Innovation & Enterprise


Paint made from coal mine waste launched by UCL graduate

11 December 2020

Onya McCausland, a UCL Slade School of Fine Art graduate, has produced the first ever emulsion paint made from 100% waste ochre materials.

A smudge of brown paint, next to a tube labelled 'Six Bells Burnt Ochre'

Linking colour, materials and place

Onya developed the idea of turning recycled coal mine sludge into paint while studying for her PhD at the Slade. She visited mine sites across former British coalfield locations in South Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Yorkshire. 

The Coal Authority’s water treatment schemes prevent iron solids from polluting local water. Once treated, the clean water enters local watercourses and leaves behind iron solids that would stain riverbeds orange if left untreated. This is the ochre by-product that Onya used to create the new paint, in collaboration with paint manufacturers Michael Harding.

Onya said: "The mine water treatment schemes are the really important link between the colour, the material and the place. They reflect an important part of Britain’s cultural, social and industrial history and legacy."

Onya has also created a collection of paintings called ‘Colour from the Mines’.

Launch of the first paint at Six Bells Mine

Friday, 11 December saw the launch of the first paint colour in the range called ‘Six Bells Red’. The launch took place at Six Bells Mine Water Treatment Scheme in Wales.

Six Bells Red is a first edition, and a limited number of 100 one-litre tins will be available. 50 tins will be given to local people and Gwent organisations to paint buildings, houses, doors, gates and walls.

In addition, 1,000 artists’ oil paint tubes named ‘Six Bells Burnt Ochre’, will be for sale at Turning Landscape CIC.

An iron plaque with a sitemap will be installed at the Six Bells site, marking it as the source of the paint. The plaque will be visible from the footpath at the far north end of the perimeter fence. 

Support from UCL Innovation & Enterprise

The project has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Slade School of Fine Art. It also received Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) Knowledge Exchange funding managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

In addition, UCL Innovation & Enterprise provided guidance and advice throughout the project. This support enabled the commercialisation of the paints and engagement of local communities to bring the initiative to life.

Onya was supported by Dr Steven Schooling Director of Physical Sciences, Engineering, Built Environment & Social Sciences at UCL Business (UCLB), the commercialisation arm of UCL and part of UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

Steven said: “Onya saw the possibility of transforming this waste into ochre pigments for the fine art market, and it’s been a pleasure helping turn her idea into a reality. This was such an inspiring initiative to work on that saw the collaboration of a diverse group of experts in their various multi-disciplinary fields. As we see the Six Bells community painting their environment with this unique ochre paint, it’s a culturally significant moment and a tribute to the old mines.

“Onya’s commitment to her vision and the support of colleagues across UCL Innovation & Enterprise, together with funding from UCL’s HEIF Knowledge Exchange Fund, has enabled the development and commercialisation of a unique range of paints which draws strong on the engagement and input of mining communities.”


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Photo © Arved Colvin-Smith