To brighten my small flat during lockdown, my parents brought me over some beautiful bouquets of flowers. I noticed, when the stamens of the lilies began to fall, how they stained any surface they touched a deep russet. I decided then to collect them, and try to use their powder as a natural pigment to paint with. Along with the lilies were so many beautiful roses of different colours: when they began to wilt, I laid their petals out to dry in the sun. I’ve since ground them and experimented in painting with them — read more about it below!
During these months of quarantine, I’ve become so much more aware of two things that are really important to me: creativity, and nature. The former has been through an excess of time to spend on creative projects; the latter has been through an absence, as I have been away from the countryside where I find my main inspiration. Thankfully, I was able to spend a little time at my parents’ home and in nature (all safely, of course). After returning to the city, I’ve been even more inspired to be creative, and to try and incorporate nature into my art anyway I can!
The rose petals – a mix of purple, pink, and yellow, were left to dry on my windowsill for a little over two weeks. The sun dried them out perfectly so that they were crisp, but had not shrivelled. They had also retained their colour very well, which was what I had hoped for.
I then set to work grinding them with my pestle and mortar. Mine is a nice sturdy set made from granite, which makes it a little rough and therefore perfect for crushing the thin petals and turning them to a fine powder. I only ground a handful of petals at a time (no more than 10), to make sure I could grind everything evenly. It’s hard work, but quite therapeutic once you get going!
While I still have many more petals to grind, I thought I would begin to experiment with turning the powder into paint. I wanted to see how well it would mix into something that could be printed, painted using a brush, and that would stay a nice mauve colour.
I wondered if mixing with an adhesive glue would create a thicker paint, and help the pigment to stick to the page. Mixing with a splash of water and a drop of glue, the paint remained a little grainy, but I thought that might create some nice texture all the same. I used the leaves of a rose plant to try printing with — first with gold paint, to make sure the leaf made some nice imprints, and then with my new paint mixture.
Unfortunately, mixing a wet substance with the freshly picked leaf only served to bring out the plant’s natural green pigment! My petal colour was lost, and instead the prints dried a dark green. It was worth trying though, and did create some nice patterns on the page. Alongside the gold, I think they work well.
I then tried to use the petal pigment more as a watercolour: mixing with a little bit of water, I used this to paint freehand with a brush, trying different stylised rose designs. It is not the most conventional paint, but the grainy texture adds a nice feel to the artwork, and it does smell faintly of roses!
When the paintings dried, they did retain their colour, becoming something between mauve and burgundy. It will be interesting to see whether this changes over time. I’ve still got plenty of pigment left to continue experimenting with, and many more petals to grind! I’ll add updates to this as I continue to play and create.
My tips for making pigment from rose petals would be:
- to have patience: grinding is almost half of the job, so if you find this part tiresome, maybe choose an easier route!
- to try things out in small quantities: while quite a lot of pigment comes from only a few petals, don’t use it all at once, as things are bound to go wrong at first!
- to embrace mistakes: like with my leaf prints, things might no go to plan, but can be beautiful in their own way, so don’t be afraid to mess up!