Using Earth and Mineral Pigments

© 2005 Native American Visions

Hide glue is all-natural, non-toxic and non-flammable glue, well suited for use on bone, wood, rawhide, buckskin, leathers and other natural materials. It can be used for general gluing, and for mixing with natural pigments for painting.

Tools you will need to prepare glue and paint:

  1. Pyrex dishes or other heat resistant containers to use as pots to heat and mix your glue or paints for applications. Expecially nice when mixing glue with several paint colors for one project. 
  2. Pan large enough to fill with water for heating your paint and glue pots (this is the “double boiler” method).
  3. Applicators for glue or paint such as as stiff bristle brushes, a stylus, or modified bone brushes for painting on rawhide. 
  4. Plastic spoons for stirring.
  5. Thermometer suitable for cooking applications – such as a candy or meat thermometer. (once used for glue, do not use again for food.)

Recipes for glue and glue & paint mixtures:

These recipes are starting guidelines. Each artist may develop a technique and ratio unique for their particular application. 

Glue for general gluing:

1 part glue granules to 1 part water.

Glue to mix with natural pigment for painting:

Thin: 1 part glue granules to 2 parts water gives a basic paint wuitable for painting on rawhide where you may want a more translucent color without the texture.

Thick:1 part glue granules to 1 part water gives a very thick opaque texture paint similar to the look of acrylic. Not recommended for flexible surfaces.

Preparing glue:

  1. Add the measured glue granules to the correct amount of cool clear water in your glue pot and soak for ½ hour. 
  2. Fill a pan large enough to set your glue pot into with water. (This arrangement will act as a “double boiler” and help keep your glue from overheating. Do not place the glue pot directly on your stove or fire.) Heat the water pan to a boil and remove it from the heat. Place your glue pot in the hot water and stir the glue mixture until the granules melt.
  3. It may be necessary to place the pan back on LOW heat in order to reach the correct temperatire 140 to 150° F. It is important that you DO NOT OVERHEAT the glue. 

Your glue is now ready to use, or mix with natural pigment for painting. When in use, your glue must remain at 140 to 150° F. The glue mixture can remain at this temperature for as long as 8 to 10 hours if covered when not in use to prevent the evaporation of water. Allowing glue to cool and reheat is possible but not recommended as the glue weakens with each reheating. 

Preparing a natural pigment paint/glue mxiture:

Measure enough hot glue into a dish for the area to be painted. Remember that a little goes a long way. Add pigment at a ratio of 1 part pigment to 1 part hot glue. Stir well to make a smooth mixture.

Painting with the paint mixture:

During the painting process it may be necessary to reheat your piant ot keep it warm and prevent separation. If necessary, place your paint mixture back in the pan of hot water and stir. Dip your applicator lightly and only apply a very small amount of paint at a time to achieve the look you want, (your mixture will go a long way so alway start with a small amount on your applicator). Use a small separate container of hot water while painting to dip your applicator into to help spread the paint and dilute it as it is applied. 

For painting on rawhide, a thin application is best as it will be more translucent with little or no texture. Stiff brushes or other stiff applicators are used to apply the piant and actually work it down into the surface of the hide. Many authentic old rawhide items were painted when the hide was staked out and wet, allowing the natural glues in the hide to mix with the pigments. Since most modern applications are done with dry rawhide, a paint and hide glue mixture will obtain a similar result. 

When dry, your painting can be finished by sizing it with a spray varnish, or a very weak glue mixture to further seal and give it a sheen. Howerever the glue mixed with the paint should produce a colorfast application. Note: It is best to mix only enough paint for a single painting session. While a pint mixture can be stored and reheated, subsequent reheating will weaken the glue in the mixture so this not recommended.