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Things You Probably Didn’t Know Were in Paint

the list of things used in paint gets pretty weird pretty fast…



The list of things used in paints over the centuries is massive, incredibly weird, and at some points incredibly disgusting. However we don’t have the time to go through them all right now do we… so I thought I might just give everybody a short weekend brain tickler on the nonsense that’s been used in paint.


Things that have been used in artists paint:
Ox gall
Cow urine
Human flesh
Tree sap


Ox Gall

Ox gall is a fluid taken from the livers of cattle… it’s greenish brown in color, can be smelly, and is used for engraving and lithography as well as a dispersant in watercolor paints.

It’s use in watercolor paints has seemed to lessened in recent years with quite a few artists noting its occasional smell, inferiority compared to modern water colors, and their animal rights concerns.



Cow urine

The pigment Indian Yellow used to be made by feeding cattle mango leaves, collecting their urine which was a vibrant yellow color, and letting it dry… leaving behind the yellow substance that would then be made into a pigment.

This process of pigment production was stopped over a century ago because of animal cruelty concerns. Cattle were reportedly malnourished and in distress from only being fed mango leaves.


Human Flesh

The flesh of mummies, both human and feline, were used in the production of the pigment “Mummy Brown”. Reportedly, paints made using mummified flesh had a unique brown coloration while also having the handling properties similar to a modern transparent brown… allowing artists to do glazes and effects they otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve.

However, paint made using flesh is unstable because of its fat and chemical content (mmmm amonia). Many paintings that made use of it degraded severely over time. Much like with Van Dyke Brown… artists love for a specific color became their undoing.

Artists began to notice that their paintings using mummy brown weren’t standing up to time and began to stop using it in their paintings. Later when other artists discovered that Mummy Brown did in fact contain flesh from the desecrated remains of humans and their feline companions artists pretty much abandoned the paint entirely.

Believe it or not, production of mummy brown did not end entirely at that point. Supposedly, if one knew who to ask you could still obtain a tube of mummy brown in the early 1900’s.


Tree Sap

Gamboge is a wonderful yellow colored pigment made from the resin of a few species of tree in Southeast Asia. It is not the actual sap of any of the trees used to produce the pigment but you may find it referred to as sap in common usage.

You can still find gamboge used in high quality artists paints.



Carmine is a red colored pigment produced from the processed powder of cochineal insects. The pigment is much more widely used than people realize… because it is a naturally derived pigment organizations have used it as a food and drink dye, medication dye, and in cosmetics. This is all in addition to its use in artists paints.


The more you know the weirder and worse life is! But hey, maybe we learned from history and people wont ever use human flesh in paint again. I mean… you would hope right…

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