Red has traditionally been favored for war paint, as it is considered the color of violence.
Red has traditionally been favored for war paint, as it is considered the color of violence.

Cultural face painting is one of the world’s oldest art forms, and Native American Indians have long embraced this practice. Traditionally, Native Americans tribes would choose materials based on what was available to them, and to this day their tribal body art communicates messages in both the colors of their paint and the symbols represented. Replicating this ancient and beautiful art is not challenging, and it provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Native American culture of both the past and the present.

Decide which colors you want to use. In Native American culture, each color has a particular meaning. Choose red to signify violence and war or white to symbolize peace. Black is known as the color of life, used in pre-war times, while yellow is the color of death and mourning.

Choose materials that will reproduce these colors, such as charcoal for black, plant leaves for green, and various berries for blues, reds and purples. Use only naturally occurring materials to produce these colors for historical authenticity. Depending on where you live, some colors may be harder to reproduce from nature; certain Native American tribes achieved colors as varied as yellow and white directly from the earth due to their location. Substitute these with store-bought food products such as turmeric and powdered sugar if you aren’t able to locate similar colors naturally.

Grind your first material with the mortar and pestle, applying firm pressure to ensure completeness. Apply water several drops at a time and mix in until a paste-like texture is achieved; this may not be required with moist plant and fruit items. Thicken the mixture if desired by mixing in a small amount of unscented lotion in place of animal fat sometimes used in Native American paints. Repeat for each ingredient you’ve selected, adjusting amounts of water and lotion as necessary.