News, News 2018, Painting, Pigment Spotlight

The final batch of Quinacridone Gold

This is it… we knew this moment would come but it still makes me sad. Quinacridone Gold, the real Quinacridone Gold PO49, is now completely gone…

Does it show that I would miss QuinaGold?

When the pigment manufacturer stopped production in 2001, they offered Daniel Smith (who were the first manufacturer to use Quinacridones in their paints) the opportunity to buy all their remaining stocks. Of course, Daniel Smith gleefully pounced on the barrels of powdered gold without asking too many questions. They inherited warehouses full of the valuable dust. By 2005, all the other paint manufacturers had to reformulate and find substitutes, while Daniel Smith proudly paraded their exclusive pure colour.

 

They had to run out eventually. Now it is their turn to reformulate and find an alternative with the same purity and glow, trying to convince frowning artists that the new formulation is just as good and probably better. Impossible task. As a single pigment, Quinacridone Gold had a level of clarity and saturation that is impossible to replicate by mixing several pigments.

 

Daniel Smith’s announcement of the end of the real Quinacridone Gold

 

Honestly, I think that they mishandled their highly advantageous position all these years ago. They could have kept the almost extinct, precious pigment exclusively for their Quinacridone Gold paint. Instead they used it in other mixes such as Sap Green, which frankly could be made of anything. What a waste of those last drops of elixir…

Physalis painted with Quinacridone Gold PO49

If you are lucky enough to have a local art shop selling DS paints, a sneaky rummage through their Quinacridone Gold tubes is worth your while. You might yet find some treasure.

 

And how about these rumours that a Chinese pigment manufacturer is producing PO49 again? I’ll keep an eye on that and hope for a resurrection… but so far I haven’t found any trustworthy source that this is a real thing.

 

Happy stockpiling!

 

 

 

 

Art Questions, Art Tutorials, Painting

Neutral colours vs. muddy mixes

Some watercolourists seem to find it hard to make the difference between neutral colours (especially browns) and muddy mixes. There is a huge variety of browns that are clean, transparent and without a hint of mud in them, not even the detoxifying cleansing spa kind.

Unlike primary and secondary colours that are found on the rim of the colour wheel, neutral colours sit in the centre. They are obtained when a primary colour is mixed with its opposite secondary colour, also called complementary colour.

Depending on the proportions used, most of these mixes are brown, while some tend towards grey. The main complementary neutral mixes are as follows:

  • Yellow + purple
  • Red + green
  • Blue + orange

All of these mixes are clean neutral colours with a potential to turn to mud…

So what makes the difference between a clean neutral brown and a muddy one?

Here are a few things to avoid if you have to put your wellies on every time you try to mix a neutral colour:

  • Poor quality paints. This first one seems obvious but low quality paints are full of fillers, which are made of various substances (mainly chalk) that affect the saturation levels, transparency and brilliance of the paint. Fillers are used to bulk out the paint, filling the tubes or pans with anything but pigments, which are the most expensive component of the paint. This way the manufacturer saves money and the paints are cheaper. Don’t be tempted by cheap paints, even if the manufacturer calls them “artist range’. If the paint is cheap, the ingredients are cheap.
  • Too many pigments. Try to stick to single pigment paints. Every pigment reflects different sections of the light spectrum and too many pigments will fight each other to death and leave behind a muddy battlefield. Imagine mixing a green made of 4 pigments with an orange made of 3 pigments. This gives you a mix of 7 different pigments and it is bound to turn nasty.
  • Opaque paints. These tend to overwhelm the transparent paints and the washes will lose their transparency and delicate finish.
  • Dense pigments. Some pigments (Cadmiums are a good example) are extremely dense as well as opaque. The other pigments simply cannot compete with them and as a result the mixes become heavy and have too much covering power. The transparency and freshness of the washes is lost.
  • Overworking the paint. It is possible to have a clean neutral mix in the palette but ruining it on the paper by overworking the paint. Browns are especially susceptible to this. If the paint is moved around too much, the layering of the pigment becomes uneven and creates unwanted texture that looks dirty and “tired”.
  • Mixing too much paint. Thick washes are definitely not helping when it comes to keeping colours clean. Make sure to use a small amount of paint with plenty of water. It is safer to layer several washes of thin paint than to apply the colour in one thick wash. Remember this only works with transparent paints.
  • Proportion is the key. Any two colours mixed together can produce an infinity of colours. Try to identify the bias of your neutral colour before you start mixing: is it a blue-biased grey, a red-biased brown, a yellow-biased grey green? This will give you an indication of the proportions. This is important because if the proportions are wrong and the colour not what you were aiming for, it is tempting to add more and more paint until the mix becomes thick and muddy and a mountain of frustration.

If you are having trouble with muddy browns, I would bet that you have been doing one or several of the things above.

Hopefully this will help clean your neutral colours!

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Happy painting!

Art Questions, Painting

Transparent vs opaque colours

I often get questions that start with “This might be a stupid question but…”

Stupid questions are the essential ones; the questions people are worried about asking because they think everyone else knows the answer. But they don’t! And they really wish they did, so don’t be afraid to ask…

Our third question comes from Stella, who was at my West Dean course in September: what exactly is the difference between transparent and opaque paints and how does it affect my paintings?

The answer is that transparent paints let the light through to the underlying paper while the opaque paints reflect the light, effectively blocking it and stopping it from reaching the paper. The effect is that transparent paints have a more glowing, three-dimensional finish thanks to the resulting layering, while the opaque paints have a flatter, matt appearance.

Some media such as gouache, chalks and pastels will always be opaque, because the medium itself is opaque.

Other media such as watercolours, oils and acrylics are transparent, so the transparency/opacity of the paint will depend on another factor, which is the pigment used in each colour.

When it comes to transparency, there are 4 categories of pigments:

  • Transparent, which let all the light through
  • Semi-transparent, which let most of the light through but reflect a small part
  • Semi-opaque, which reflect most of the light but let a small amount through
  • Opaque, which reflect all the light and let nothing through

Here are some examples of what this means in practice.

transparentopaque1

Case A – A single wash of transparent blue over white paper

The light goes through the paint, bounces off the paper and comes back through the layer of paint. The eye sees the blue colour, with a bright finish thanks to the brightness of the white paper underneath.

Case B – A single wash of opaque red covers the paper

The light bounces off the paint without allowing it to travel through to the white paper. The eye sees the red colour, with a flatter finish because of the lack of depth.

transparentopaque2

Case C – Three layers of transparent paint over white paper

The light travels through all the layers, bounces off the white paper and comes back through all the layers. The eye sees all the colours at once, with a lot of depth created by the layering.

Case D – One opaque wash of green between two layers of transparent colours

The light goes through the yellow layer to the green opaque layer but cannot go any further. The eye will see the green through the yellow, giving a yellowy green colour with some depth, but the grey layer and the white paper will disappear entirely, limiting that depth and annihilating the white paper-given glow.

Now it’s up to you to play with all the above, combining your pigments to reach your desired effects. Remember that this will only work in a transparent medium. If the medium is opaque, only the top layer will be visible no matter what pigments are used.

Examples of transparent colours: all the Quinacridones and Phthalo colours, Permanent Rose, Gamboge and Indian Yellows, Perylenes and most blacks.

Examples of opaque colours: all the Cadmiums, Cerulean Blue, Naples Yellow and all whites.

Lemon Yellow and Sap Green are the troublemakers. Depending on the brand, some are transparent and some are opaque. I will write about them in the Pigment Spotlight section in different posts.

There will also be follow-up posts about Optical Mixing and Harmonic Shadows, which are two techniques deriving directly from the transparency/opaque dichotomy.

Keep the questions coming; I will answer them, whether directly or with a blog post or video.

Happy painting!

 

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Painting, Pigment Spotlight

Pigment Spotlight- The non-granulating French Ultramarine aberration

When I heard that there was a new, Non-granulating French Ultramarine, my heart missed a beat. It definitely didn’t feel right.

I had that feeling you get when a long trusted and beloved friend does something so bad you didn’t even know they were capable of it.

My favourite blue had stopped behaving like it should and my understanding of pigments was being tested.

It reminded me of the story of the fox and the scorpion. A fox is about to swim across a river, when a scorpion asks: “Please can you help me? I need to get to the other side of the river but I can’t swim. Will you carry me on your back?” The fox is not too keen on the idea of carrying a lethal creature on his back. “How do I know you won’t sting and kill me?” “Well, it would be very stupid of me. If I sting you while you swim across the river, you will drown and I will die with you.” The argument seems irrefutable, so the fox agrees to help the scorpion. As they reach the middle of the river, the scorpion stings the fox. With his last breath, the fox asks: “Why did you do this? In a few seconds I shall be dead and you will die with me!” The scorpion answers simply: “I am so sorry, I couldn’t help myself, it is my nature…”

French Ultramarine granulates; it is its nature.

With some trepidation, I started my research into the so-called non-granulating French Ultramarine. Within a few minutes I was relieved.

Non-granulating French Ultramarine is NOT French Ultramarine at all. It is a mixture of Phthalo Blue (a very good non-granulating blue) and Dioxazine Violet, a controversial violet that has not performed well in lightfastness tests when used in watercolours.

The pigment French Ultramarine PB29 doesn’t even appear in the formulation. It couldn’t, because it would make it granulate! Granulation is its property, its quality, its raison de vivre. You can’t take that away from it. Like the scorpion who can’t help stinging the fox, French Ultramarine can’t help granulating. The extent of the granulation varies depending on the technique used, the paper’s texture and which other paints are mixed with it, but it never disappears. As French Ultramarine was invented as a substitute for the celestial Lapis Lazuli pigment- which itself granulates enthusiastically- it doesn’t really make sense to want the annihilation of the granulation process anyway.

Because PB29 is not part of this paint at all, it absolutely shouldn’t be called French Ultramarine. This is, at best, misleading. At worst, a dishonest market strategy to sell a new paint. It could be called French Ultramarine Hue, which is what manufacturers do when a paint is the colour of a particular pigment but doesn’t actually contain any of it. Even better, it should have a completely new name, without highjacking the fame and success of the long trusted – and bestselling- French Ultramarine.

I also object to the fact that this is a mix of two pigments, which is a step backwards compared to a single-pigment paint, especially as one of the two is unreliable.

If you want a non-granulating violet-biased blue, Phthalo Blue Red Shade (or Winsor Blue Red Shade for Winsor & Newton) is the best one. It is pure, not granulating at all, intense and lightfast. You can add a touch of Permanent Rose if you need your blue to be more on the violet side.

Don’t fall for the Non-granulating Non-French Ultramarine deception. It’s a chimera. Enjoy the liveliness of a beautiful, pure, genuine, granulating, PB29 true French Ultramarine.

Ratings:

Useful range of colours                   0/5

Sufficient lightfastness ratings      1/5

Level of saturation                           2/5

Irreplaceability                                 0/5

Total: 3/20

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