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Using natural pigments to create watercolour paints in your classroom or at home.


Today, I would like to acknowledge the Yuggera people as the Traditional Owners of the beautiful land I am standing on today. From the mountains to the river, I open my heart and my eyes as I walk this land, listening, learning and caring for Country. I want to extend this respect to Elders; past, present and emerging and to all First Nations peoples reading this post today. We are all remembered here.


Disclaimer* Even though these watercolour paints are made with natural sustainable materials, they are not made for consumption. Please remember, this is just me sharing with you how we do this in our family. It is always your personal responsibility to; know, be aware of and act accordingly and responsibly, regarding any and all allergies, reactions or irritations etc - anyone doing this activity has or may have, under your supervision. Therefore, I am at no point or time liable for any situation, misfortune or injury resulting from doing this activity. Thank you for your understanding.

Just so you know, this post does contain sponsored content through the use of affiliate links, my proud partnerships and my own products and resources and I want to thank each of you for continuing to use my affiliate links to support the work I do. As you know, each blog post is based on my own experiences, opinions, and what I have been taught, and does not represent all First Nations peoples or Communities. Please remember that, connecting with your local First Nations Community is always the most respectful way for you to embed First Nations content specific to your area

Have you been wanting to create beautiful artworks in your classroom or at home, while embedding a love for Country and deeper understanding and connection in our students hearts? Well, this might just be an activity you have been looking for!

Now don't get me wrong, buying paints from the shop or grabbing them from the storeroom, of course gives us as teachers and parents a quick and simple way for our students to create beautiful artworks, to pin up and share in our rooms and homes. But, I know from my own experience as a teacher and a mum, it fails to give our students and children, the opportunity to really learn, to see and to connect with everything around them, on a much deeper level.

Today, just in time for Spring, when all of the most beautiful flowers are blooming and a perfect opportunity for us to take our learning outside. I thought it would be a good time to share with you a gorgeous activity about how our little family makes watercolour paints, using just some of the natural pigments we have around our area, during whatever season we are in. There are so many different ways to make watercolour paints, using natural pigments and this is just a simple way that we enjoy doing it together.

This activity is about learning and teaching visual arts, that is from the heart and one that will give your students and children an opportunity to connect with everything around them and see the land that they live and learn on, in a different light. Placing an importance on only taking what we need, caring for Country and living in sustainable ways now and into the future.

For further reading on pedagogy that supports the understanding and approach taken in this activity, I encourage you to explore and engage with the 8 Ways Aboriginal Pedagogy. I will include the link here for you to begin exploring.

As we know, for thousands of years, First Nations peoples have used ochre and many other natural pigments as sacred resources for storytelling, art and ceremony. Connecting to Mother Earth through ancient stories and practices ingrained by Ancestors and Elders, gone before us. Now, this activity is not about using ochre or about going and finding ochre for your whole class or family to use, that would be disrespectful! If you are interested, however, in learning more about ochre and its uses, I will include an incredible article titled 'Ochre is of the Earth' written by Shane Carroll, published by the always amazing Bangarra Dance Theatre for further reading.

This activity I am sharing with you today, is more about really opening your students' and children's eyes through your ways of teaching, to what is around them. Giving your them opportunities to make those important connections to the land they are on so that their - love, understanding and respect for Country can grow and be in their hearts forever and impact the decisions they make as adults. As a natural part of our learning in the classroom, I always like to invite and employ local First Nations Elders and Community to be a part of our lessons. Our Elders and Community have so much knowledge and to be a natural part of our classroom and to share this with our students, doesn't just educate their minds but their hearts too, through the knowledge they hold and so generously share.

So, how do we make watercolour paints from natural pigments?

The way we make make our watercolour paint, is with simple 5 simple steps (I like to keep things as simple as possible)!

#1 Collect

First, we walk around our area and collect different natural pigments. Some that we like to use and that we have found to make beautiful rich colours are, flowers and the skins of fruits. Before we go on our walk around our yard or our area, we like to talk about only taking what we need and why this is important. I like to encourage our little one to collect pigments that have fallen from the trees and plants first, in preference to picking them directly from the tree or plant. If the tree or plant isn't yours, then asking permission is always a respectful way to collect something that belongs to someone else.

#2 Crush

Using mortar and pestle or something similar, crush the pigments until they are fine granules. The colour will then begin to come out at this point.

#3 Add water and crush again

Add a small amount of water and continue to crush the pigments until they are nearly dissolved and the colour has begun to come out.

#4 Strain

Using a small piece of cloth, strain the mixture into a small bowl, separating the liquid from the pulp. Be sure to squeeze all of the liquid out before putting the pulp into the garden or outside somewhere to be a part of the Earth again.

#5 Paint!

If you like the colour your can start painting straight away. You can also add more water if you would like to dilute the colour or increase the amount of paint. Alternatively, you can also mix in other colours too, to make this one more vibrant, darker or adjust it to however you like.

Linking to literacy

This is the simple way we linked this gorgeous activity back to literacy. I did it with our 4 year old daughter who is in Kindy (Preschool) at the moment and it would be perfect for Foundation / Prep / Kindy, year 1 and year 2 class. With a few adaptions, you could also make this lesson suitable for year 3 and up, with less focus on the alphabet and more focus on science.

We began by using our AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia to locate the Country we are on and talked about all of the different trees and animals that we have in our area.

We then read ABC Dreaming by Djabugay author and illustrator Warren Brim. We learnt about all of the plants and animals that live on his Country, found where Djabugay Country is on our map too, and saw how far Djabugay is from Yuggera Country, where we live. My daughter was excited to learn that we both live in Queensland and some of the plants and animals that we have here are the same and some are different. We talked about why they might be different or why they might be the same or similar.

We talked about how the pictures on the pages are called illustrations and how they began as artworks and were then turned into a book. We explored the different styles of artwork and techniques on each of the pages and looked at how and why they are different from the illustrations in some of our other First Nations alphabet books.

From here, we then created our own watercolour paints using natural pigments (detailed description is at the top of this post). This brightly coloured yellow paint on the far left, was made using the skin from a mandarin that came from the tree, in our yard.

We took another look at our AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia and located where Yuggera Country is on her alphabet poster. She then drew a picture of her mandarin and painted it with the mandarin paint. This paint was also used to write the upper and lowercase 'Mm' and to also trace the word 'mandarin'. P.s this page smelt amazing too!

These posters are great as personalised alphabet posters around the room. Alternatively, you could glue them to a piece of cardboard and use them as flashcards too. Making the alphabet and phonics personal for our daughter has been such a rewarding process and has made her so confident in her understanding of language and sounds. Most of all though, our daughter has had so much fun thinking of each sound and matching it to a picture of herself, on all of the First Nations lands she has travelled so far.

And, even though creating these personalised alphabet posters did take longer to create than just printing off a generic set of pre-made alphabet poster, the results truly have spoken for themselves. Because these posters represent Miss 4, they support her knowing, being and belonging and therefore embrace education and learning in a way that is meaningful for her and in turn creates a positive learning experience and natural engagement.

So many nights, I have heard Miss 4 singing the alphabet while she is lying in bed just before nodding off to go to sleep. Which is one way we try to encourage her to settle herself down and get herself ready for sleep.


Other personalised alphabet resources we use

These are the Customisable Alphabet Posters on my daughter's wall. I also have this in a Native Stingless Bee theme too and with more to come soon. Customising for your child or class is so easy! I have used Canva to give you the freedom you need to be able to insert quality images with drag and drop.

So what is editable?

Location Marker

The marker on the map of Australia can be moved anywhere so you can locate where the photo you are inserting was taken.

First Nations Country

Underneath the location marker and map of Australia there is an editable section for you to type the name of the First Nations Country the photograph was taken.

Personal image

This section is an editable section, where you take a photograph of your students or your child doing something that represents that letter. For example when I asked my daughter what word started with an R sound she said "river", so we found a picture of us at the river and inserted it into the poster.

Matching word

This is a section for you to type the word that matches the letter and the photograph. For example for 'Rr' we typed 'river'.

Matching alphabet and phonics printables

These are just some of my other literacy, reading and phonics resources I have made and are all available in my Unlimited Library for members to download.

Books for this activity

As you know, I love linking books with my activities and here are a few truly incredible First Nations children's books that you can use to explore the alphabet and phonics along with Albert Namatjira and Sorry Day which explore watercolour and natural ways to paint. For Sorry Day see the video below published by the National Library of Australia created by Dub Leffler, a great article and demonstration for exploring natural pigments in art by a First Nations artist and illustrator.

Further reading and exploring

This article published by The National Library of Australia and created by Dub Leffler is also a great article for exploring natural pigments in art. Truly a great lesson and activity, embodied in an exceptional story of truth telling and Australian History.

Further reading and useful links

If you are looking for any of the books that you saw in this post then you can find them by visiting my books page on my website.

If you are looking for the resources I shared with you earlier in this post then you can find all of those in my Unlimited Library and many more to come in the future.

I know many of you are also resource creators or looking at becoming a resource creators and I honestly cannot recommend Canva Pro enough. It is all I use to create ALL of the resources I share with you and that you see on my website and social media. If you are interested in using Canva pro then I will attach an affiliate link here for you to use, so you can get a free trial of the pro version.

Free Community Email List

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Thank you and comments

I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I have enjoyed creating it for you! I would love to hear in the comments your suggestions for any other pigments you have used or tried, how they turned out and what you made with them?

Thank you so much for spending this time with me and as always, happy embedding!


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