Home page Watercolor paints Metallic paints Suminagashi Paints Paper samples Chemicals and supplies Research Classes Prices Ordering
Tiger or Sun Pattern- Formulas

There are a number of different methods for creating Tiger patterns, the earliest dating to the mid-1840's. It can be a very variable pattern - working at one time, and then not the next. The directions provided here have worked for me more often than not. Fichtenberg's combination, which dates from the mid-1850s, is the easiest to work with and the most reliable - if you don't mind working with the caustic Potassium Hydroxide. With proper safety techniques, this should not present any significant risk of burns. However, acceptable results can be obtained with the other formulas, and I have been able to achieve results, on a carrageen size, using Hartmann's combination of ingredients combined with ox gall instead of Creolin, which is very unpleasant to work with.

We have not had great success with these patterns using commercially available gouache or watercolors - one of the reasons we have been making our own paints. Recently, I have had success using a modification of Hartman's formula with Windsor & Newton Designer Gouache Lamp Black. This may also work with other paints - I haven't tested any others with this formula. Acrylics do not work well, although you can get some interesting, but atypical spots. In general, these paints need to be mixed in a fairly concentrated form - more like a thin paste than the usual liquid paint. The proper amount of water and dispersant is critical, and the most difficult balance to achieve. A little too much water or a little too much dispersant, and the eye spots break up. As far as I can tell, these patterns were originally meant for gum tragacanth size. Colors, on tragacanth, require significantly more gall to spread than on carrageen - this is why, on carrageen, even an extra drop can ruin the pattern. It is best to test the spots on the completed base pattern for best outcome. For example, if you are going to throw tiger spots on a gelgit pattern, make the actual gelgit, and adjust the water and dispersant for proper tiger spots on the gelgit pattern.

For all these 19th century patterns that use chemical additives, a reliable scale is a necessity to measure out the precise amounts of chemicals. Creolin, if used, should be handled in a very well ventilated area. Potash (potassium carbonate) and lime water (lime water is an only weakly basic solution) are minimally hazardous and easy to work with. Gloves, and eye protection, however, are always recommended.

We do not have the all of the original directions for these mixtures, from the actual sources, but have had to reconstruct, and modify, them. We have relied on primary sources (Fichtenberg), and secondary sources (chiefly that of Richard Wolfe, and Nedim Sonmez). We use a small bath for testing, 12" X 18", so the proportions given here are also small, but can be increased as desired. These papers should not be rinsed - the central spots will wash off. Although the spots may vary somewhat each time you prepare the mixture, we have found that the overall appearance of the spots for each formula remains fairly consistent. None of these mixtures last very long. We have been able to get reasonable spots from Hartmann's mixture for up to three weeks, but only a few days from Hauptmann's. This is why we keep the volumes on the small side. Joseph Halfer reportedly marketed a mixture, but there is no record of what this was made of.

Originator Directions Example

Take 1/4 tsp of Lamp Black, mix with approximately 1/8 tsp water (or even no water at all for darker eyes); add 1 gram Potassium Hydroxide and mix. Add ox gall (little needed: 1-2 drops for this amount of material) to adjust spread as desired. You can further adjust with drops of water and/or gall to get the desired effect. The more concentrated the mixture, the darker the spot and the greater the contrast.

Use synthetic brushes when working with this mixture - it will destroy natural fiber brushes. I also strongly recommend gloves and eye protection in case of splatter; even after mixing, the potassium hydroxide can cause a serious burn.


Take 25 grams of lime water and bring to a boil with 25 grams of potash (I use a microwave and small jelly jars). Add 2 grams pulverized alum and stir well.

Take 1/4 tsp Lamp Black, add 1/4 tsp of the above mixture. Add boiled Creolin, drop by drop (as you would ox gall for other patterns), until the desired pattern is formed. Add additional small amounts of water to facilitate ray formation. Too much water and the spots break up; the same for too much creolin. Do not rinse the papers to keep the spots intact!


Boil 30 grams distilled water with 20 grams potash (in microwave is easiest). Remove from heat then add 20 grams pulverized alum, stir to mix, and then add 20 grams of sodium carbonate. The mixture will heat up a little, and will form a thick, granular paste.

Take 1/4 tsp Lamp Black, mix in 1/4 tsp of the above mixture and 1/2 tsp distilled water. Add ox gall for proper spread of spots (small amounts only needed, and the amount depends upon how many other colors precede it on the size). Again, do not rinse papers.

Hartmann modification without Creolin

Take 25 grams of lime water and bring to a boil with 25 grams of potash until dissolved (I use a microwave and small jelly jars and it takes about 1 1/2 minutes). Allow to cool, slightly, then add 2 grams pulverized alum (it will fizz a little, but nothing more than that) and stir well.

Take 1/4 tsp Lamp Black, add 1/4 - 1/2 tsp of the above mixture (start with the lower amount), 1/4 tsp water, and 1 drop of gall (some adjustment of these may be necessary).

Make a test base pattern on the size, such as the gelgit, and then throw a few small spots of the mixture on the size to watch the spread. Add additional gall, drop by drop, until the desired spread and ray formation appears. The thicker the mixture, the darker the central eye, but the more fragile it is. Additional water and gall can be added at this point to obtain the effect desired.

Hartmann modification for Windsor & Newton Lamp Black Gouache

Follow the directions for the modified Hartmann formula described above. Instead of adding 2 grams of pulverized alum, add 2.5 grams. In addition, a little more water should be added to this mixture - one to one and a half tsp water. Adjust the gall in the same fashion as above. If the central eye is large and the surrounding rim is small, additional gall is needed. Do not rinse the papers to keep the spots intact.