Updated: Jul 19, 2019
I get a lot of questions about making watercolor paints. The most common question being, how do I make the binder? You know what? I totally understand why you would ask a watercolor maker this question. First off, good on you for asking. It's okay to ask. Hopefully the person you have asked is happy to share their knowledge with you. I've come to know a lot of watercolor makers personally and I have to say that a majority of them are more than happy to share their wisdom. They, like me, are so passionate about what they do that they are pretty comfortable to share their knowledge.
My recommendation, however, is to make the effort to engage with the maker themselves, person to person first. I mean, you are asking them to share something that they (I know it's not just me!) are fully 1 trillion percent obsessed with. It has a deeper meaning to them. Please consider following their journey and connecting with them first before asking such a meaningful question. Answering the question itself is not easy either. There is more to it than just the recipe itself. There has been many hours upon hours of research and trial and error that goes into not only trying to get a really robust binder recipe but learning how to individualize that recipe when applied to different types of pigments. Pigments are just as important as the binder, in recognizing what TLC they require when working with a basic binder and catering that binder to said pigment. Has your brain exploded yet?
So, now that you know that pigment nerds like me take watercolor making to a deeper more meaningful level, it is not surprising that some watercolor makers are uncomfortable sharing their 'how to's. If they do not wish to, and you're stuck, then guess what? Google! Yip! You read that correctly. That is exactly where I started out. I googled like mad and you tubed it like mad too. What did I find out? Well, there are not that many places to watch and read about making binders. Only a small handful. And guess what again, all the recipes are different too. Yip, they all have differences. But why? Why are they not the same? Easy answer. Because the person sharing that recipe found that worked best for them - it could be that money was tight or sourcing materials was inaccessible.
Today, I will give you a basic binder recipe but this binder recipe itself is not at all the "right" or "only" way to make binder. Please consider that I source my ingredients locally. This means that you will not be using the exact ingredients that I have. Also, I'm a bit slap dash. I don't do things exactly every single time. Keep in mind the climate. This has a huge effect on how the binder fares with regards to humidity and temperature. In New Zealand, it gets really humid in summer and pretty cold in winter. What have I noticed? The paints dry and cure differently. Learning how to tweak the binder itself will always (to me) be a constant trial and error sort of deal.
Stakiwi Colours Binder Recipe
1-part Gum Arabic (Acacia Gum) powder (125 grams)
2 parts boiled water
Glycerin (1 tablespoon)
I always use boiled water. I always add a small baseline of Glycerin. Too much and the paint will take longer to cure. Too little is not a problem because you can add more while working with the pigment. Glycerin acts as a softener. Makes sense that too much = longer for the paint to set. I always store my binder in the fridge. Unless, you like to live dangerously and leave it out overnight. Be prepared for the smell! You've been warned. Haha! Also, I always keep Glycerin on hand. When I first make the binder, I always store it in the fridge for 48 hours to set. Some websites say 24 - 48 hours but it's my preference for 48 hours. So, on that note. Always watch your supply and make more to store and set while you use the already set binder. Running out of binder is a sad and unfortunate discovery. Equal to running out of pans or a popular pigment. Don't let it happen. Unless, you like twiddling your thumbs then go for it. Haha! Maybe you can catch up on your reading or a favourite Netflix series!
Mica pigments require less Glycerin. They are a finer pigment.
I do not use honey. I have tried. I found that without it, my paints still re-wet fine and set quicker. You read that correctly. The paints cure quicker. Honey is still a popularly used ingredient for many watercolor makers. Nothing against honey but I found without it is fine.
Always store the binder in the fridge. Keep it out of direct sunlight.
Binder, ideally, should not be clumpy once set. Essentially, it is a glue right? Glue should be a smooth, thick-ish sluggy type liquid.
Some fun facts for you! (from wisegeek.com)
Gum arabic is a natural gum made from the hardened sap of trees native to the Middle East and parts of Western Asia.
Two different types of trees make sap that can turn into gum arabic, the Acacia Senegal and the Acacia Seyal.
It is used in soft drink syrups because it dissolves easily and stays stable in the water.
Used in chocolate candies to keep it a smooth consistency and resist melting. Frequently used in ice cream, gummy type candy, icing and marshmallows.
In the communities where it grows, people often use the hardened sap as something of a cure-all for a variety of different ailments. People use it to help with stomach and intestinal problems, sore throats, eye issues, bleeding, and the common cold. In these cases, natural medicine experts or local healers often brew the sap into tea, or reduce it into a thick syrup that is eaten by the spoonful.
I hope you enjoyed my rather lengthy post about binder. Any questions you have can be left below. Include any issues you've come across. I can always address this in a dedicated troubleshooting post.