‘Bataan brown,’ ‘Sta. Rosa ochre’: Vibrant paint colors from Philippine soil

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Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Katrina Gosiengfiao, the founder of PintaPH, sells watercolor paints. And not just the kind of paints you see in bookstores or supply shops: her paints have names as quaint as Bataan brown, Sta. Rosa ochre, himpapawid blue, or sinag yellow — all handmade from rocks, soils, and other raw materials from the Philippines. The pigments produce natural earth colors that are lightfast: the kind that, with proper care, would not fade away for years, keeping an artwork alive long after the first strokes of a paintbrush.

There is a visible shortage of locally-made paints available for artists. Gosiengfiao thought of setting up her own local paint business after observing that available brands were mostly sourced abroad. Coupled with an interest in color theory and amateur geology, she set out to gather materials that can be used as pigments. “I read this article online on why artists are getting alienated with the materials themselves,” she says. “So I bought a lot of books about colors, where certain colors are coming from, saan sila nag-originate.”

Her curiosity on finding out how colors work, and what they are made of, led her to experiment on making her own paints: an expensive process (she had to buy different types of pigment and equipment) that resulted into the creation of PintaPH. Her first local colors set included the aforementioned Bataan brown, Sta. Rosa ochre, and uling.

PintaPH’s watercolor paints are locally made from natural materials, such as soil, rocks, and the fruits, leaves, and wood from plants. Photo by JL JAVIER

Bataan brown is an orange-brown hue, made from soft rocks from Morong, Bataan, perfect for skin tones and painting animals, she says. Sta. Rosa ochre is a “granulating and staining,” “a reliable earthy yellow for landscape paintings,” made from processed soil from her hometown Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Uling (charcoal) is great for adding interest and mixing dark tones with other colors.

Aside from the colors above — which come only in a limited edition — PintaPH also has a Lakbay palette and individual color pans. The Lakbay palette is likewise made from natural earth materials, and include colors like kayumanggi (“mix this color with bughaw”), ginintuan (“perfect for deep hues like sunsets”), bughaw (“perfect for painting skies and mixing greens with purples”), luntian, and itim.

The third set comprises of individual pans of colors that are synthetically made but produced locally, and include himpapawid blue (“a lightfast pigment with a green bias”), dagat blue (“a lightfast pigment with a red bias”), sinag yellow (“great for vibrant washes especially for depicting high chroma objects”), and dahon green (mixed with brown hues, will create a “more natural leafy effect."

Natural dyes from Bangued, Abra. Clockwise from top left: Tawa tawa extract, Tawa Tawa leaves, sappang, indigo. Photos courtesy of KAT GOSIENGFIAO

Gosiengfiao’s first color set is a limited edition made from soft rocks from Morong, Bataan, and processed soil from Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Photo by JL JAVIER

An attention to detail and the desire to produce sustainably sourced, natural earth colors are evident from the paint’s names. Gosiengfiao’s goal is not only to promote local arts and crafts, but more importantly, to shape Filipino identity and nurture communities by sourcing materials locally, and bridging artists to their tools.

For example, the Bataan brown and Sta. Rosa ochre paints are limited edition because in the long run, collecting soil and rocks is not sustainable, says Gosiengfiao. This led her to look for dyes made by local communities, such as one in Bangued, Abra. The dyes she discovered there include anato (orange), Peñarrubia (green), indigo (dark blue), Tawa-tawa (yellow hue), and sappang (red-brown hue).

“These dyes are all extracted from leaves, wood, and fruit from plants in Abra,” she says, and the workers only produce a few kilos per month, with their main product being indigo. To extract the dyes, the workers follow a process that involves boiling, fermenting, drying, and grinding the pure dye extract using a hand-powered mill device. “Having a bigger venue for sales would help them so much in getting back their capital and in investing more in machines that can make production easier,” says Gosiengfiao.

PintaPH founder Katrina Gosiengfiao graduated with a Fine Arts degree from UP Diliman, where she found a niche in watercolor painting. She also conducts watercolor painting workshops aside from creating paints for PintaPH. Photo by JL JAVIER

As a young artist — she also conducts watercolor workshops — Gosiengfiao, like many artists of her generation, struggles to balance purpose and making a livelihood through art. Her earnings from her watercolor workshops go to PintaPH, an endeavor she finances by herself. Establishing PintaPH without any business background also meant she had to deal with dizzying government bureaucracy (“They're not making it easy for small businesses to open up,” she says) and the high costs of permits, despite the fact that PintaPH is mainly an online business with an occasional presence at pop-ups.

What helps is that Gosiengfiao is mindful of why she started PintaPH, beyond having fun making colors. Hers is one of the few locally made paints in the market. “I guess with that as a business and me as an artist practicing art, I'm having a problem with finding the purpose in making art … And I've been always stuck there, kasi I always wanted to help other people reflect on societal issues,” she says. “But with PintaPH, mas may trust ako that I know my purpose. It's to help other people and bridge communities.”


For more details on PintaPH and its products, visit its Facebook page.