Gums The natural product can't be beaten
Gums and resins are natural hard substances produced by various trees. The difference is that resins are only dissolved by solvents like Turpentine while gums are water soluble and so are suited to water based paint media. Resins are discussed here.

Related Links:

Oil binders

Acrylic binders


Waxes and natural resins

Gum Arabic Gum Senegal, Kordofan etc.
Also called Gum Acacia in industry, Gum Arabic comes from various Acacia trees throughout Africa, Asia, and Australia. The best grades have always come from North Africa. The names Gum Senegal and Kordofan refer to 2 districts in Africa where the best gum comes from and both can be regarded as the cream of the crop.

Gum Arabic is the dried sap of the tree which is exuded along cuts made in the bark, and collected several times a year. The gum is a protective mechanism on the part of the tree to ward off insect and fungal invasion and to seal wounds. The healthier the tree the less gum it produces, production falls with intensive farming methods unlike most other crops, so small family operations in deprived areas contribute significantly to world production. When dissolved in water Gum Arabic has considerable adhesive properties and it finds wide usage in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food production. Artist's use is only a tiny portion of usage, but to artist's its use is important being the basis for several paints and drawing materials. Both Watercolors and Gouache depend on the gum as an ideal binder. It is not however  suitable for thicker paints without the addition of a plasticizer as in thick layers it can be brittle. Be aware that there are a number of substitutes used in industry and given the name Gum Arabic that must be avoided. Chief among these is Gum Gatti, a product of India.

Refined Beeswax has all the impurities removed and then it is poured into thin slabs   that are bleached in the direct sun. The resulting wax is clear, pure, and has excellent plasticity and melting temperature that is well suited to Encaustic techniques. Its pale color is permanent and will not adversely affect colors in any substantial way.

Cherry gum An interesting alternative
Both wild and cultivated Cherry Trees exude a clear gum. The gum from Peach, Plum, Apricot and Almond Trees are said to have similar qualities. It is sold commercially but some artist's like to use this gum in the place of Gum Arabic because of the ability to harvest fresh material locally. The gum should be dissolved by pouring hot water over it, mashing it and then leaving it to steep over night. It should be then carefully filtered through cheesecloth. It can be stored if made into flakes by pouring onto glass and then when hard scraping off.

It was used by Egg Tempera painters and is mentioned by Theophilus. It is possible that it was widely used instead of Gum Arabic at that time. it was recorded during Roman times as well. There is no reason to believe that its use as a binder in Watercolors is problematic.

Gum Tragacanth More suited to Pastel making
Gum Tragacanth come from shrubs that grow from Iran to Greece. it has an ancient history, it is the oldest recorded substance used as a drug ingredient. It is still used by the pharmaceutical industry in pill making. it also has use as a thickener in sauces and as an emulsifier in processed foods.. It is the principal binder in the making of Chalks and Pastels. It is spontaneously exuded on the bark of Astragalus Gummifer but production is enhanced by making an incision and driving in a wooden wedge.

Gum Karaya Gum Arabic substitute
Gum Karaya comes from a plant that grows in India. It has many similarities to Gum Tragacanth and can be used as a substitute for it although only if Gum Tragacanth is unavailable.

Alberti, L B,    On Painting    1435 (Penguin Classics)
Cellini, B,    The Life Of Benvenuto Cellini,    finished 1562 but not published until 1730 (Heron)
Cennini, C d'A,    The Craftsman's Handbook.    1437 (Dover)
Doerner, M,    The Materials Of The Artist And Their Use In Painting,    1921 (Harcourt Brace)
Eastlake, Sir C L,    Materials For A History Of Oil Painting,    1847 (Dover)
Feller, R L,    Artists Pigments    1986 (National Gallery Of Art / Cambridge University)
Gottsegen, M D,    A Manual Of Painting Materials And Techniques,    1987 (Harper & Row)
Maire, F,    Colors: What They Are And What To Expect Of Them,    1910 (Drake)
Mayer, R,   The Artists Handbook Of Materials And Techniques,    fifth edition 1991  (Faber & Faber)
Merrifield, Mrs M P,    Medieval And Renaissance Treatises On The Arts Of Painting    1849 (Dover)
Muther, R,    The History Of Painting From The Fourth Century To The Early Nineteenth Century,    1907 (Putnam)
Parkhurst, D B,    The Painter In Oil   1898 (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard)
Patton, T C,    Pigment Handbook,    1973 (Wiley)
Pliny, The Elder (Gaius Plinius),    Natural History,    77AD (Penguin Classics)
Taubs, F,    A Guide To Traditional And Modern Painting Methods,    1963 (Thames & Hudson)
Theophilus,   On Divers Arts,    1125 (Dover)
Various,    Encyclopedia Britannica,    fifteenth edition 1981  (Encyclopeadia Britannica, Inc)
Various,    Paint And Painting,   1982,  (Winsor & Newton / The Tate Gallery)
Various,    The Artist's Colourmen's Story,    1984 (Winsor & Newton)
Vasari, G,   The Lives Of The Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors And Architects,    1568 (Penguin Classics)

Internet Resources  |  imageContact  | image Frequently Asked Questionsimage