Gum Tragacanth is an exudate of the Astragalus genus of plants in the Leguminosae family. Found in areas of Asia Minor, the gum is exuded through breaks or wounds in the bark of the shrub. Gum Tragacanth is the traditional binder used in the making of artists’ pastels, as it does not adhere to itself the same way other gums (such as gum arabic) do when dry.
Gum Tragacanth is an exudate of the Astragalus genus of plants in the Leguminosae family. Found in areas of Asia Minor, the gum is exuded through breaks or wounds in the bark of the shrub. Upon hardening the Ribbon (the best commercial grade) and Flake grades are hand-picked, sorted, and further processed to their powder form.
Gum Tragacanth absorbs water to become a gel, which can be made into a paste. The major fractions are known as tragacanthin, highly water-soluble as a mucilaginous colloid, and the chemically related bassorin, which is far less soluble but swells in water to form a gel.
An adhesive paste is formed when water is added to Gum Tragacanth, typically at a 2–4% concentration. This paste accounts for many of its uses in the food and pharmaceutical industries as well as in art. While Gum Tragacanth solutions are slightly acidic with a pH of 5–6, they can be neutralized with the addition of small amounts of chalk or alkali. Tragacanth is fairly stable in a wide range of pH from 10 down to extremely acid conditions of 2.5 pH. Gum Tragacanth has good thickening, emulsification, and suspending properties.
Uses in Art
Gum Tragacanth is used to make watercolor megilp—a gel-like waterborne medium used by 19th- and early 20th-century watercolorists, such as John Singer Sargent. Gum Tragacanth is the traditional binder used in the making of artists’ pastels, as it does not adhere to itself the same way other gums (such as gum arabic) do when dry.* Gum Tragacanth is also used to make a paste used in floral sugarcraft to create lifelike flowers on wires used as decorations for cakes, which air-dries brittle and can take colorings. It enables users to get a very fine, delicate finish to their work. In the Middle East, and in Turkey, in particular, Gum Tragacanth is used in paper marbling to make size on which to float and shape the pigments, just as carrageenan is used in the West.
To prepare Gum Tragacanth solution for use in watercolor painting and artists’ pastels and crayons, add one teaspoon of Gum Tragacanth to 8 ounces of tap or distilled (preferred) water. Stir until completely dissolved. Store in a closed bottle in a refrigerator to avoid spoilage.
Please see the article on Historical Watercolor Mediums for more information about the use of Gum Tragacanth in watercolor painting.
* Mayer, Ralph (1991) The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques (5th ed.). Viking. p. 427. Quote: “chief use among artists' materials is as a binder for pastel and chalk crayons”.
|Grades||NF Grade, FCC Grade|
|Appearance||Cream white to light tan powder|
|Solubility||Cold soluble with moderate hydration|
|pH||5.0 to 6.0 pH|
|pH Stability||2.5 to 10 pH|
|Processing Time||Usually ships the next business day.|