Natural colours: Painting with earth, sand and clay

Do it yourself

Painting is fun and every picture tells its own story, but where do all the bright colours we love to use actually come from? Today, most colours are produced artificially, but in fact nature is full of fascinating pigments. Every colour imaginable can be made from natural materials, and that's exactly what you can do in this experiment with just three simple ingredients! Paint is made up of different components depending on the type and how it is made, but the following two are actually always included: Pigment and binder. The pigment is a colorful powder, it gives the whole thing the color. The binder makes the paint stick to the paper or canvas.



No matter where you live - open your eyes and go looking for pigments in nature!

Black or brown soil? Yellow clay? Reddish clay? Grey gravel? These are all colors that you can bring to your paper. This way, your picture not only tells a story, but you also know exactly the history and origin of your own natural colors!


You want to learn more about natural colours?

Below you can find information material and links that lead to answers to all kinds of questions. Who was the first to make paint? Were ancient statues really always white? Is there such a thing as a royal colour?


  • Suitable for age group: 6 years and older

  • Especially interesting for: Children and teenagers, creative minds and everyone of any age fond of painting and interested in nature

  • Preparation time: about 5 hours (can be divided in 3 parts)




  • Needed for the binding agent:

  • 1 tablespoon flour

  • Water

  • Small bowl

  • Fork



  • Needed for the pigments:

  • Natural materials (earth, sand etc.)

  • Empty jam jars (airtight containers)

  • Sieve (as fine as possible)

  • Hand/spice mortar or two large, flat stones




  • Needed for painting:

  • Newspaper / pad

  • Colour palette / plate

  • Cardboard paper / solid drawing paper

  • Water glass

  • Teaspoon

  • Paintbrush


Step 1: Collect pigments




First you have to collect earth, sand or clay in nature. These will later become your pigments. Pay attention to the colours you can find in the soil: Black forest soil or potting soil, beige sand, yellowish clay or even red brick from the riverbank?

Step 2: Let it dry

The soil must be completely dry so that you can sieve it well. Lay out large sheets of newspaper or something similar on the floor or a window sill and spread your natural materials on them. It is important that they are in a dry place. Leave them to dry overnight.

Step 3: Sieving and grinding

This is the most important step for your pigments: In order to be able to spread the colour well on the paper later, your colour powder must be as fine as possible. For this step, you should spread out a large area of newspaper as a base. First sieve the soil to get rid of all the stones, leaves and sticks. Now fill tablespoon-sized portions into a mortar and grind the soil as finely as possible.
Then sieve the whole thing through the sieve into a container (jam jar).




Repeat this process until your colour powder feels as fine as flour. Even if it takes a long time, it is worth it! The finer your powder, the more opaque the colours will be on the paper! If you don't have a mortar at home, you can also use two flat stones the size of your hand. You can find them on the banks of rivers, for example. Alternatively, you can sieve materials like sand or loose earth many times in a row. This way your paint will not be as fine-grained as in a mortar, but you can also paint well with it.

Step 4: Make the binding agent

You can't paint with the powder alone, you need a binder! If you were to simply moisten the pigment with water, the colour would later crumble off your painting - the binder ensures that the colour sticks to the paper.


To do this, mix a tablespoon of flour with about 20 ml of lukewarm water in a small bowl and stir vigorously with a fork so that even the small lumps disappear. The paste should be about as viscous as melted chocolate and no longer contain any lumps. If necessary, you can add water or flour afterwards.


Step 5: Mix the colours and off you go!


Almost ready! Now you just have to mix your natural colours and then you can start.

Again, it's best to use a newspaper pad.

Pile up the pigments with a teaspoon on a large, flat plate or palette, the further apart the better! Otherwise the colours might flow into each other.
Put a small teaspoon of binder on each heap of pigment and stir well!

Your self-made, 100% natural earth colours are ready! Whether you use wide brushes or your fingers, there are no limits to your creativity and you can start painting immediately.

Don't forget to let the artwork dry well!
You can store the pigment powders in the jam jars in a dry place and use them even years later.

Have fun getting creative!

Painting birds

Especially during winter, when the trees no longer have any leaves, it's great to observe the birds that don't fly south in your garden or in the forest. Use your earth colours to put these birds on paper, whether small, large, colourful, single-coloured, painted or made up, painted with your fingers or a brush. Take a picture of your painting and share it with your friends!

Related Links

Created by Xenia Hauser

Naturkundemuseum Bayern
Botanisches Institut
Menzinger Str. 67
80638 München, Germany


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