How to paint with ashes – make art you’ll treasure forever

ash painting memorial pet

How to Paint Memorials with Ashes in the Paint - two options

How do you use ash remains in memorial paintings? In this example I’ll be working on a portrait of a beloved pet named Libby, but these techniques work just as well for memorials of people.

For some background, I’m a professional pet portrait artist and have been painting with ashes for about five years and I feel like these methods are pretty reliable and easy to do. That said, there are many ways to get ash on canvas. So if you’ve got questions or want to know if something will work, head over to my YouTube channel and ask away in the comments.

Option 1: Add Ashes to Gesso

I’ve used this first option to create a stable base layer and then paint over top. Adding ashes to paint by mixing them into your surface prep (Gesso or other base layer), rather than directly into your pigments, gives you the most control over the colours in your piece. Therefore it’s often my go-to.

As you can see in the example below, when I add paint over the dry base layer, where I’ve mixed ashes into clear gesso, the paint pigments stay pure. This is particularly visible in the white background paint around my subject’s face.

painting with ash memorial

To summarize, the base-layer method keeps the ashes behind the paint, instead of having them visible.

Option 2: Add Ashes directly to your oil or acrylic paint

This option allows the ash to affect the paint colours. This is something you  you may or may not want, so I’ve included a couple examples below that show how ash looks when mixed with clear media like linseed oil. It’s kind of grey and grainy, as you’d expect.

Mixing ash into paint dog

So if you want your ashes to be visible, this is the way to go.

Keep in mind that you can always add a few highlights on top of this layer when the ash-paint mixture dries, so you can still get a full range of values from darkest dark to lightest light.

A couple more ash painting tips

Use stiffer brushes

I’ve found that painting with ashes can be really hard on hour brushes. So when I paint pet ash memorials, I often use a stiffer set of brushes than for my other work.

Use more medium

Thinning your paint will help it get around the texture of the ash.


Looking for more?

You can see examples of ash memorial work in my pet memorial portfolio. I hope you get inspired and create something very special for your own memorial project.

Thanks for reading!


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Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill is a practising pet portrait artist, writer, and video producer.

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