Posts Tagged ‘transparent’

Reevaluating the Palette

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I’ve found that it’s a good idea to periodically review the paints in my palette. Not only do I consider which ones I’ve made good use of and which I haven’t, but I also find it helpful to update my charts that show how they interact with one another. While doing that this fall, I made some discoveries that will help in my paint choices for the coming year. Among other things, I have found that there are several paints that could be dispensed with or be replaced with a more satisfactory alternative.

Palette, December 2011

Of my five yellows, I found that three are very similar in color but behave differently in use. The yellow ochre, a semi-opaque that tends to muddy my mixes, will not be replenished when it runs out. The similar raw sienna is more transparent and poses less of a mixing problem. It provides a more subtle and slightly warmer underwash than the third similar color, quinacridone gold, which is stronger and more lively for mixing with other colors. New gamboge is also a rich, warm, more intense yellow that is good for mixing. And the bright, cooler Winsor lemon is needed for the lightest, clearest yellows applied over reserved white.

In the brown realm, burnt sienna is my standby, supplemented by burnt umber for my darkest darks (often mixed with indigo) and the more red-toned brown madder, which I also love to pair with indigo. I’ve tried sepia but found that that’s another color I can dispense with.

It has perhaps been a mistake to rely too heavily on the transparent reds—permanent alizarin crimson and permanent rose, more recently supplemented with the lovely quinacridone red and quinacridone magenta. Being transparent, these are fine colors for mixing, but I find the quin red a bit wimpy on its own. I need a good rich red to punch up a painting. A transparent scarlet lake is a new acquisition that I hope will fill the bill. It has a warmer cast than the cooler reds I’ve been using.

Though I have a purple (Winsor violet), I seldom use it, usually preferring to mix my own from the colors used elsewhere in the painting. This helps to maintain a sense of color unity throughout, rather than introducing an unrelated hue.

Of my blues and greens, Payne’s grey (which I consider a very muted blue) is my least used. Cerulean, being opaque, doesn’t blend well with most other paints (though permanent rose transforms it to the startling and lovely hue my father used to call “sky-blue pink.”) Cerulean is fine as a sky color but is largely limited to that use. And I find that the hue is very similar to that of Winsor blue (green shade), which is more amenable for mixing. French ultramarine blue and cobalt blue, on the other hand, are both workhorses and must-haves, as they are both useful for skies, water, shadows, and blending with other colors. The muted indigo (a premixed blue blend that can be subtle despite its powerful pigments) has become a personal favorite and almost indispensable to me. A new acquisition is Manganese Blue Nova, a Holbein paint, which creates a lovely range of greens when mixed in varying proportions with quinacridone gold. Though I haven’t used them as extensively, I enjoy the liveliness and mixability of my Winsor blue (green shade) and Winsor green (blue shade), from which I can achieve a good range of aquas and turquoises when blended together. Their transparency seems to lend them both to successful mixing with other colors. Permanent sap green has become another of my workhorses, as it is a good supplement to palette-mixed greens and is, in itself, easy to vary for great foliage.

I like the clarity and vibrancy of the transparent colors, particularly the quinacridones. And I’m less concerned now than I used to be about whether a pigment stains or can be lifted off the paper. So, as you see, as my tastes and needs change over time, I expect my palette selections will continue to change as well, both adapting to and contributing to the evolution of my work.

Staying Out of the Mud

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

One of the banes of novice watercolorists is that old bugaboo “mud.” It took me a long time to realize what caused mud to develop both on my palette and in my paintings. Part of it, I knew, came from overworking the paint, combining too many colors to create the hue I wanted. Yet I wasn’t sure how many blended colors equaled too many.

I began working on the theory that cool-slanted colors shouldn’t be mixed with warm-slanted colors. But that theory didn’t prove true in every case. At last I realized that when opaque or semi-opaque pigments were mixed with transparent ones, the transparency was sacrificed, and the result became a muddied concoction.

The question then became, “How can I tell which pigments are transparent enough to work well with my palette, and which will I need to be careful using?” I eventually found the answer to that in the color charts most paint manufacturers provide. One of the paints that had been a staple for me from the beginning was yellow ochre, which I discovered was considered either opaque or semi-opaque (depending on the manufacturer). That pigment proved to have been the culprit in many of my muddy blends. Another popular color that caused problems for me was cerulean blue, which is often actually a mixture containing white, and is also semi-opaque.

I still use opaque colors, but with considerably more discretion than before.

There is definitely a place for opaque and semi-opaque pigments in watercolor work. And there simply seems to be little option for some hues. But I’ve learned that it’s usually more effective to use the opaque pigments in the base layer of a glazed painting or for detail on the top layer, rather than to blend on the palette with transparent paints for a widespread wash over the paper.

Unless you understand the components of the paint you use, it’s difficult to know what to expect of it. When a single-pigment paint is available for a certain hue, I try to use that rather than a blended version so it is easier to predict how it will react with other paints, how transparent it will be, and how stable the hue will remain over time.

Most paint manufacturers provide a chart that reveals most of this information for their own paints. To see comprehensive comparison charts, including transparency, opacity, and permanence of a wide range of colors and manufacturers, I’d recommend that you refer to Hilary Page’s book Guide to Watercolor Paints. Because the information changes continually, the author also provides free updated information online at www.Hilary Page.com.

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010) and “A Limited Palette” and “Selecting Paints” (both to appear later this year).