Social Ventures / UCLB News

UCL artist launches paint made from coal mine waste

14 December 2020

Paint tube

Onya McCausland, a UCL Slade School of Fine Art graduate, has launched Six Bells Red, the first ever exterior/interior grade mineral based emulsion wall paint made from 100% waste ochre minerals.

Friday 11 December saw the launch of Six Bells Red, the first paint in the range, at Six Bells Mine Water Treatment Scheme in Wales.

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’.

A cast iron plaque with a map of the site will be installed at the 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.

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

1,000 artists’ oil paint tubes named ‘Six Bells Burnt Ochre’, are also for sale at Turning Landscape CIC (, a Community Interest Company which Onya set up with support from UCLB, via its social ventures offering and Social Ventures PoC Fund.

Throughout the project UCLB provided advice and guidance which enabled the commercialisation of the paints and engagement of local communities to bring the initiative to life.

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.

Dr Steven Schooling Director of Physical Sciences, Engineering, Built Environment & Social Sciences at UCLB

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.”

Further Information

Turning Landscape

Photo © Arved Colvin-Smith