Mud Pies


Last year, the field next to my house was ploughed and I was delighted! On walk-about I found all kinds of treasures such as pottery shards from nearby Buena Vista Pottery (long gone), broken terra-cotta irrigation pipes, small animal bones, an old yellow brick, and dirt clods with deep red streaks running through. It is nearly time for the plough to come again and I have brand new mud boots by the door waiting to be broken in.

During my research, I found the most wonderful book and I recommend it for anyone serious about making their own earth colours. I found mine on the website for Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. I was in the area so did my homework and had a shopping list. I love that place! It is Earthen Pigments by Sandy Webster. The author does workshops, but since I live so far away, the book is great!

Field dirt – 
note the reddish streaks in some of the clods

When harvesting, the dirt was dry, crumbly, and easy to handle. I had a gallon pail-full, so I kept it in a dry place while I processed in batches. (Note: does not need to be dry for levigation process, but keep dry when storing or you will have nasty molds and things growing in it.)

I sifted the dirt through a food dryer screen. 
 I think I could have skipped this step 
as I don't think it affected the results at all.

Following the directions in Earthen Pigments for the levigation process I put the dirt in water and let it settle for a couple days. Each batch was poured off, strained, and redone twice. The light shows through so I can see when ready. (Note: I learned not to keep covered as it acquired a bad odor.

My first batch in a gallon pickle jar. 
Sadly, it got broken so now I use several smaller food jars.

Pouring off the water. The remaining pigment stays in the bottom.

Mud spread out on parchment paper.

It got messy! 
 Remember mud pies in an Easy Bake oven?

Now for the pigment to completely dry
 I left it for several days/weeks. 
The longer the better. As it dried, 
I broke it into chunks 
(Note: found if I did too soon, 
the parchment paper fibers came with it).

At this point the stuff was very easy to work with in a mortar and pestle.

The results look quite dismal grey... a taupe color. 
But as I will show in another post, 
the rich and reddish browns come out 
when mixed into paints with base materials.

After grinding to a powder,
I sifted out the chunks and ground
 them again. (No, I didn't wear a dust mask
 but I should have and will next time for sure).

Follow-up note: I used this in a project... please see My Prince!


  1. Love how you explain your art. It could be as a teacher or just for a layman like myself to understand. Loved your PRINCE too.

    1. Thank you! I try to explain things to people as I would want done to me. Thorough yet simple. Thanks Prince says... ribbit!

  2. Love seeing the step by step process and how much you love the exploration and experimentation too. This must be so satisfying also to actually gather the materials from nature and turn them into useable additions to your art/painting process. Very fascinating.

    1. Thank you Beverley! Yes it is one of my favourite parts.

  3. This is so amazing! I love how you can find the hidden beauty in what most people would just walk right past.

    1. Thank you! or in this case... walk on. :)

  4. Thank you for sharing your process. It really adds such a deep appreciation for your work.


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