Native American Paint

Native Indian Tribe

This article contains facts and information about different aspects of the daily life and lifestyle of Native American Indians including info about the Native American Paint.

Discover how the men, women and children lived and worked in Native Indian villages and how they spent their leisure time.

This article about Native American Paint brings the Native American lifestyle literally to life, enabling a better understanding of the subject.

Daily Uses of Native American Paint

Indian Tribes made various types of Native American paint depending on the natural resources available to make paints.  Native American Paint had a variety of daily uses within a typical Indian Tribe. Every day Items were richly painted with artwork, symbols and designs including:

  • Musical instruments such as drums and whistles
  • Prayer Sticks and Peace Pipes
  • Canoes and Kayaks
  • Shields and Weapons
  • Tepees
  • Items of Clothing
  • Papoose or Cradle Boards, such as the one pictured above
  • Totem Poles - Native American Paint was used to decorate Totem Poles
  • Pottery and Ceramic Art - Items of pottery and ceramics were painted with specific designs and patterns
  • Wooden Carvings

Special Uses of Native American Paint
Native American symbols were painted in sacred places and on various items as geometric portrayals of celestial bodies, natural phenomena and animal designs. Native American Paint had some very special uses within a typical Indian Tribe:

  • Decoration - Face paint and Body paint was applied as decoration by both men and women, just as we use make-up today
  • War Paint - Paints were used for war paint to intimidate enemies during warfare and as an indication of indicate achievements and success
  • Camouflage - Paints were used as camouflage for both hunting and warfare enabling the Indian to blend into the environment and exercise the element of surprise
  • Protection - Paints were commonly used to protected the skin from insects, the sun, the wind and the cold
  • Magic and Power - It was believed that painting symbols in different colors provided the Indian with 'Magic' for power and protection
  • Visual Communications and Messages: Victory, Mourning etc were indicated by the application of face and body paint
  • Cave Paintings, Rock Paintings and Murals were created using Native American Paint

Making Native American Paint
How was Native American Paint made? The Indians made paint from the natural resources that were available to them in order to make different colored dyes and pigments. Native American Paint, in it's simplest form, consists of a ground up pigment suspended in some sort of liquid, or binder such as urine, spit, egg yolks, animal fat or even blood. Native American Indians prepared the paint which was then dried and stored as a powder.

  • Red Paint was made using red clays (which contained oxides of iron), roots, berries, barks and beets.
  • White Paint was made using white kaolin clays, limestone, ground gypsum, eggshells or sea shells
  • Black Paint was made using coal or charcoal, mixed with spit or animal fat or with wild grapes and the bark from various trees
  • Yellow Paint was made using pigments obtained from flowers, berries, barks, plants or moss. A yellow substance found in some internal organs of the buffalo was also used to produce yellow paint
  • Blue Paint was made from oxides, powdered azurite and lapis, sun flower seeds, duck manure, clays, berries and flowers
  • Green Paint was made using flowers, berries, moss or algae

For additional facts and info about paint colors see the article on Color Meanings Symbolism.

The Application of Native American Paint
Native American Indians was applied with the fingers, animal bones, sticks or grasses. Plains Indians used a spongy bone from the knee joint of the buffalo which held paint just as the modern fountain pen holds ink. When applying war paint the Indians first smeared their bodies with buffalo or deer fat and then rubbed on the paint.

Native American Life
Native Indian Tribes Index

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Updated 2018-01-01

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