What kind of paint should I use on a lambskin drumhead?
August 9, 2020 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I have a 20" diameter frame drum with a removable lambskin head that I'd like to paint in black, red, and possibly white, with roughly 2cm-scale features. What kind of paint should I use? I don't know how the leather has been treated, but it's natural color and fairly rough to the touch (closer to a suede jacket than a boot or a snare drum, but less nubbly.) The drumhead flexes a lot when in use.

I'm happy to spend many tens of dollars on this, but would prefer not to spend hundreds. In case it's useful, I have access to compressed gasses, fume hoods, heating tools, and precision stencil making. I have no paint tools and no free-hand artistic talent. I'm also happy to hire someone - but am not sure who what would be.

So far my search attempts have turned up many techniques that seem to apply to much slicker and less flexible materials or involve dipping things whole into vats of dye.
posted by eotvos to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
Are you hoping that the drum will sound the same after being painted? Because any kind of paint covering the entire surface is definitely going to affect the sound.
posted by jonathanhughes at 9:25 AM on August 9, 2020

Since it's a natural, textured lambskin and you want it to remain flexible, I recommend you ask an artist that specializes in tattoos. Those inks could possibly be used to stain the skin.

As a painter with a background in traditional materials, oil, and acrylic would not remain flexible enough to withstand the continuous flexing and vibrating of a tight drum head. Water color doesn't hold enough pigment to look dense, and I suspect would not drop in to the skin layer to tint it.

I hope this is helpful information. I know nothing about tattoo inking process or palette.
posted by effluvia at 10:54 AM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dharma Trading Co. has leather and suede dyes and refillable pens for applying them with fine detail. I’ve never used them, but Dharma Trading has never sold me a dud.
posted by clew at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'd ask Tandy Leather
posted by tinker at 3:14 PM on August 9, 2020

How permanent do you want this paint to be? Do you want a dyed finish, or opaque painted finish?

My first thought when you are talking about painting a drumhead would be Plasti-Dip. It will stick well to the lambskin head and remain flexible for years. It's also well established as a technique for changing the tone of drumset drumheads, so there's precedent.

If you plan on hitting the head with a hard mallet or stick though, you may find it start to rub off in a matter of months. If played by hand, or soft mallet - or even just displayed - I'd expect it to last indefinitely.

They also have a large selection of both brush on and spray on colors. If you think the surface is smooth enough to mask off with tape, the spray on could save you some time and effort. Otherwise, you can take your time with a brush. Either way, the stuff is very forgiving. It'll take more effort to remove it from a textured surface than a smooth one, but it does peel off very cleanly - even a few years later.
posted by Anoplura at 10:34 PM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

You could also take a look at fabric screenprint ink. They are intended to be flexible and permanent on T shirts and the like. I would also try to get some lambskin similar to what your drum head is and do some experiments before committing to your drum, whichever technique you explore. Stretching it and then subjecting it to similar drumming pressure would inform your choice.
posted by citygirl at 10:38 AM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dye or ink, not paint is the answer here.
posted by domo at 4:32 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the thoughtful responses. I appreciate it. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to use, but this has been very useful.
posted by eotvos at 9:37 AM on August 27, 2020

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