Painting with cremation ashes elicits different reactions from anyone who hears about this genre of art. But whether you’re just curious or intent on using the ashes of a beloved pet or family member in a painting, we researched a few different artists to find out how it works.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You Actually Paint with Cremation Ashes?
- How Do People Use Cremated Ashes to Paint?
- Where Can You Find Paintings Made Out of Cremated Ashes?
Not only is there a surprising amount of history behind the art, but you’ll find that it isn’t such a quick process. Sometimes, it’s even controversial. Below, you’ll discover how and who paints with ashes.
Tip: Painting isn't the only way to create a work of art with your loved one's remains. Eterneva can turn your loved one's cremated ashes into a real diamond, which you can then wear in a piece of jewelry or display at home. Another option is turning your loved one's ashes into a set of cremation stones with Parting Stone.
Can You Actually Paint With Cremation Ashes?
Painting with human remains has a remarkable history. It beings with European apothecaries bolstering the Egyptian mummy grave-robbing industry. Pharaohs’ body parts and their cats were made into something called Mumia, which supposedly delivers mystical powers if applied to the skin or mixed with food and drink.
Testimonies suggest that a brown-colored paint created with the Mumia began as early as the 12th century. But most artists were unaware of the ingredients of this coveted "Mummy Brown" color. Messrs. Charles Roberson and Co, which formed in 1810, still offered original paint in the color until 1964.
So, while using human remains in art is not new, using cremated remains is a relatively recent art form. Unfortunately, critics only want to talk about the ash, whereas the artists want to talk about the art—the feelings and experiences that go into this controversial painting genre. But whatever your viewpoint, it doesn't seem to be going away. Instead, it's gaining traction.
One reasonably well-known artist in Texas uses ashes from deceased people whose remains have been unclaimed for years. This artist, Wayne Gilbert, believes that rather than allow people to remain abandoned in a dark closet for posterity, painting with their ashes gives them a deserved life and memory. If this sounds controversial, the other option is to dispose of unclaimed remains in wilderness locations. Those living near coastal regions head to the sea.
Still, using ashes for art is an uncomfortable conversation for many as some view it as a kind of desecration, while others view it as respecting and honoring them. Take a look.
How Do People Use Cremated Ashes to Paint?
From gels and acrylics to oil and water, artists across the United States have found working mediums to produce ash art on canvas. But that’s not all. Even tattoo artists are working with ash to help bring closure to those who would honor their loved ones with permanent ink.
Here are a few examples of contemporary artists working with cremains.
Texas artist Wayne Gilbert's aesthetic technique interprets the "analytical journey between art and man," often resulting in an internal narration of feelings and thoughts.
In his art, you'll see varying shades of earth tones. These, he says, are a product of multiple ashes as each person elicits a unique color—or pigment. The artist says that he'll never mix the remains to create a color. Instead, they work together to introduce flags, portraits, or plant and animal life. He paints with a pallet knife, giving each stroke texture.
Finally, using a high-quality archival gel, his work will remain equally as bold or bright for many generations.
Missouri artist Adam Brown's technique adds cremation ash to various elements instead of creating a piece from the ash. For this, people will send him portions of their loved one's remains. From these portions, he'll add it to water or paint, depending on the expectation of a watercolor or acrylic painting aesthetic. Brown returns unused ashes with the finished portrait.
Laura Solomon can teach you to use ashes in your own painting through her online instructional video. She'll give you a quick tutorial on how to combine cremation ash with water for a watercolor effect. Her tips include:
- Supplies and techniques to achieve various shades of opacity
- The appropriate surface for working with water and cremation ashes
Artist Sergio Portillo paints in various styles but will chat with the loved one's family ahead of time to determine whether it will be a portrait, landscape, or abstract. Portillo then adds the cremains to acrylic paint.
Using brushes and pallet knives, he applies the mixture to the canvas. The result is an art piece which he believes honors the deceased.
Artist Dusty Jonakin mixes cremation ash with linseed oil, so there’s no actual “paint” involved in his technique. If you’re not familiar with linseed oil, you would need a brush as opposed to a pallet knife to apply the mixture to the canvas. With it, you can adjust the opacity of the ashes similarly as you would with water.
If you think painting with ashes is controversial, let’s stretch your mind a bit further with tattoos. It’s not uncommon for people to get memorial tattoos of their grandparents. Some people even do so for beloved pets.
Miss June, out of a studio in Ohio, offers “ritual or commemorative tattoos” where the cremation ash is added to the ink and then tattooed on the skin. When you get a tattoo from her, she says that the conversation and the tattoo make for a cathartic experience.
Where Can You Find Paintings Made Out of Cremated Ashes?
So, you’ve decided that you want to honor your loved one by using their cremation ashes in an art piece, but you don’t know where to look for an artist? Let us help. Listed here are just a few places that will help you, whether you want a piece that features a pet or a human loved one’s remains.
Online artist marketplaces
Online artist marketplaces are a great place to start your search for a canvas painting. Once you enter your keywords, several artists will pop up, giving you an overview of what they’ve done in the past. From there, it’s a matter of communicating with the artist to see if they can fulfill your vision.
Pro-tip: Review the online comments to make sure you can work through any potential issues.
A quick Internet search will be similar to searching a marketplace. The difference here is that you’ll likely discover the personal website for an artist. You’ll still need to communicate with the artist to achieve the painting you desire, however.
Pro-tip: Check out the reviews before you agree to a purchase price.
If you’re already an artist, you can create the art at home. Using the techniques mentioned above or through whatever medium with which you’re comfortable, it’s possible to do this independently. If you’re concerned about making a mistake, glean some troubleshooting pointers from the professionals.
Some artists will visit big-city trade shows, bringing samples of their art along. This is a great way to see the art up and close so you can get a feel for the size and character of what you’ll be purchasing. Plus, any time you can talk face-to-face with an artist, communication improves.
To find tattoo artists who'll use your skin as the canvas for art with ashes, cue in a simple search online or call up your favorite artist. Like any other tattoo you'll get, you will want to check out the artist's portfolio so that your visions align with their strong points.
Turning Memories into Art
Many people keep the ashes of their loved ones in their homes or decide to spread them in nature. But if you seek other ideas about what to do with the cremation ashes, you're not alone.
If this is something that you'd like to add to your funeral planning and requests, we can help you put that plan together. Join Cake today, and we'll take you through the process.
- Fields, L. (2014). Art to Die For: Artist Paints Portraits with Human Remains. abcnews.go.com/US/art-die-missouri-artist-paints-portraits-human-remains/story?id=22496230
- Fletcher, A. (2017, November 09). Bringing Life to Art: Houstonian Incorporates Human Ashes Into His Paintings. www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2017/11/09/249158/bringing-life-to-art-houstonian-incorporates-human-ashes-into-his-paintings/
- Mummy Brown. (2019). FSU Department of Art History. arthistory.fsu.edu/mummy-brown/
- NBC4 Columbus. (2016). Tattoo artist uses ashes of loved ones. youtu.be/BAKCQi2MeJ0
- RobCo: Home. (n.d.). Messrs Charles Roberson and Co. www.croberson.co.uk/home
- Rubin, G. (2014). Cremation Portraits. Retrieved from youtu.be/m8f9P9rLXdw
- Torres, R. (2013). A Pigment from the Depths: Index Magazine: Harvard Art Museums. www.harvardartmuseums.org/article/a-pigment-from-the-depths
- YouTube. (2013). Art to Ashes. www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwjBXQez8GE