-based paints.

How to Make and Use Gum Arabic Solution for Watercolour Paints.

To make a Gum Arabic solution for watercolour paints, you will need:

  • 4 parts distilled hot water

  • 2 parts Gum Arabic

  • 1 part honey (or glycerine)

  • a couple of drops of clove oil

Here's how to make the solution:

  1. Heat the distilled water in a saucepan until it is hot, but not boiling.

  2. Add the Gum Arabic to the hot water, stirring continuously until it is completely dissolved.

  3. Add the honey (or glycerine) to the mixture, stirring until it is fully incorporated.

  4. Finally, add a couple of drops of clove oil to the mixture. The clove oil acts as a preservative and will help to prevent the Gum Arabic solution from spoiling.

  5. Put into a lidded jar and leave in the fridge overnight, the foam and any lumps will disappear, and in the morning your Gum Arabic solution will be ready to use.

  6. It will last for several months in the fridge - just don't eat it! ( Make sure you label the jar!)

My Gum Arabic solution tends to resemble a pale Ale ( or a urine sample, according to my family!) This is due to using honey as the humicant. The Honey doesn't actually affect the pigment colours once its all mixed up - If you use glycerine instead, it will be a clearer solution.

Simply add a small amount of the solution to your watercolour pigments and mix them together using a muller and glass plate or a mortar and pestle, until you have a smooth, even consistency - I like to 'swatch' the paint as I go to check its consistency. Used wet with dry pigments, the Gum Arabic will create a rich creamy paint - or you can decant it into pans and leave to dry, then re-wet as with normal water colour paints.

When using Gum Arabic-based watercolours, it's important to remember that they can be quite transparent, so it may be necessary to build up multiple layers to achieve the desired depth of colour. Gum Arabic also tends to dry quickly, so it's important to work quickly and keep your paints moist by spritzing them with water or using a wet palette.

Gum Arabic is a natural binder that has been used in watercolour painting for centuries. By making a Gum Arabic solution for your watercolour paints, you can create rich, luminous colours that will stay in place.

I love to make my own watercolour paints from scratch, using natural pigments and binders like Gum Arabic.

If you're interested in learning how to make your own watercolour paints, I regularly offer workshops on making watercolour paints ( amongst other art materials ), please visit for more information.

These workshops can be a great way to learn about the history and science of watercolour paints, as well as to explore your own creativity and experiment with different colours and textures.

Whether you're a seasoned watercolour artist or just starting out, there's always something new to learn about this beautiful and versatile medium. By experimenting with different materials and techniques, you can create your own unique style and develop your skills as an artist....and have fun!

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