How to Make Indian War Paint

Updated November 21, 2016

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

Choose materials that will reproduce these colours, 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 colours for historical authenticity. Depending on where you live, some colours may be harder to reproduce from nature; certain Native American tribes achieved colours 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 icing sugar if you aren't able to locate similar colours 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.


Paint may become dry if not used immediately; if this occurs, add more hot water and mix until the desired consistency is achieved again. Apply paints first around the nose, then to the rest of the face using only your index and middle fingers for maximum authenticity. Today many Native American tribes use brand name paints instead of making their own.


Identify all items collected before using them in face paint to prevent any allergic reactions.

Things You'll Need

  • Items from nature, such as plants, fruits, charcoal and clay
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Hot water
  • Unscented lotion (optional)
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About the Author

Alyssa Brode began writing in 2001. She served as a staff writer for her high school newspaper, "The Arrowhead," and has been freelancing ever since. She has a Bachelor of Music degree from Westminster Choir College of Rider University with a double major in voice performance and computer information systems and is pursuing a Master of Music in opera performance.