"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pigment families

Just a reminder: copyright (c) 2009 by Pam Coulter Blehert

There are two general pigment families: the traditional inorganics and the modern organics. The Inorganics (mineral) include the traditional names such as the cadmiums, cobalts, ultramarine, prussian blue, earth colors etc. These are better for painting in natural light, and are softer, tending to grey down when mixed with white. The Organics have funny names (like Qunacridone, napthol, etc.), are manufactured, have strong mixing power, and tend to keep their intensity when mixed with white. They are good for use in artificial light and for painting high intensity.

Dyes are colors with a vegetable source. They don’t have good lightfastness. They are called fugitive. (By the way, “lightfastness” used as a designation in art is different from “permanent.” Permanent generally means that it’s going to stain your clothes. You won’t be able to get it out by washing. Sharpie® brand felt pens, for instance, are permanent but not lightfast. Lightfast, on the other hand, means that it maintains its value/color well even when exposed to light.) For instance, alizarin crimson and rose madder are dye-based pigments. (But permanent alizarin crimson is a manufactured color that duplicates the hue of the original but is promoted as lightfast.)

Most of this should not be of great concern to you as a beginning artist unless you are really concerned about longevity. But if you’ve ever browsed through the religious icons of the Middle Ages at an art museum and wondered at the icons with their bright blues and gold application but ghostly, almost absent, flesh tones, now you can hold forth. The colors used for flesh in the middle ages were dye-based and fugitive.

There are also colors (in the “student grade” line of most artists’ colors) that have the word “hue” in the title. “Hues” may look like their counterparts but won't perform like the real thing. And in general, the student grade colors are less expensive because the proportion of actual pigment to filler is less. So they don’t cover as well and are generally less brilliant. (I have to point out, for example, that, comparing the “Basics” brand of acrylics to “Golden Heavy-Bodied Acrylics” will give you a quick demonstration of the difference. I had one student who was quite talented but constantly bemoaned her lack of ability because she was using Basics brand. When the color dried, it faded and often didn’t cover underlying colors.)

I suggest that you go look at your selection of colors in your paint box, group the organics and inorganics, and do a separate chart and experiments with each. (Note: if you only have the basic set, you may want to skip this. I know a number of students who “inherited” a lot of tubes of paints. It’s useful, in that case, to familiarize yourself with them.) You may want to try out some of the modern colors to see how they differ from their traditional counterparts. The following list may serve as a guide:

Traditional: Cadmium orange, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cad Yellow Medium, Cad Yellow Light, Cad Orange Deep, Cad Red Light, Cad Red Medium, Cad Red Deep, Cobalt Violet, Manganese Violet, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine blue, Prussian Green.

Modern: Hansa Yellow Light, Hansa Yellow Medium, Hansa Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow, Napthol Red, Napthol Red Yellow Shade, Mono Orange, Transparent Orange, Perylene Red, Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Magenta, Perinone Red, Manganese Blue Hue, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Dioxazine Purple, etc.