Grinding your own colors

I’ve recently gone back to grinding my own colors. I used to grind all of them, but as the good pigments (vermilion and lead white especially) became impossible to find here in Florence, I started using tube paints. Every August though I run out of colors and have to get out my pigment stash and grind up a bunch of paint to make it to September.

Here is a brief list of the pros and cons of grinding your own paint.

Pros: Large range of dry pigments to chose from, complete control over consistency, (usually) much cheaper, more intense colors, and finally, you get a better understanding of your materials.

Cons: Its time consuming, messy, and many of the pigments are toxic.


  1. Great posts Marc. If I was going to ‘think’ about grinding my own colors (I’m one who still glues and primes my own linen and panels occasionally, makes my own easels and sketch boxes…and once in awhile a frame… and enjoys the hands on process), what would you list as the essential tools and ingredients to get started. Thanks, love the videos of work in action too. – Marc

  2. Hello Marc, I got my muller from Sinopia in San Francisco. Back then they were really cheap, but now I see the large ones are up to $75.

    You also need a piece of sandblasted glass (even better is to buy carborundum from Sinopia and grind down the glass yourself) attached to a heavy surface so you don’t crack it and it doesn’t move.

    Then its just linseed oil, dry pigments, empty tubes and a palette knife.

    Maybe I can put a video together.

  3. Thank you Marc and Darren. When I read about doing this in various sources I’ve discovered online, nearly all of them mention beeswax as an ingredient??? Isn’t that a filler that you wouldn’t want in a pure pigment paint? Just curious. Thanks again.

  4. People use it for the blues (I have as well without issues). For the other colors it isn’t necessary.

    I don’t think it is worth it to grind the blues unless you plan on using them in a short period of time. They separate from the oil too quickly in the tubes.

  5. I’ve read of adding beeswax as well. Where I read it, it seemed like a myth to me, one of the old master’s ‘secrets.’ That’s not to negate encaustic however but combining oil and wax seems to me to be too much of a hybrid. Just an opinion.

    Blues are difficult to grind. Ultramarine has a mind of its own and tends to get everywhere (and I’m a clean freak). Cerulean tends to get very plastic or taffy-like and does not tube well. Alizarin is metal-like.

    For tubing, some add Aluminum Sterate (sp?) to help stop the oil from separating. Others add calcite to their colors (as Velazquez was known to do) in order to help with transparency.

  6. I grind paint myself as well. I used to use a mixture of linseed and 3% wax which worked pretty well. This is from Mark David Gottsegen’s book.

    I don’t use this mix any more I just use linseed or Walnut.

    I only tube up earths. The blues I do in the studio.
    I don’t do the Cads or lead white. I would like to but right now my painting space is not set up to deal with the more toxic pigments.

    I buy my Vermilion and leads from companies such as Blue Ridge.

    I think for someone wanting to start mixing I would recommend doing some earths.
    Yellow Ochers and the Sienna’s are so much better hand ground the color is better than anything I have bought from any company.

    Plus with the Ochers there are a lot more interesting types from French to Italian and so on.

  7. Thank you all. I was becoming a little leery about trying this after reading here and the other resources that Darren and Marc provided. This is due to lack of a large studio and it’s being close to my kitchen and dining area. The only sink that I have is my kitchen sink, or bathroom sink. So…I might try it with the earth colors first.
    Thanks for the help.

  8. Hello Marc,
    For your hard-to-find pigments such as vermilion or lead white, Naturalpigment is a good address. Here in Europe, you can also check the Kremer Pigmente shop. They have plenty of ancient pigments. If they are toxic, you only have to fill a form by which you state you are an artist or restorer and intend to make professional use of the pigments.
    I buy Kremer pigments since more than ten years and have always been satisfied with their products.

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