Archive for the ‘My way of seeing things’ Category

Comparing similar colors – part 3

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

How can you choose which red paint will work best on your palette?  What qualities should you look for in the paint that’s right for your purposes?

In this final blog of the year I hope help you find answers to these questions, once again using two of my favorite brandsWinsor Newton Professional Watercolors and Golden’s QoR Modern Watercolorsas examples.  I’ll be looking at several popular reds to try to illustrate some of the differences among them.

Qualities I’ll be considering are whether they are staining or not (whether they can be easily lifted off the paper), whether they are permanent or fugitive (having a tendency to fade or change color over time), how transparent or opaque they are, their comparative chroma (how “pure” or muted each color appears), and whether they have a warm or cool bias in comparison to other similar reds.

Reds:

Comparative chart - redsPermanent alizarin crimson is a more recent replacement for the cool, traditional but fugitive alizarin crimson (PR83).   Permanent rose also has a cool bias and is good for mixing purples. Like most quinacridones, quin red is very transparent, excellent for glazing.  The warm-biased Scarlet lake, cadmium red, pyrrole red, and permanent scarlet have very similar chroma, but slightly differing transparency and staining power. The brown madder/quin burnt orange (same quinacridone pigment) reds are transparent and have a lower chroma.  Although Indian red is based on the same pigment, PR101, as two of the transparent browns (see part 1),  this paint is extremely opaque. 

As you may have seen in part 1 (on browns and yellows) and part 2 (on blues), the same pigment may be used for a variety of colors, dependent on the processing method used.  Different manufacturers frequently use different names for the same color, or the same name for very different colors, so rely more on the pigments used than on the name, although the name may offer some clues.  As a general rule (obviously with exceptions) although the coloration may vary, other characteristics of the pigment will generally tend to be pretty consistent.  Many traditionally used pigments, such as the plant-based madders (PR83), tend to be fugitive, while the more modern pigments have been developed to replicate them while remaining more permanent.

Such reformulated colors are often (though not always) referred to on the label as “hues.”  (Some “hues” are also formulated to replicate colors that traditionally relied on pigments that are either very expensive or are no longer available.)  Other terms in the name, such as “permanent” or “new,” usually indicate that this formulation replaces a similar but more fugitive color.  So if you see a color labeled as “permanent,” it’s wise to avoid paints using the same name without the “permanent” designation unless you know that, like quinacridones or phthalos, the pigment used is indeed permanent.

I generally prefer to avoid cadmium colors, but have included one here among the reds.  Several manufacturers, including Winsor Newton, have recently introduced some cadmium-free formulations as alternatives to their traditional cadmium colors.  I have been content with my existing palette so haven’t felt a need to try them out yet.  If you’re interested in them, you may want to do some of your own comparative testing against similar colors already on your own palette.

The paints compared in this series of blogs are limited examples of only two brands of watercolor.  Similar colors of other brands will vary, depending on the pigment(s) used, formulation, and processing.  Read the labels or manufacturers’ information sheets for clues regarding transparency, permanence (lightfastness), and whether they are staining or non-staining.  Only direct comparison will determine temperature bias and chroma as related to similar colors.

-Lightfastness is often noted as ASTM I, II, III, or IV (the lower the number, the better—look for ASTM I or II), but not all pigments have an official rating.

-For clean mixing of colors (to minimize “mud”) look for transparent paints.

-For glazing, look for transparency, which allows underlying layers to shine through.  (Take note of how well underlying marks show through the paint in the chart.)

-Many organic pigments (quinacridone, phthalocyanine, indanthrone, etc.) tend to be transparent and have strong, staining characteristics.  Many (though not all) also tend to be more lightfast.

-Inorganics, such as cadmiums and earth colors (ground stone) are generally easier to lift off the paper but, because they are often granular, they tend to be somewhat less transparent.  But don’t expect any paint to lift entirely off the paper without leaving some color influence behind.

Only you can determine which qualities are most important to you and your working methods.  I hope these comparisons and tips help you in making wise selections for your own palette through the coming year.

Comparing similar colors – part 2

Sunday, December 1st, 2019

With all the similar blue watercolor colors available, which ones should you choose?  What qualities should you look for in the paint that’s right for you?

Last time, in part 1, I compared both several yellow paints and the most common brown paints.  In part 2 of this series, I’ll be comparing the colors and qualities of several popular blue watercolor paints, again using two of my favorite brandsWinsor Newton Professional Watercolors and Golden’s QoR Modern Watercolorsas examples.

Some of the qualities I’ll be considering are whether they are staining or not (whether they can be easily lifted off the paper), whether they are permanent or fugitive (having a tendency to fade or change color over time), how transparent or opaque they are, their comparative chroma (how “pure” or muted each color appears), and whether they have a warm or cool bias in comparison to other similar blues.

Blues:

Comparative chart - blues“French” ultramarine sometimes indicates that the color is slightly redder than other ultramarine alternatives in the same line.  It may also be designated as RS as opposed to slightly greener (GS) versions.  I find that ultramarine is difficult to photograph because the high-chroma pigment is so vibrant.  For this reason I tend to prefer the slightly lower chroma of the similarly warm-biased indanthrene/indanthrone (different brands spell it differently).  Cobalt blue tends to be the most evenly balanced between warm and cool so is a good choice for mixing.  Phthalo-based Winsor blue is available in two versions, a warmer (red shade—RS), and a cooler (green shade—GS).  The phthalo colors are excellent for mixing, but have strong staining power.

(Similarly, the phthalo-based Winsor greens—BS, blue shade, PG7 and YS, yellow shade, PG36—are so strong that they can easily get out of hand.  A much weaker cool green, viridian, PG18, is more muted and easier for inexperienced painters to control.  Don’t be fooled by a “viridian” made from PG7, a phthalo pigment!  Unfortunately, almost all green pigments are very difficult to lift.) I have not included greens extensively in this color-comparison series because they can be mixed from the other colors discussed here.  For more on greens, see my August 15, 2019 blog.

As you can see here, the same pigment is often used for several variations of color, dependent on the processing method used.  Different manufacturers may use very different names for the same color, or the same name for very different colors, so rely more on the pigments used than on the name, although the name may offer some clues.  As a general rule (with some notable exceptions) although the coloration may vary, other characteristics of the pigment will generally tend to be pretty consistent.  Many traditionally used pigments tend to be fugitive, while the more modern pigments have been developed to replicate them while remaining more permanent.

Such reformulated colors are often (though not always) referred to on the label as “hues.”  (Other “hues” have been formulated to replicate colors that traditionally relied on pigments that are either very expensive or are no longer available.)  Terms such as “permanent” or “new,” used within the name, usually indicate that this formulation replaces a similar but more fugitive color, which may or may not still be on the market.

Remember that these are just a few examples of only two brands of watercolor.  Similar colors of other brands will vary, depending on the pigment(s) used, formulation, and processing.  Read the labels or manufacturers’ information sheets for clues regarding transparency, permanence (lightfastness), and whether they are staining or non-staining.  Only direct comparison will determine temperature bias and chroma as related to similar colors.

-Lightfastness is often noted as ASTM I, II, III, or IV (the lower the number, the better—look for ASTM I or II), but not all pigments have an official rating.

-For clean mixing of colors (to minimize “mud”) look for transparent paints.

-For glazing, look for transparency, which allows underlying layers to shine through.  (Take note of how well underlying marks show through the paint in the chart.)

-Many organic pigments (quinacridone, phthalocyanine, indanthrone, etc.) tend to be transparent and have strong, staining characteristics.  Many (though not all) also tend to be more lightfast.

-Inorganics, such as cadmiums and earth colors (ground stone) are generally easier to lift off the paper but, because they are often granular, they tend to be somewhat less transparent.  But don’t expect any paint to lift entirely off the paper without leaving some color influence behind.

You are the best one to determine which qualities are most important to you and your working methods.  I hope these comparisons and tips help you in making wise selections for your own palette.

In part 3, I will be comparing a variety of reds.

Comparing similar colors – part 1

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Have you ever wondered which of two or three similar watercolor paints to buy?  Many manufacturers sell several different but similar colors, and it can be hard to know which would best suit your needs.  What qualities should you look for in the paint that’s right for your use?

I’d like to use these last three blogs of the year to shed some light on this question, using two of my favorite brandsWinsor Newton Professional Watercolors and Golden’s QoR Modern Watercolorsas examples.  I’ll be looking at a few frequently used browns, as well as several versions of the primary colorsyellow, blue, and red.  I will not try to cover all the choices of these hues by these manufacturers, but just what I have on hand to use as examples.

This time I’ll be focusing on some frequently used browns and yellows.

Some of the qualities I’ll be considering are whether they are staining or not (whether they can be easily lifted off the paper), whether they are permanent or fugitive (having a tendency to fade or change color over time), how transparent or opaque they are (evident by how well the underlying print shows through the paint layer in the chart), their comparative chroma (how “pure” or muted each color appears), and whether they have a warm or cool bias in comparison to other similar colors.

Browns:  Comparative-chart---browns Inorganic, earth pigments, such as umbers, siennas, and ochres, made from ground stone, tend to be non-staining, resting primarily on the surface of the paper, rather than soaking deeply into the fibers.  This means that most of the pigment can be lifted back off the paper, if desired. However, PR101, from which both the WN burnt sienna and transparent brown oxide colors are made, is a synthetic red iron oxide.  It behaves differently from the QoR burnt sienna (which is based on PBr7), and is more transparent.  Although most of the QoR paints are very difficult to lift, the PBr7 pigments are a notable exception, lifting easily off the paper’s surface.  (Note:  Golden has recently introduced a QoR “Lift Aid” medium to apply to the paper before painting to help in lifting other pigments.  It helps, but don’t expect to regain the original white of the paper.  One of the benefits of the QoR colors is the strong pigmentation that fades less than traditional colors do as they dry.)  Umbers tend to have a cooler bias than siennas.  Another option with a cool bias, VanDyke brown, tends to be fugitive, fading or changing color over time and exposure to light.

Yellows: 

Comparative-chart---yellowsAlthough the colors of the first few yellows shown here are similar, notice that yellow ochre is semi-opaque, so is not as good for mixing or glazing as the more transparent colors are.  And quin gold is dual-toned, leaning toward a transparent brown when applied densely, but a somewhat cooler, transparent yellow when well mixed with water, providing greater flexibility for mixing a variety of greens. The coolest yellow shown here is Winsor lemon.  Another cool alternative, aureolin, is not lightfast, so is not a good choice if longevity is a concern.  Indian yellow and new gamboge (which replaces the original, fugitive version of gamboge) provide warmer alternatives.

Notice that the same pigment is often used for a variety of colors, dependent on the processing method used.  Different manufacturers may use very different names for the same color, or the same name for very different colors; so when selecting paints, you should rely more on the pigments used than on the name, although the name may offer some clues.  As a general rule (though with exceptions) although the coloration may vary, other characteristics of the pigment will generally tend to be pretty consistent.  Some traditionally used pigments tend to be fugitive, while the more modern pigments that replicate them are usually more permanent.

Such reformulated colors are often (though not always) referred to on the label as “hues.”  (Some “hues” are also formulated to replicate colors that traditionally relied on pigments that are either very expensive or are no longer available.)  Other terms in the name, such as “permanent” or “new,” usually indicate that this formulation replaces a similar but more fugitive color.  So if you see a color labeled as “permanent,” it’s wise to avoid paints using the same name without the “permanent” designation unless you know that, like quinacridones or phthalos, the pigment used is indeed permanent.

I generally prefer to avoid cadmium colors.  Several manufacturers, including Winsor Newton, have recently introduced some cadmium-free formulations as alternatives to their traditional cadmium colors–primarily yellows, oranges, and reds.  I have been content with my existing palette so haven’t felt a need to try them out yet.  If you’re interested in them, you may want to do some of your own comparative testing against similar colors already on your own palette.

Keep in mind that the paints discussed here are limited examples of only two brands of watercolor.  Similar colors of other brands will vary, depending on the pigment(s) used, formulation, and processing.  Read the labels or manufacturers’ information sheets for clues regarding transparency, permanence (lightfastness), and whether they are staining or non-staining.  Only direct comparison will determine temperature bias and chroma as related to similar colors.

-Lightfastness is often noted as ASTM I, II, III, or IV (the lower the number, the better—look for ASTM I or II), but not all pigments have an official rating.

-For clean mixing of colors (to minimize “mud”) look for transparent paints.

-For glazing, look for transparency, which allows underlying layers to shine through.  (Take note of how well underlying marks show through the paint in the chart.)

-Many organic pigments (quinacridone, phthalocyanine, indanthrone, etc.) tend to be transparent and have strong, staining characteristics.  Many (though not all) also tend to be more lightfast.

-Inorganics, such as cadmiums and earth colors (ground stone) are generally easier to lift off the paper but, because they are often granular, they tend to be somewhat less transparent.  But don’t expect any paint to lift entirely off the paper without leaving some color influence behind.

Only you can determine which qualities are most important to you and your working methods.  I hope these comparisons and tips help you in making wise selections for your own palette.

In part 2, I’ll be comparing some popular blues.

Trying out QoR Lift Aid

Friday, November 1st, 2019

Having decided to focus on watercolors for the time being, I’ve narrowed down my watercolor paints primarily to two brands—Winsor-Newton Professional and Golden’s QoR Modern.

I love the QoR colors for use in my studio work because of their vibrancy and strength, with minimal fading as the paint dries.  The downside of this is that these paints tend to stain the paper considerably more than the Winsor-Newton paints do, so they are very difficult to lift off the paper to adjust values after the initial application has been applied.

On the other hand, I use Winsor-Newton paints mostly for teaching purposes because of the consistently high quality throughout the line, and the pricing and availability that make it feasible for beginners to buy.  I also use it in my travel kit because I can apply it quickly, with minimal fuss, and no concern about washing on overly strong colors in my sketchbook when I just want a subtle reminder of color – a potential problem with QoR.

Fortunately, I discovered recently that Golden has introduced a Lift Aid medium for their QoR watercolors.  Could it really help me lighten areas of my paintings?  How well would it work?  Would applying it mean I wouldn’t have to tape off the edges of my paper to ensure a clean border, but merely sweep my brush around the outside to clean up the overlaps?  And would it require any special application technique, as frisket does?  I decided to put it to the test. 

I began by applying a single layer of Lift Aid to four different brands of standard, cold-press watercolor paper—Arches, Strathmore (series 400), Fabriano, and Joe Miller’s Kilimanjaro—and allowing it to dry.

Using colors in the QoR line—both typically “staining” and “non-staining” colors—I applied several stripes of color to each of the papers.  On all except the Arches paper, I used both treated and untreated paper to illustrate the difference between using the Lift Aid and not using it.  The QoR colors I used were quinacridone gold, burnt sienna, permanent red, dioxazine purple, cobalt blue, indigo, and hookers green.

In lifting the color, the first attempt was made by dampening and blotting or wiping to lightly lift a little color (though this method often removed more than “a little”).  The second attempt was made by scrubbing to remove as much of the remaining color as possible.

QoR-Lift-Aid-TestThe Kilimanjaro paper showed minimal difference in lifting, whether the Lift Aid had been applied or not; only the (typically non-staining) cobalt blue lifted out to any great extent.  The surface of the Fabriano and Strathmore papers “pilled” (balled up) with scrubbing on the untreated side, damaging the surface, and to a lesser degree on the treated side of both.  The Lift Aid was most effective on the Arches surface, allowing every color to lift with the least difficulty, and almost entirely, with little or no damage when scrubbed.  Runners-up were clearly the Strathmore Series 400 and Fabriano, … if you don’t need to scrub back to near-white.

It is evident that the paper used is critical.  There was a considerable difference in the lifting ability on the various papers.  Apparently, the Lift Aid works in conjunction with the existing sizing (applied on the surface or incorporated into the paper by the manufacturer) to help seal the surface, minimizing how deeply the pigments can penetrate the paper.  The Lift Aid might be more effective on some of these papers if more than a single coat were applied before painting.

"Vermilion Cliffs," by Charlotte Mertz (8"x10" watercolor, #191005w)

“Vermilion Cliffs,” by Charlotte Mertz (8″x10″ watercolor, #191005w)

Here is a completed painting, for which I pre-treated portions of the Arches paper with Lift Aid.  I have been finding the Lift Aid a considerable help in adjusting the values and achieving the subtlety of colors needed for my recent compositions.  I wouldn’t trust even a pretreated paper, though, to allow me to entirely clean up the border edges, so I’ve still been taping off the desired dimensions for most of my recent studio compositions.  It’s important to keep in mind that it does not do the same job as frisket in reserving the original white of the paper.  It simply makes it easier to reduce the amount of pigment left on the paper.

I also feel a need to immediately rinse and then thoroughly wash the brush I have used to apply the Lift Aid so it doesn’t become compromised with the dried medium.

Would I recommend Lift Aid?  Absolutely, if you love the strong QoR colors but want the option of lifting some of the color after the original application.  Just test it yourself on your chosen paper before undertaking a critical composition.

Value key vs. value dominance

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

I have noticed some confusion about the difference between the concepts of “value keys” and “value dominance.”  It is easy for beginning artists to confuse the two.

Value dominance means that most (usually more than half) of a painting is within a designated (high, middle, or low) value range.  A full-value-range painting may have high-, low-, or middle-value dominance.  But when a painting shifts from a full range of values to either high or low key, the values are compacted into a narrower range, usually at either the high or low end of the value scale.

That means that in a high key painting virtually all the lowest values will be in the middle or low-middle range, with very few exceptions because even  “black” objects and dark shadows will be influenced by the atmospheric effect of so much apparent ambient light.

Bato Dugarzhapov, beach scene

Bato Dugarzhapov, beach scene

This beach scene by the Russian Impressionist Bato Dugarzhapov is high key but shows a wide range of value within the high- and middle-value levels.  Even the lowest values in this composition, however, are strongly influenced by the ambient light so remain in the mid-value range, which keeps this dominantly high-value composition in the high-value key.

In a low-key painting, virtually all the highest values will fall into the middle or upper-middle range (with the exception, perhaps, of a “pure” light source such as the sun or a lit light bulb, which begs the question of why the artist tried to establish the scene in the lower key to begin with).  The rare high value appearing in a low-value image is more common in a photograph than in a painting, and even then, the points of light, like stars in a nighttime sky, normally appear quite small and neither obtrusive nor very influential to its immediate surroundings.

Van Gogh, "Starry Night"

Van Gogh, “Starry Night”

Vincent VanGogh’s “Starry Night,” shown above, shows low-value dominance rather than low key because the points of light in the sky are crucial to the concept: Their brilliance is exaggerated rather than subdued within the otherwise low-value field.  If, on the other hand, the composition had been limited to the lower right corner, showing only the village, with minor and subdued points of light in the windows of the buildings (see detail below), it could have been described as being low key.

Van Gogh, "Starry Night" (detail)

Van Gogh, “Starry Night” (detail)

Alternatively, mid-key paintings rely only on the middle range of the value scale, with very little in either the upper or lower range, which limits value contrast.

Loren MacIver’s “Morning Cart,” below, is an example of a mid-key painting.  The lowest values are no lower than mid-value and there is very little in a higher value range (compare it to Dugarzhapov’s high-key painting above.  The narrow value range severely limits the value contrast available.  In this case, the low contrast served the artist’s purpose to suggest atmospheric effects.

Loren MacIver, "Morning Cart"

Loren MacIver, “Morning Cart”

On the other hand, Winslow Homer’s “Fog Warning,” below, has middle-value dominance.  The mid-value grays and browns and overall low saturation are critical to convey the concept of the threatening fog, but the low value of the shadows and the high value of the fish and whitecaps provide a contrast to the scene that help to express the narrative by not only suggesting greater detail but also emphasizing the important overall grayness of the atmosphere.

Winslow Homer, "Fog Warning"

Winslow Homer, “Fog Warning”

The viewer’s (often unconscious) desire for value contrast is probably the main reason that full-range paintings are generally more appealing than strictly mid-key compositions.   But, as illustrated here, any key or value dominance can be applied effectively when used with planning and forethought to serve the purposes of the artist’s concept.