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Making Liquid Gum Arabic

Making Gum Arabic

Resin binder used for tempera, watercolor and gouache; it stays water-soluble through the ages. Buy liquid gum in art stores or make your own from powdered gum. Making your own is far less expensive.

 You need:

  • Gum Arabic powder
  • Distilled water (only necessary if your faucet water is alkaline)
  • Small deep bowl
  • Small saucepan
  • Pipette
  • Whisk
  • Lidded container
  • Clove or other strong essential oil to help prevent odor and mold as liquid ages
  • Glycerin [optional]


  • Put 1 tsp gum Arabic powder into a jar with 1 cup of water
  • Stir well to remove lumps in the powder; a small whisk is handy
  • Place jar in a saucepan filled with hot but not boiling water
  • Keep saucepan over heat long enough to dissolve the powder
  • Gum Arabic slowly dissolves and looks like water with resin odor.
  • Add 1part gum Arabic liquid to 5 parts glycerin for smoother liquid [optional]
  • Let stand 2-4 hours, to overnight
  • To mix paint, use pipette to add 2 parts water to 1 part gum Arabic, then mix with dry pigment

Short-cut Method:

  • If in a hurry, do this:
  • Stir gum Arabic powder into 1 cup very hot but not boiling water
  • Keep stirring until the powder dissolves
  • It may be necessary to heat the powder / water mixture until powder dissolves
  • Rushing things can leave undissolved powder in the liquid


  • Well-capped, gum Arabic liquid keeps at room temperature for several days
  • To keep 6-8 months, add 1drop clove oil and refrigerate.
  • If gum thickens, add a few drops of distilled water

Image: Our finely powdered gum Arabic, ready to be made liquid when needed.

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Making Watercolors & Gouache Paints

Making Glair (Egg-white Binder)

This binder makes transparent watercolors or gold-leaf adhesive. It’s a protein, so is water-soluble only while wet; fairly permanent when dry.

You need:

  • 1 egg white
  • Small deep bowl
  • Pipette*
  • Whisk
  • Lidded container
  • Clove oil
  • Soapy water for dirty brushes
  • Paper towels for cleanup
  • Small trash bag
  • Art brushes
  • Gum Arabic*
  • Practice paper
  • Paper, parchment, etc. to paint on


  • Separate white from yolk, remove opaque ‘eye’ thread.
  • Whisk white to stiff peaks like making a meringue
  • Cover bowl loosely to keep dust-free and set overnight.
  • Next day, scrape off foam and feed to the dog or toss it
  • Pour liquid into container, add drop of clove oil if desired.
  • Add about 1:1 glair and gum Arabic
  • Mix with pigments as with making egg tempera.
  • Glair will keep 1 week in refrigerator if well sealed.
  • Once old glair gets moldy, it’s not good for art, so toss it out.


Gouache (Opaque Watercolor)

This recipe creates watercolor paint with white filler‡

  • Mix 1 part whiting to 6 parts pigment.
  • Adjust for depth of opacity as desired.
  • Some artists like a semi-opaque paint. Go for it!

‡chalk*, kaolin* or titanium dioxide*

* Item sold by Ancient Earth Pigments


Image: Red capital “N” with green and russet watercolor edging, from unknown Medieval manuscript. Note that the capital is “inhabited” by a monk-like scribe or artist.


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John & Bjo Trimble

There have been many changes in our lives this year. A major item was selling Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts to Theresa W, who moved it to the other end of San Fernando Valley.The separation from  Griffin Dyeworks is a friendly one. This is a bitter-sweet decision, but the business needs new blood, and we need a rest. It’s a good thing.

We kept the smaller Ancient Earth Pigments (AEP) business. Well, it’s small now, but we have lots of plans. This includes the new website, a blog, and a Facebook presence, as well as reaching teachers and home school teachers, with new historical kits.

We will, of course, still work with Theresa on dye workshops. There are still one-day Fiber Frolics and weekend Fiber Retreats, at which I will teach and John will sell Griffin Dyeworks as well as Ancient Earth Pigments merchandise. This is very much a part of our lives.

It’s been a long time getting this business separated from Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts, mainly because we had to learn how to get everything online. It was not just a “simple matter” of picking out all the Ancient Earth Pigment products from the Griffin Dyeworks website. It is never that simple! We could have gotten someone else to do all this for us, but then we’d never know how to manage our own website. Of course we still have Theresa acting as our computer guru, so we can ask anxious questions when something doesn’t work right.

Meanwhile, rest, have fun, and be kind to yourself.

Oh, one last thing… We’re discussing a blog title. I like “Down to Earth”, but John thinks “Playin’ in Dirt” sounds more fun. What do you think? We’d like to hear from everyone with an opinion on our suggested blog titles.

— John & Bjo Trimble

NOTE: The photo of us was taken a year ago by daughter Lora, on the beach in Hawai’i.