UofS: Creating Paint from Soil


Last week I was up at Christopher Lake in Saskatchewan to teach about making paints from soil for a course at the University of Saskatchewan. Alongside my colleagues Ken Van Rees and Allyson Glenn, we taught about making pigments out of bones and soils (and even bugs!). Being an interdisciplinary course, students in both the graduate soil science and the masters of fine art programs attended—one of the highlights of the week for me was watching the two approaches collaborate on different projects.

Each morning we focused on making colour by exploring different techniques and materials. We made some pigments by burning, others by grinding and we even filled out our palette with a some basic chemistry. By the end of our first day we had finished a range of blacks, and by the end of the week we had a full set of colours with which to paint. Given my love of egg tempera paint, I mainly demonstrated with that, but students also used wax, oils and acrylics—introducing a wide variety of effects. Before lunch, Allyson offered an introduction to painting techniques which supported students in their work (some of whom had never painted before!) and then in the afternoons, Ken took us to a variety of different local landscapes for inspiration where we made art. Some evenings we worked a bit more on creating our colours, and often Allyson offered a critique session, but there was also time to socialize and even fish.

If you’re in the Saskatoon area, I hope you’ll plan to come by the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery at the University of Saskatchewan this Friday (June 20th) to attend the opening of the class’s exhibition. Both the art and its processes will be on display, and you’ll get a chance to talk with those who attended the class. I think it’s going to be a fantastic show!

My thanks to all the students for their enthusiasm and hard work over the week. I hope you’ll continue to explore the possibilities in creating your own colours from your local environment and contact me occasionally with up dates. It was wonderful to work with you all!


Special thanks to Ken for the use of his landscape paintings to conclude my video (and for a number of the photos). Both Ken (www.kenvanrees.com) and Allyson (www.allysonglenn.com) are practicing artists making great art. Check out their website to see what they’re up to in their practices.

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