An artists journey – Julie Kim

Julie Kim from Seattle, USA – How to make watercolour paints using found pigments – October 2017.

This year we have had a really steady flow of dedicated artists staying at Sachaqa.   Such an amazing atmosphere in the studio.  I wanted to share with you all these artists and invite you into their creative journey.  Which inspired me so much.

These are the words of Julie Kim and artwork created during her one month residency.

Trina Lerner Brammah


I decided to come to Peru for a change of scenery and abundant landscapes. I picked Sachaqa because it is in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by nature and away from big cities. I’ve lived my whole life in the city so I really wanted to experience the opposite.

I previously painted with oil colors but recently I have been questioning my materials. I decided I wanted to work a bit more freely, travel-friendly, non-toxic and produce less waste in my practice. This is what sparked my interest in natural pigments.

I spent the first week exploring waterfalls and nearby towns. Along the way I collected the rocks to turn into natural watercolor paint with gum arabic I brought from home.


I made about 17 different colors and here is what they look like! I was quite surprised at the variety of colors and quality of the paint I produced. These are very similar to other brands raw siennas, yellow ochres, burnt umbers, etc. But every rock has its particular density, color and transparency that is unique.


To make the paint, first I had to grind the rocks down into a powder. I used a knife or a small saw on the rock until enough pigment came off. Some rocks would fall apart instantly because they were so soft, and others took an hour of labor to get enough powder. Afterwords I would add a few drops of water and grind the powder into the water to get the particles finer. Then I added gum arabic until a dried paint swatch didn’t smudge when rubbed. This was a pretty laborious process but it made me appreciate store bought paint so much more, realizing how many years of trial and error is imbued in the tubes of paint we have today.


At the start of my second week I focused on experimenting with my new paint and learning its properties. I combined them with my existing palette of colors to see how they would mix.


This painting is about waking up really early in the jungle.


Putting my natural paints together with my store bought ones opened a new world to me. They have such a different character than store bought paints.

Next I wanted to make a painting using more of the natural pigments.


In the painting above I thought about burning and friction. Thirsty for fire and hungry for water. In the jungle there are periodic burns to get rid of excess. In one day it could be sweltering hot and then dumping rain. Alternating blue and red. The rise and fall of pigments, playing with the gravity in each segment. I used charcoal and lots of different browns.


In this painting I was thinking about the overworked vs the clear and light. Lots of alternating layers of natural pigments and bright ones. With this painting, I also started noticing how my straight lines gradually curve as the paper fibers expand and contract.

After working in a rectangular format for a while, i felt like I needed to focus on certain moments that I was finding in the rectangle. I’ve always loved painting circles because it challenges the way I think about composition. I painted this little piece off of some parts of Friction.

The remainder of my time here culminated in these three paintings, each with it’s own balance of natural and synthetic pigments.


In this piece I started looking at shadows produced by the woven palm leaf roof of the Sachaqa communal house.

The piece was focused on mixing a lot of different kinds of grays and layering different pigments, using what I learned from a previous painting.


This one started when I picked up a butterfly wing from the Morpheo Menelaus blue butterfly. I was fascinated by the contrast between the bright electric iridescent blue and the earthy moth and dull underside of the wing, two sides of the same creature. I was thinking about that and myself. silence vs chatter.


Being in the jungle was very inspiring, there is constant change & life from the animals and plants around us. There are less external distractions in a rural setting which allowed me to focus inwards. During this time I was observing the conflict between two belief systems inside of me. One that believes in magic and the ineffable, and the other that believes in logic and the quantifiable. These paintings are all a reflection of my inner state, as I learn to resolve this conflict and allow both systems to flow together on paper. I take shapes and colors from what I feel and observe. I make marks intuitively and logically. This process allows me to reflect on my observations and share what I learn through a visual language of color, rhythm and layers..


For more information about Julie Kim:

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