Thursday, January 8, 2009

Penny Pincher's Paint

When I took a college art class for elementary school teachers, the instructor taught us how to be frugal when amassing art supplies for children. Though I have never taught art in a classroom setting, his tips have been very useful for me as both a crafter and parent. Children should be exposed to as many techniques and materials as possible. However, budgets are often tight for teachers, especially elementary school teachers, many of whom must teach art as well as every other subject. So he often offered suggestions in cost savings when acquiring art supplies.

One of the things that I have found most useful was the information on paint. Children often use modern tempera paint (as opposed to egg tempera), which is, essentially, a pigment and water concoction. This is that rough-feeling paint that can flake off kids’ art projects and is sometimes called poster paint. Tempera and watercolors tend to be the paints that kids use in school because they are cheap and easy to clean up. However, its flexibility can be exploited and it needn’t be restricted to the arena of children’s art.

Tempera paint can have numerous price points. You can buy it ready-to-use or in powdered form that you mix yourself. As with anything, when you can assemble it yourself (in this case make tempera paint from powder), it costs less. Buy the powders! But don’t buy the rainbow of colors. Instead, buy larger quantities of powders in the primary shades of yellow, red, and blue, plus black and white. With those five colors, you can mix all of the colors in the spectrum yourself. This can result in significant cost savings because if you are buying a dozen different colors you’ll be getting smaller quantities of each to achieve the same amount of paint. Since the quantities will be smaller, it will end up costing more. If you are a teacher or a parent, making paint can even be an art lesson on color creation itself. It can also be oddly satisfying.

Modern tempera paint (as opposed to egg tempera) can be nice to use with young children because it doesn’t have binders and is therefore easy to clean up. However, it lacks the permanence of paints that include a binder. Acrylic craft paints offer a much broader scope of uses. They are water-based, like tempera paint, but they also contain a binder. It’s the binder that gives craft acrylics their smooth and more durable finish.

You can make acrylic craft paint and the cost is hardly more than the cost for hand-mixed tempera. This is great news for anyone who happens to have tempera lying around. To make acrylic paints, simply mix tempera powder as you would for making paint and add white glue.If you have liquid tempera, you can also add glue to it. For about every cup of water you will use, substitute a tablespoon or two of white glue for an equivalent amount of water. Normally I just squeeze it straight in but, for consistent results in all of the colors being used, you may want to measure it. If you are mixing up large batches for kids, plain white school glue (the stuff you can get by the gallon) will work just fine.

If you are looking for thicker or thinner paint, you can adjust the texture by changing how much water and glue you add to your tempera powder. As all glues are a little different, you’ll find that the durability of the acrylic may depend on the kind of the white glue you use. Since so little glue is used to make this one-off acrylic-style paint, this is one area where you can afford to tinker with different glues to attain the desired result.

In the end you have two kinds of paint in an endless sea of colors all from five colors of powdered tempera and white glue.


Anonymous said...

WOW this is one of the best tips I have ever seen! THANK YOU!

Flybynightenterprises said...

I have had good luck with tempera mixed with nonfat dry milk - both with and without lime (lime being listed as an ingredient in historic milk paint recipes.) Use for painting wood and seal with varnish or shellac.