Homemade Finger Paint

by Kristen on June 6, 2012 · 32 comments

in Crafts

This post is part of our 2012 series of easy, frugal, green crafts for kids. So far, we’ve made fancy paper snowflakes, glitter playdough, and art with lentils, peas and other such dried foods.

This was actually supposed to be our May craft. But I am really terribly not good at getting around to crafty projects with my kids (that’s why I started this series!), so we made these paints yesterday.


The lovely thing, though, is that I did get it done, and that probably wouldn’t have happened without this blog series commitment.

Since we’re done with school, I do have some hope of getting another craft done in June, though, to catch up. We’ll see.


I printed this paint recipe online back in January but I cannot for the life of me find the original site (if you know, please let me share in the comments so I can give proper attribution).

It requires only a few very basic ingredients, so a batch costs mere pennies.

To start, whisk water, cornstarch, and sugar together in a saucepan.

Over medium heat, cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. The recipe said this should be stirred constantly, but since I like to live life on the edge (remember the last wild and crazy thing I did??), I whisked my paint only occasionally.

And it was ok.

You just don’t want to let it go too long without stirring because the cornstarch will turn into a gelatinous lump that’s hard to, um, de-lump.

Here’s what it should look like when it’s all thickened.

Next, stir in 1/2 cup of clear dish soap. I used this:

But I’d sorta recommend a non-scented soap if you can find it, because our paint was quite odoriferous.

(I know. The bottle says, “no heavy fragrances” but I beg to differ.)

The paint got kind of sudsy at this point, but by the time we used it, the suds weren’t an issue.

Why do we add dish soap to finger paint?

I have no idea.

But the recipe said to add it, so add it I did.

I’m a recipe-follower.

Except when the recipe says to stir something for 10 minutes straight. Then I get all rebellious-like.

Where were we?

Oh. You need to let the paint cool for at least 30 minutes.

Then you get to the fun part…adding food coloring.

The paint doesn’t seem to need nearly as much food coloring as frosting does. But I’m used to coloring frosting, and that’s why our purple paint is realllllly dark (it did look more purple than black in real life, though.)

Since finger paint is pretty wet, we used some heavy-duty paper (this is some old matte photo paper that Mr. FG brought home when he used to work in a warehouse.)

I seem to remember using some kind of glossy paper when I was a kid, but this worked fine.

Doesn’t the orange look like baby food?

Lisey and Sonia started by making a yellow sun towards the corner of their papers, and that reminded me of Georgia O’Keefe’s Evening Star painting.

So I pulled it up on the laptop and several of the kids made fingerpaint renditions of it.

It’s a little harder to do with fingerpaint than with watercolors.

They had so much fun with the Evening Star, they wanted to copy another Georgia O’Keefe piece, so we poked around and found that we had the right colors for her Sunrise painting.

We put our paintings outside to dry in the sun.

The paint took on a crackly look as it dried, which is actually sort of neat. I don’t know if all finger paints do that because it’s been a really long time since I used any.

My girls thought this was super-duper fun, and the mess really wasn’t that bad. The paint is totally water-soluble, so it wipes right up.

So, I’d give this a high rating…it was easy, cheap, my kids really liked it, and it produced a craft that can be recycled or composted (plus the paint containers were re-used cream cheese containers, and we can use them again for our next batch).

Homemade Finger Paint

1 cup cornstarch
4 tablespoons sugar
4 cups cold water
1/2 cup clear liquid dish soap
food coloring
plastic containers with lids

In a saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and cold water. Over medium low heat, cook and stir until thickened and slightly bubbly.

Remove from heat and stir in dish soap.

Let cool 30 minutes.

Divide paint into plastic containers and add food coloring to each container as desired.


Do you ever make homemade finger paint? If you have a recipe you love, do share…it would be interesting to try another one next time we make paint.


Today’s 365 post: Coming soon…

Joshua’s 365 post: Fantasy

Leave a Comment

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Prairie Cat June 6, 2012 at 7:24 am

How fun! Maybe adding the soap is a precaution for when you inevitably have to wipe down your tables? :)


2 Linda M June 6, 2012 at 7:33 am

Nice project, Kristen! I think maybe the glossy paper you used as a child may have been freezer paper…if not, I am sure you could use that and you can purchase it in the section that sells foil, etc. Also wanted to mention that when my children were small, we would use the paintings they made for gift wrap for family presents (ie:grandparents, aunts, uncles,etc.) and it was a huge hit. Thanks for your very clever, hands on things to do with our kids and grandkids. Loooove it!


3 Jessica June 6, 2012 at 7:53 am

Fun post and I like this idea. I wonder – did you have alot of paint left over? It seems the recipe made alot, but maybe it goes fast.

For my young toddler, I made finger paints out of plain yogurt. I took about a tablespoon of yogurt for each color and let her spread them around. It was fun to watch and I wasn’t worried about her eating it. It was good for a “only child” project (made a small batch).


4 Kristen June 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I do have some left, but not tons…less than half. But I had four kids painting, and the girls made several paintings each.


5 Kat June 6, 2012 at 8:06 am

This looks like a lot of fun. My kids would love this…especially for the summer. Since my munchkins are a little younger I would take this craft outside, though. And it seems it would be safe for the toddlers as well, which is perfect.


6 Virginia Dare June 6, 2012 at 8:21 am

Maybe the soap discourages little ones from eating the paint? LOL

Kristen, if anyone still doubts the quality of your own home-school education and that of your children, let’s just re-cap here:

Yellow fingerpaint suns reminded you of a Georgia O’Keefe painting (and not one of the super-popular, dorm-wall poster ones) and you turned craft time into a teachable moment of art appreciation, which your children enjoyed and about which they then willingly pursued more knowledge.

Sounds edifying to me!


7 Kristen June 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Thank you for the encouragement, Virginia! :) I do love it when fun/education organically intersect.


8 WilliamB June 6, 2012 at 8:24 am

Can the paint be stored till the next time?

I’m guessing the soap gave it slipability, but that’s just a guess.


9 Kristen June 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I think so, but it probably needs to be refrigerated.


10 K. Price June 6, 2012 at 8:27 am

It’s likely not cheaper than your recipe for finger paint, but we sometimes just make vanilla pudding (we’ve only tried the instant kind) and add in food coloring and finger paint with that…and it still tastes good. We’ve let the painting dry and even kept the paintings for a year or more, and they’re just fine (no stink, like one would expect). :)


11 Ellen June 6, 2012 at 8:37 am

I am thinking that the soap made it for easier clean up.. helped not dying those fingers, tables, ect……


12 Elizabeth@ReadySetSimplify June 6, 2012 at 8:41 am

I love it! I’m sure my kids would be thrilled if I added this to the summer bucket list.


13 Lili@creativesavv June 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

This is so fun! My kids loved when we made fingerpaints. And yes, you can store them in the fridge for a few weeks, but only a few. My youngest used to like to do the fingerpainting in the tub at bathtime, not on paper but on the tub surface. For this type of paint I would use a soapier base.We also fingerpainted with chocolate pudding on baking sheets. Now that was fun and yummy (and no worries with a toddler eating the paint!).


14 priskill June 6, 2012 at 9:31 am

Now, my big question is why the sugar?? I’m sure there is a good reason, just can’t think of it.

LOVED this! And loved the Georgia O’Keefe! Wondering if I dare do this at school with my little special needs guys, especially as school is winding down for the year . . . thank you for a wonderful post and inspiration.


15 Lili@creativesavv June 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm

My guess with the sugar is to improve viscosity. The viscosity of a sugar solution is higher than that of plain water. Think of a simple syrup as compared to plain water. The addition of soap makes the paint remain wetter, thereby giving it a better painting medium. Maybe you’ve heard, soap works for washing because it makes water wetter. Glycerin would also work to give a good painting medium, but soap is cheaper.


16 WilliamB June 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Not quite: soap works for washing because it sorta emulsifies the dirt/fat and the water, with one end of soap molecule being attractive to dirt/fat and the other to water.

A blog entry I on the subject that I find immensely amusing:
(You are now free to conclude that I’m truly weird, just in case you hadn’t figured that out already.)


17 priskill June 7, 2012 at 10:06 am

Thank you, Lila and WilliamB — had no idea about any of this! And no, not weird, INFORMED! These explanations make sense to my non-science brain. . .


18 Cindy June 6, 2012 at 10:09 am

What a great idea. I can’t wait to try this with the kids!


19 Mrs. R. June 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Ditto!!! Thanks so much. :-)


20 Jo@simplybeingmum June 6, 2012 at 11:16 am

In answer to your question – No I haven’t, but I will be now!


21 Ada June 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Maybe this a preschool teachers version of an old wives tale…but when I taught preschool to 4 and 5 year olds, we added soap to the tempera paints. The reasoning I was told is that it made it easier to wash out of clothes.


22 WilliamB June 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I once asked the customer service rep at P&G or Unilever why the “unscented” item (dishsoap??) seemed to have perfume in it. He told me that all their products come out with some sort odor to it, so something is needed just to make it smell neutral. In a surprising burst of frankness from a customer service rep, he went on to tell me that disposable diapers smell particularly bad before being neutralized.


23 Margaret June 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Have you ever tried the McCormick Neon food coloring? We used some for dying Easter eggs this year, and the colors were beautiful! I used these recipes:



24 Kathy M June 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Beautiful art work!


25 Kris June 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm

We made fingerpaints when my kids were younger and it was fun, but now we have the Crayola version. Earlier this winter my daughter used the cut-off root end of celery in fingerpaints. It makes a great “rose” print. Then we composted the celery. :)

Familyfun.go.com has multiple craft/activity ideas if you are looking for some this summer. The fire station/fire truck made out of cereal boxes and egg cartons turns out cute and I’ve got my eye on the dollhouse and doll furniture made out of the same items.


26 Hetal@Real World June 7, 2012 at 8:11 am

Very interesting. My Daughter is very young to give this try, but I will save this page as bookmark for future use.. Thank you..


27 Amanda @ Flour and Lace June 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I’ve been looking for a good fingerpaint recipe.. my main problem with homemade paints is that they aren’t as vibrant and tend to look “gloppy.” I’ve never had a batch turn out well :(
Would more dye make the paint look less pastel-colored? I’m afraid to try again!


28 Kristen June 7, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I think more dye would make the paints darker. I also think that maybe paste food color would make them darker as well.

It’s been a REALLY long time since I used commercial finger paint, so I’m probably not a good person to compare the two. My kids really enjoyed painting with this paint, though, and I suppose that’s what really matters. If yours are used to commercial paint, maybe this would be too different for them? I don’t know.


29 Travesti June 8, 2012 at 2:58 am

We fabricated fingerpaints if my kids were adolescent and it was fun, but now we accept the Crayola version. Earlier this winter my babe acclimated the absolute basis end of celery in fingerpaints. It makes a abundant “rose” print. Then we composted the celery.


30 amal June 10, 2012 at 2:47 am

i love it , its so easy and safe


31 Jennifer Harrod June 13, 2012 at 1:08 am

I love this idea! As a school teacher, I could use this activity for my art class and children will definitely gonna enjoy this.


32 Vanessa April 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm

This recipe is awesome! Thank you so much. I used Kool-Aid and Tang instead of food coloring.


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