How Did Native Americans Make Paint?
The Native Americans that first lived in the United States often made their own paints out of materials they found in the world around them. To make paint, they had to combine multiple materials.
To make paint, you need three things: pigment, binder, and an emulsifier. The pigment gives the paint its color. The binder is sticky and holds the pigment together. The emulsifier makes the paint flow, so that it can be spread on a surface.
Native Americans used many different types of natural materials for binders, including milk, eggs, and sap from plants, animal fats, cactus juice, and even blood. Common emulsifiers included water and soap-like substances from yucca plants.
To make many different colors, Native Americans were very creative in finding materials to use as pigments. Almost anything that had color and could be crushed and ground into a powder could be used as a pigment. These things included clays, minerals, ores, rocks, soils, and many types of plants, flowers, and fruits.
In particular, Native Americans often used roots, berries, and tree bark to make pigments for face paints. They would crush the items and grind them into a paste to blend with other materials to form paint.
Native Americans applied paint with the fingers, animal bones, sticks or grasses. They also used a spongy bone from the knee joint of the buffalo which held paint just as the modern fountain pen holds ink. When applying war paint the Native Americans first smeared their bodies with buffalo or deer fat and then rubbed on the paint.
Native American symbols were painted in sacred places and on various items as geometric portrayals of celestial bodies, natural phenomena and animal designs.