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Natural Paint

Janine Bjornson is a natural builder, practitioner and educator. She began her career in natural building when she trained with The Cob Cottage in 1996. Since then, she has taught over 65 workshops in Canada and the United States, from east to west. Her passion for building with natural materials bloomed out of her love for the earth, in conjunction with her concern for diminishing ecological resources and toxic buildings. As a result of this, Janine has devoted the last 14 years to immersing herself in the world of natural materials and the knowledge of how we can shape dwellings that are healthy, healing, inspiring, and beautiful. She has developed a penchant for natural paints, and plasters and loves the concept of “naturalizing” any kind of home. She loves to share this knowledge with others and this is evident in her enthusiastic teaching style. Janine has assisted in organizing 2 Natural Building Colloquia. She has presented at the Natural Building Colloquium in Bath, New York, Kingston, New Mexico, and Kerrville, Texas. She taught the hands-on natural building component of New College of California’s EcoDwelling program, and Dominican University’s EcoDwelling program. She lives in Sebastopol, California. www.claybonesandstones.com.

Questions and Answers

Q: I'm looking for natural materials to make paint for painting natural clay figures.

A: You can make natural paints using a number ingredients. To create any kind of paint you will need a binder (something that acts a vehicle for the pigment and prevents the paint from flaking and dusting), pigment, and an extender (optional). There are many different kinds of binders (see Artist's handbooks and the like). In Natural Building, we use flour paste as a binder quite often, this is simply wall paper paste that you can make on your own or buy as a powder. We use this as a binder and add clays, pigments, chalks etc., as needed or desired. Clay also acts as a binder and often has the pigment in with it. Milk paint also known as Casein is another natural option. I would suggest Artist's manuals, or The Natural Plaster Book, by Guelberth and Chiras (see section on Alis paints, and Casein paints) for more detailed information. Don't be afraid to experiment on your own and do a lot of tests!

Q: I've been unable to find information on natural, non-toxic bathroom materials.

A: I would suggest using wall finishes such as gypsum plaster or milk paint. Either of these should be fine. Whenever I use something less than a slick easy to scrub surface render such as glossy paint, I make sure that the plaster is not in key areas, such as a place where water could get sprayed frequently. For instance, behind a sink, I would have a backsplash area of tile or the like. In this way you can have your plasters without worry. It is important to consider these things in the design phase. Milk paint can be used in bathrooms. You should know that although it feels dry to the touch really fast, that it doesn't cure fully for a couple of weeks. With that in mind, you should not be introducing water vapor into the bathroom for a couple of weeks for best results. I would suggest lime casein (lime milk paint) over borax casein as it is much stronger. the Olde Fashioned Milk Paint Company sells it in powder with the lime and pigment already added. See: www.milkpaint.com

There are many different types of gypsum plaster, I suggest you contact a plaster person in your area for information on this topic relative to your specific conditions. The milk paint company should be able to answer any of your specific questions about their product if you choose to use it. Some people make their own, and there are other milk paints on the market you may want to check into. With either of these options, I would make sure that there is good ventilation/fans to allow for moisture to be removed from the bathroom.

Q: I am looking for as many natural/local finishing products as possible. Perhaps you can advise on the following: -clear oil for interior log/timber walls -natural exterior log/timber finish.

A: There are many oil products on the market for wood finishing. I can have used several of the "natural" oil products, however, I have used them in other applications other than finishing wood (poured adobe floors for example). In interior applications, I have most commonly used linseed oil for it economics and ease. Of course the cheapest variety is the Boiled Linseed Oil, but this has drying agents that are less than "natural". As I understand it, Petroleum distillates are in the boiled linseed oil, and are obnoxious to many. And you need to be very careful about how you manage or dispose of your rags due to combustion.

Q: I am in the process of building an addition to house in Northern New Mexico. I will be using vigas and will peel most them myself. My question is how do I maintain that natural look? What material can I or should I apply before and after installation?

A: You may want to try-bioshield hardening oil #9, apply 2 coats. This will bring out the red/yellow tones. It helps to protect the wood. Bioshield is a local company based in
Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A: (Kelly) What I have done with exposed vigas is give them a good coat or two of linseed oil to preserve them and brighten the color. It is easy to do this again later if desired.

Q: I have a question re linseed oil applied to cob for weather-proofing of exposed construction: "boiled" linseed oil sounds very toxic and raw slow-drying. What would be the solution and how would you recommend applying it.

A: (Kelly) I have used boiled linseed oil for many applications, from sealing rock and adobe floors to sealing woodwork. It is a hardening oil, that once it comes into contact with air will harden considerably. It can be either wiped on with a rag, or brushed on. For deeper penetration, it can be mixed with mineral spirits, but this stuff has some nasty VOC's. Allow the oil to penetrate for maybe half an hour, and then wipe off any excess to avoid a gummy film. It can be applied as often as necessary to penetrate sufficiently, or to renew the finish. It has a distinctive smell, but I doubt that it would be considered very toxic...many "natural" folks use it.

Q: I thought it would be cool to make my own clay paint from clay on our property. Do you have any "recipes" for this?

A: You can make your own clay paint but you will need to do some tests to find a recipe that works for your clay. There are also different basic recipes for making your own paints. Each clay has its own specific characteristics. Clays may be extremely expansive and contractive, or the opposite. If you have an expansive clay it is likely to crack if you put it on too thick. Therefore, you may need to thin it down or add a fine aggregate to prevent cracking. I often use Mica or a very fine sand. If the clay is not sticky enough you will need to add another binder to help prevent dusting, hold it in tact, and help it to stick to the wall. In this case I use a mixture of flour and water to make a paste. Essentially it is wall paper paste, or postering paste. See recipe below. I have harvested wild clays, sieved them through a screen, mixed them with water (by hand or in a blender) and rubbed them on a wall to create lovely antiqued finishes. That is the most basic application. You may also add additional pigments, mica for sparkles and the like. You can sponge them, brush them, or roll them. In the southwest the traditional clay paint is called and "ALIS". This is traditionally applied with a sheepskin. For more information on "Alis" refer to the resources below.

The Natural Plaster Book, Cedar Rose Guelberth and Dan Chiras New Society Publishers

Earth Plasters and Aliz
, by Carole Crews, in The Art of Natural Building, Kennedy, Smith, and Wanek, New Society Press

Gourmet Adobe HC78 box 9811, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557 seacrewsATtaosnet.com

FLOUR PASTE RECIPE
Flour Paste is used as a binder for earthen plasters and Alis. You may know it as wall paper paste. It is very sticky, easy to make, use, and it is inexpensive.

You will need:
White flour (not whole wheat)
Large pot (should hold 6 quarts of liquid for this recipe)
Smaller bowl, bucket, or pot (to hold 3 quarts)
Water
Whisk
Measuring container
Something to heat your water

Place 4 quarts of water in a large pot on the stove and leave there until it comes to a boil. While you are waiting, place 2 quarts cold water into a bowl and slowly whisk in 1 quart of high gluten flour. Whisk this until it is lump free. When the water on the stove has come to a roiling boil, slowly add the cold flour and water mixture into the pot with the hot water. Stir this together. The mixture should become translucent and thicken. If it does not feel thick enough let it remain on the heat, but be careful not to burn the mixture. If you burn it, it may turn brown and smell (you do not want to use a burned mix in your plaster or clay paint). Remove it from the heat and let it stand to cool. If your mix ended up lumpy for some reason, simply run it through a screen before adding it to your plaster or paint. Flour paste will last for a few days in moderate temperatures, and longer if refrigerated. Make sure to clean all your tools directly after making this, as it will dry hard like glue.

Q: What did you paint or apply to the exterior surface of your house?  It seems to be looking nice.

A: (kelly) The color coat on our house in Crestone is a stabilized lime wash. I learned how to make this in Mexico last year, as it is very common down there...and cheap! To make about 5 gallons, you put maybe 4 gallons of water in a bucket, add as much hydrolyzed lime the water will absorb (maybe a couple of gallons) and stir like the dickens. In fact you have to stir the mix quite frequently when you apply the paint to keep all of the lime suspended. In Mexico, I was able to purchase separately the pigment, which is used for color coats of stucco (like El Rey Colors), and what they call "resina" (which I figured out is the same as liquid latex). So in the US I couldn't easily find these components, so I tried mixing a heavily pigmented exterior latex paint (2 quarts) with the lime mix, and that is what I used on our house. I paid the paint store extra to put in about 10 times the amount of pigment than what the recipe calls for to get the color I wanted. I found that for any sort of rough surface the easiest kind of brush is not a paint brush but more like a scrub brush. So that's it...experiment!

Q & A (Kelly): We've found that organic pigments are normally degraded or destroyed by the high pH of lime wash. What color did you use for your lime wash pigmented with latex paint?

It was a light peachy color.

I wonder if it was an inorganic oxide as opposed to an organic polymer?

The pigments were the standard ones used in paint stores to pigment latex paint...I think they were oxides, but I am not sure. I had them pigment the latex paint with about ten times the amount of pigment normally used for the color that I wanted.

When asked about pigmenting lime wash, we recommend earth pigments. The easiest way to find these is to go to a masonry supply or building supply store that sells oxide pigments to be used in masonry mortar. These are compatible with lime wash.

I first found out about colored lime washes in Mexico where their use is very common.  I obtained the pigments separately from the latex, which I then mixed with the lime. In the US, it was much harder to find those pigments, or the pure latex, so I resorted to the use of paint pigment and latex paint, which so far seems to be holding up OK.

Q: My husband and I had a discussion about indoor latex versus enamel (oil) paint for wood trim. Is one better than the other for wearability? Which is better in relation to the environment?

A (Kelly): Enamel paint is the more durable, but latex has fewer VOC's, so it would be more environmentally benign.

Q: My boyfriend is a carver and I am a painter, we were recently looking into homemade paints. We found the information and the elements/plants that we needed for them, but we do not know how to go about making them so they will work for his wood and my canvas. Could you please explain to us what we need to do after we have found the plants?

A: There are many different kinds of homemade paints: lime paints, casein paints, clay paints, etc., All paints need a 'binder'. This is the medium which will hold the ingredients together and make it stable, like the pigment. It seems that you have located the pigment, but could use instructions on the other parts necessary to make the paint. The kind you make will depend on many factors. I will list a few: -What kind of materials you have access to. -What kind of 'finish' you are trying to achieve -What kind of 'wear and tear' they will receive. -What degree of difficulty you are prepared to work with in the preparation of the paint.

I would suggest getting a book on Natural Paints from the library or the art store. These books have many variations of paints. They usually have a number of photographs so you can see the paint finish, and they give you step by step instructions. I have one book that I like titled: The Natural Paint Book: A complete guide to natural paints, recipes, and finishes Lynn Edwards and Julia Lawless

Here are a few other resources on the topic: Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments Delamare and Guineau Harry N. Abrahams; The Artist’s Handbook Ralph Mayer, Viking Press; Applied Artistry: A complete guide for decorative finishes for your home Jocasta Innes Little, Brown and Company; Paint Alchemy Annie Sloan Collings and Brown; Natural Home Magazine July/August 1999 1 800 340 5486 www.naturalhomemagazine.com; The Materials and Techniques of Painting Kurt Wehlte Kremer (available via Sinopia, or Kremer)

I would like to say something about pigments since you have located some sources for them. Pigments may be natural, BUT that does not mean that they are non-toxic. I like to encourage people to learn how to harvest and process their own materials, but only with adequate knowledge. If you are harvesting materials from nature (like mineral pigments) make sure you know how to handle and process them safely. Some pigments you may choose not to work with due to their heavy metal content. There are companies that you can purchase pigments from that have knowledgeable staff and appropriate warning labels on their materials. So if you need more information, you may want to contact one of these shops in your area.

Q: I would like to make a homemade, eco-friendly wood sealer that would buff out as a low lustre finish. Is this possible, or am I dreaming?

A: I haven't personally made any wood sealers from scratch. Generally, I just use oil on its own.
However, I finally found a friend that had positive experiences with some recipes found in: "The Natural Paint Book, a complete guide to natural paints, recipes, and finishes," written by Lynn Edwards and Julia Lawless. Try their recipe for 'Transparent Oil glaze' followed by the recipe for 'Floor and Furniture wax" (put the wax on top of the oil glaze). Apparently, this should buff out to a low lustre finish for you. In the 'transparent oil glaze' you can omit the 'whiting' and just use the oil and thinner (and pigment if you wish). I would suggest using citrus thinners over turpentine. Bioshield sells a citrus thinner you can order online. www.bioshieldpaint.com

Q: I was just wondering if you have ever made white wash for exterior use? I found one site which recommended adding one white PC-ten lime for use outside. I think I remember that you used white wash for your interiors. correct? Would you consider telling me how it was mixed?

A: (Kelly) Yes, I have had some experience with both white wash and lime plaster. The inside of my large elliptical dome was plastered with a mix of lime, white silica sand, and a tad of white Portland cement (to get it to set up a little faster). This plaster was about 1/4" thick and troweled over the roughly textured papercrete. Then over the years I have retouched this with a bit of white wash, which is basically hydrated lime mixed with water to the consistency of very watery paint. You have to keep mixing the lime into the suspension with a stick for best results.

I have also experimented with pigmented "white wash", which is basically the same as the above, but with addition of mineral concrete or stucco pigments. This is very commonly used in Mexico on exteriors, but they also have a secret ingredient that makes it much more durable. They call this "resina", which I am pretty sure is the same as liquid latex. I couldn't find resina in the US like it is available down here (I am living in Mexico now), so I experimented with adding some (maybe 5%) exterior latex paint to the white wash, and this seems to be holding up pretty well. I "painted" my entire dome house in Crestone with this stuff before we sold it.

Q: Which brands of paint have been best tolerated by chemically sensitive and allergic people? I have read about AFM Safecoat, ECOS ELF (info. is at www.ecospaints.com ) and American Pride SafePaint. They have a list of common ingredients they each say they do not include in their paints. I need to paint the entire interior of our 1200 square foot house so I would like to buy something basic that wouldn't make me sick.

A: I really cannot answer your question directly. People who suffer from chemical sensitivities each have their own particular allergies and levels of how reactive they are. Therefore, it would be folly for me to try and answer your question precisely. I can say that most of the VOC free paints that I have used still off-gas ingredients and therefore, I find them irritating. I do not have chemical sensitivities either.

I suggest using something slightly different, like a milk paint or a clay paint. The Old Milk Paint company sells milk paint and they say that it is completely safe for people with multiple chemical sensitivities. You can view their MSDS (material safety data sheet) sheets on their website: http://www.milkpaint.com   Bioshield (http://www.bioshieldpaint.com) also sells milk paints and clay paints. Bioshield clay paint ingredients: Water, Clay, Porcelain Clay, Chalk,Alcohol Ester (as a binder), Cellulose, Preservative, and with Clay White #12-00, Titanium Dioxide. Bioshield milk paint ingredients: Casein Milk Solids, Lime, Clay, Cellulose, Asbestos-Free Talcum, Salt (Sodium Phosphate), BioShield Pigments. Product comes in a water-soluble powder form and does not contain solvents (zero V.O.C.-no Volatile Organic Compounds). Green Planet Paints is a newer company that is getting a lot of attention. They sell clay paints as well. They use soy resin in their ingredients, therefore, you would need to know if you react to it. You can also view their MSDS sheets on-line.
http://www.greenplanetpaints.com The last option for you, is to make your own. I make my own Alis paint. It is a clay based paint that comes  traditionally from the southwest. You can learn how to make your own Alis from " The Natural Plaster Book" .

Q: Hello, in my straw bale house I have a straw bale bathroom which has a tub, great sculpturing around the tub, this area gets some splashing and stains from kids grubby feet. What paint would you recommend that is water repellent, breathable, and I can paint over the current stucco. The interior is a pigment coloured cement stucco; the outside and inside walls are the same.

A: There are a number of factors to consider in terms of deciding which kind of paint to use to spruce up your bathroom. It is somewhat difficult for me to direct you without knowing the wall construction details and the user habits of the bathroom. I will give you some points to think about that could help you find the right solution for your bathroom.

You mentioned that your wall has staining. Is this staining from dirt or from water? Before painting over your wall, I would want to make sure the there isn't any water infiltration into the bales, occurring from the splashing around the tub. If the stains are from water, make sure they are only surface stains. If the water has infiltrated into the bales, you want to repair this area of the wall first. That means, removing the stucco, digging out any wet straw and filling and patching the area before any new painting is done.

Providing the stains are surface stains and you have an adequate ventilation system in your bathroom, you should be able to simply repaint as it is just cosmetic.

The recipe for the stucco mix that your bales were plastered with could inform your decision.  If you have a stucco mix that has the addition of lime, the vapour permeability of your wall system will be increased compared to  a mix that is straight cement, and sand for example. Therefore, you would want to maintain this breath-ability.

Now, if you find that the stains are due to water infiltrating into the wall, it may be in your best interest to paint this area with something that will be water repellent to prevent water from penetrating into your bales. This means you will be forfeiting the vapour permeability in this area but this may be preferable than allowing water to enter into your wall system which could cause greater problems in the cavity of the wall.

To maintain the 'breath-ability' of your wall system I would recommend consulting  Bioshield and asking one of their professionals which of their products would offer you the breath-ability you are after, along with the water resistance. (800) 621-2591 www.bioshield.com

In the area of walls that are stick framed, you may use any kind of paint you want as the vapour permeability is no longer a factor. If you are planning on using Eco-friendly paint, I would recommend something with a higher gloss than a matte finish, like clay paints or plasters (unless you choose to seal them) as they are more likely to stain and will not repel water.

Q: Do you have any tried-and-true recipes for homemade whitewash? Our humidity levels are very high all year round, as we have only 2 seasons--wet and dry (both humid though).

A: (Kelly) I have made my own with hydrated lime, water, and a bit of latex (you can use commercial latex paint) to help stabilize it. Mix these to a consistency of thin paint, and then you can add cement colorants for tints if you want. The resulting paint has a wonderfully variegated and subtle pastel appearance. Just keep adding the lime to the water until it doesn't seem to dissolve any more. Five gallons of this can be mixed for less than ten dollars. When you first apply it, it looks transparent, but then as it dries it becomes opaque. It may require several coats to cover. You need to occasionally stir the mixture to keep the lime suspended.

Q: I am currently in Nicaragua  working on a small earth-bag structure, and I am happy to share that it is going very well.  However, we are in the final stages, and the lime wash has me stumped. Though we've retained a nice white look, the wash is very chalky.  I have tried numerous samples, using varying ratios of nopal, salt, and flour paste, and have aged the putty, screened out the particles, applied very thin layers with a high water ratio, misted it constantly and let it cure for minimum of two days before putting on the next application. but I get to the same chalky results! 

I will admit that, here in Nicaragua, I could only find a S type lime that was over a year old as per the date on the bags, but I've had it curing for several months.  My last ratio was 9 cups of lime putty, 3 cups of fine salt, 1 cup of flour paste with 3 gallons of water. At this juncture, I'm thinking about using 2 tsp. linseed oil to two gallons ratio.  However, I have read mixed reviews on the use of linseed oil, and I wonder your thoughts. Would you suggest it?  If so, can I use it on interior walls as well exterior?  The books say do not use it on interior, but I am uncertain as to why. 

Another question I have, even thought I hate to ask it.. is since I don't have high percentages of straw in my wall system can I use a low VOC water based paint, or would this damage the breath-ability? This hurts to ask as I've applied all natural building methods thus far, but I really want those crisp white walls that don't chalk. As you can understand, I expect the people who come to view this house will touch the walls to "feel" the earth-bags and lime/natural plasters, and I don't want them leaving with white chalk on their hands.  I am trying to display to people that natural building is just as beautiful and refined as their conventional methods. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: (Kelly) I have overcome the chalking of limewash in several ways. My first experience was with the interior of my earthbag house, where I troweled on a lime putty over a papercrete base. For this I mixed the lime putty with white sand and a little bit of white Portland cement, which helped cure the putty much faster and kept it from chalking too much, although it did still chalk a bit.

More recently I have mixed the thinner lime wash with either white latex paint, or a product that is available in Mexico (and may well be available in Nicaragua as well) called either recina or sellador, which is also a water-based latex. It doesn't take a whole lot...no more than about 1 part in 10. My experience with this is that it hardly rubs off at all once it dries.

Ordinary paint, even low VOC will retard breathability, if this is an issue. Linseed oil would be hard to mix evenly with the whitewash I would think. Water-based latex is a much better solution.

Q: Do you know if it is possible to use beeswax or some kind of beeswax mix as a waterproofing paint for clay rendered bathroom walls? Possibly a beeswax, linseed oil and borax mix... and turpentine maybe?

A: I am sure you can use some mixture of beeswax to seal a clay render in a bathroom. The mix you use is the key. I have not spent time experimenting with these kinds of mixes. However, I have done encaustic painting and thought of putting beeswax directly on top of some of my plasters. The wax will obviously change the colour and finish of the plaster.

I have used beeswax with citrus thinners (pre-manufactured) and rubbed them into the surface of plaster. These mixtures that you can purchase will darken the colour of the plaster. I have never used these kinds of treatments in a bathroom, therefore, I cannot predict your outcome.

If I were doing the project, I would put the borax in the plaster, let that dry, then put the wax treatment on top of it. As long as the bathroom does not have an inherent moisture/mold problems you are likely to have a good outcome. The bathrooms I have done with clay paints and plasters, I have chosen a natural glaze to seal them with. These bathrooms did not have inherent moisture problems and the glaze helped to protect the wall treatment from water marking, erosion etc. It also allows the wall finish to be cleaned in a more conventional manner. I use Bioshield Glaze #15 http://www.bioshieldpaint.com/

Q: I've been looking for natural paint recipes for our bathroom (which has inherent mold problems behind the toilet tank). The problem: When the shower / bath is used, and the toilet is flushed, condensation forms on the cold toilet tank. This happens most in winter, when the tank is especially cold. The toilet is tucked into a corner without natural or artificial ventilation. Even when we open the window and run the fan, there's just not adequate ventilation in that corner. The wall is probably drywall on studs. We are open to considering structural repairs (rip out the drywall and replace it with a moisture-tolerant plaster, or cement board; or tile that corner; or upgrade the ceiling fan; or remodel the entire bathroom to open that corner up more...) but if there's a mold-suppressing coating or plaster that could work, it would be much easier. Any thoughts from the natural building perspective on how to eliminate mold problems in chronically damp walls?

A: It sounds like you are considering all the right things to correct this inherent moisture problem in your bathroom. You could re-plumb the toilet so it flushes with hot water instead of cold and thus prevent the condensation on the tank! Just kidding. I happen to know of a building in which this is a case (a plumbing blunder!). I would encourage you to replace the sheetrock or wall board because the mold spores are there, and just waiting for the right conditions to come alive. It would be wise to consider cement boards, tiles and the like. However, if you want to use a plaster or paint base that would suppress mold growth use lime. Lime is alkaline and is a natural mold inhibitor due to the PH.

I came across a Fancypants pest-control video online that described their 'special system' using patented hydrogen peroxide and borax sprays, so I pre-treated the mold with my own simple versions of those two. Then I made up a borax-casein paint with a lot of lime in the pigment.  And whitewashed the ceiling. So far so good - but I'm still thinking about making a "tank cozy" to further reduce the inherent problem! We have deep-seated mold in our window casings, too.  I'm afraid the mold may be continuous throughout our building envelope due to vinyl siding and damp climate.  So if lime-borax-casein paints can overcome mold here, it makes a pretty good case for their effectiveness.

Q: My house exterior is painted in latex and I would consider changing it's appearance by doing a series of whitewashing applications using your example of lime whitewashing. Would you get better results using pigments of better quality (France) or stick with El Rey stucco colors form Home Depot? Is the same true of the lime mix, spending the big bucks for stuff from France or get the garden lime variety and about how long did your exterior whitewash last you before flaking?

A: My limewash has never flaked off. However, I have never tried to paint limewash on top of latex paint. I do not know if it would work. I have only applied limewash to the exterior of houses that are plastered. Typically you limewash on top of a lime plaster.

Regarding pigment colours, the final look of a colour will vary with pigment source but El Rey may provide a colour that works well for you. It really is subjective. Any pigments source has to be lime compatible, as lime is alkaline and can bleach out certain pigments. If you cannot tell if they are compatible, do a test and see if the colour remains the same. I have used local limes (type S) for limewash and have had good results. It is not necessary to purchase high calcium lime putty from Europe. Of course if you are in Europe, this may be appropriate.

Here are some tips on where to purchase materials:

Pigments- I buy dry powdered pigments from pigment supply companies like Kremer in New York. www.kremerpigments.com. I also purchase from Sand and Gravel yards; you can get pigments that they use for concrete. You can also check with artist's supply shops. At the very least, you should be able to find pigments via the American Clay suppliers. I like to work with Oxides and Ochres etc.; some pigments are toxic.

Sand- I purchase my sands from Sand and Gravel yards (Landscape supply). I can even get white fine silica sand #90 mesh here. You may also find sands at Ceramics supply stores.

Bagged dry clays- I purchase these from Ceramic shops. Kaolin clays are excellent for paints and plasters as they do not shrink much. You may be able to find other aggregates, such as sand, mica (mineral), whiting, marble dust. etc.

Q: I have "The Natural Paint" book...and what I am still not sure about is how to prepare the walls before trying the milk paint or minerals.. I am trying to paint the kitchen (cabinets, tiles and floors) correctly..and the cabinets are mostly painted with oil paint. What is the easiest way to do the kitchen cabinets and walls..and if they need be prepare before painting? And to tell you frankly I would not not know where to easily find all the ingredients such as minerals/pigment. My basic question is how can I use natural paint over synthetic, no matter what it is? Do you think milk paint is better or mineral paint?

A: It is difficult to add any paint to a surface that is slick and glossy (especially oil paint). If I encounter glossy paint when I am working, I have 2 ways I can alter the surface to receive a new treatment.
1) Rough up the surface. Sanding is the easiest. However, you want to know exactly what kind of paint you are dealing with. You do not want to sand lead based paint as this becomes a health hazard!
2) Treat the surface with some intermediate bonding agent. This will allow your new paint to be able to adhere. The bonding agents would differ depending upon what kind of paint you are working with.

I work a lot with clay based paints (also known as an 'Alis'). I put them on top of conventional wall systems that have been painted with acrylic paint all the time. I usually use a mixture of very fine sand and a natural non-toxic glue (home-made or purchased). Putting a coat of this on, will give 'tooth' to the slick surface creating a texture for the clay paint to adhere to.

Regarding milk paint. Milk paint requires a porous surface to be applied to. Milk paint companies provide a bonding agent when working on non-porous surfaces. Your Canadian milk paint company, 'Homestead House Paint Company' sells a bonding agent that you can add to their paint so you can use the paint on slick surfaces. Here is a link to that product: http://www.homesteadhouse.ca/products/milkbond/index.html

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you do tests before painting the whole cabinet (try a test on the inside of the cabinet door). Also, note that milk paint has a lot of surface tension as it dries. If your substrate is not stable it can pull off the paint, wallpaper or whatever you are painting on top of and the whole thing can crack, or peel. Make sure you are applying it on top of paint that is stable and well adhered.


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I specifically disclaim any warranty, either expressed or implied, concerning the information on these pages. Neither I nor any of the advisor/consultants associated with this site will have liability for loss, damage, or injury, resulting from the use of any information found on this, or any other page at this site. Kelly Hart, Hartworks LLC.