Pigments Class


On Thursday, January 30th, I ran my first class of 2014 at the Bushwick Print Lab, teaching intermediate level silkscreening information.

I love sharing information here on the blog, but it was nice to run a 3 hour long class that allowed me to ramble on about what I have learned myself over the past few years of screenprinting, then have my students go on to print their own works. I’ve discussed pigment making in the past, with my April Silkscreen of the Month back in 2013 being my first foray into making my own utilizing ground graphite. I wanted to bring that back, plus show off what it’s like printing directly with squid ink, and then as a finale, I decided I wanted to try to make a pigment out of real blood. Please note that the following photos get a bit graphic.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find someone who can draw my blood and then give it back to me, so I opted to search all over NYC for pig’s blood. As a note, it’s very difficult to find in New York City, much less in most places. This is due to legality issues with transporting animal blood. Also, since blood puddings and soups aren’t common cuisines in America, most people will look at you weird for even asking.


But eventually we persevered & obtained an overly large bucket of pig’s blood. It came fully coagulated, like a gelatin. The way to re-liquify it was to run it through a blender with a tiny bit of the water it came in. Then it was ready for mixing.


When printing my first run, I went to try three different methods. The first, was to print straight with the blood. Second, was to mix the blood directly into transparent base ink, then print. Third, and most succesful, was to dry into a fine powder & mix into base, as though it were any dry pigment. This allowed me to make it more dense in colour if I so chose.


First, you spread it on a pane of glass. I obtained this from a picture frame, and made sure to cover the stool I set it on in saran wrap, to prevent any mess.


It should be a thin layer, so it dries quickly & you don’t end up “cooking” it. Cold, the blood has almost no scent. Dried, it was a little musky (but I didn’t get too close).


Here you can see the difference in how quick a thin layer vs a thick layer dries.



I used the edge of a (clean) knife to scrape it all up. Any metal edge would be fine.


I should have been wearing gloves for this. Don’t be like me. But I did like how it glittered in the light.


After which, I produced my image to be printed. It reads “Everything can be Printed with a Silkscreen”, which is kind of my motto. I’ve been interested in learning hand lettering, so this was my first attempt.


At the print lab, the inks can get very very messy if you’re not careful. While I added it straight to base (skipping thinners and thickening additives), as a pure liquid, it’s way too thin to print with. I made sure to clean up after with a harsh, bleach-based cleaner.

To break it down to the most basic of for making your own inks: a paint is nothing more than a colour vehicle and a binder. So you can print with blood, graphite, dirt, crushed semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli and malachite are some fancy ones) or any of the powdered pigments you can find in a store. It needs to be added to a binder, such as transparent base for silkscreen inks, linseed oil for oil painting, egg yolk for tempera paints or gum arabic for watercolours. Some items don’t react well with different binders and additives, as a woman in class brought ground walnut to print with, but it formed into tight balls and nothing could turn it into a liquid. There are detergents and thickeners to help wet the pigment, solidify the paint if it’s too runny or ammonia to thin the paint. That is when you’ll run into issues with bad chemical reactions and requires background information on the two items you’re using.

The Guerra Pigment company has a great selection of dry and wet pigments, as well as a FAQ that explains how to use them to make an ink. I highly recommend browsing it!

And always always wear a mask and gloves when using dry pigments! Many of the can be hazardous to your health if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.



And the finished pigs blood prints!

I printed another version in straight squid ink, which was completely uneventful save for smelling really, really bad, but most were given away to my students.

Speaking of, one of them sent me their finished piece:



By Lorenzo Sanjuan www.demomento.net

Three-colour print in pig’s blood, graphite and metallic green. Lorenzo printed them in two parts, so it’s technically 6 prints onto one piece of paper. Click through to see it big!

And that was my very first intermediate pigments class! I had a lot of fun and hope to continue teaching how to create your own ink.

3 Responses to “Pigments Class”

  1. Ian says:

    Fascinating to see the whole process with the pig’s blood. Amazing work as always!

  2. Ian says:

    (PS – In addition to pigment and binder, the other crucial ingredient of paint is an inert filler to give it body and opacity. This is usually either chalk or clay, ground into an extremely fine powder. The exceptions are inks and transparent paints)

Leave a Reply