Gurney Journey | category: Color


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Is Opera Rose Fugitive?

Is the pigment called opera rose lightfast or fugitive? I had always heard it was extremely fugitive, but experts don't agree. 

Opera rose is a quinacridone pigment defined as PR122. According to the authoritative website Handprint, it's very reliable. In fact Handprint rates it as a "Top 40" pigment. They say: "after 800+ hours of sunlight exposure, the samples show no fading or discoloration."

Here's how they explain it:

"Quinacridone magenta PR122 is a lightfast, semitransparent, staining, dark valued, intense violet red pigment, offered by more than 20 pigment manufacturers worldwide. The ASTM (in technical report D5067-99) rates the lightfastness of PR122 in watercolors as "fair" (III, "may be satisfactory when used full strength or with extra protection from exposure to light"), but other manufacturer and independent tests rate it higher. My 2004 lightfastness tests of the nine paint brands listed above, which show color variations that suggest several different pigment particle sizes or pigment suppliers, revealed very little or no color degradation, after 800+ hours of direct sunlight exposure, in both heavy and diluted applications. This puts the pigment solidly in the "excellent" (I) category (BWS 7+)."

"For context, compare these samples to naphthol red (PR170), a pigment with a well established "very good (II)" rating, or with quinacridone rose (PV19), which is considered to have "excellent (I)" lightfastness. This is such a glaring discrepancy that the ASTM test must be flawed or unrepresentative in some way. Because Michael Wilcox relies on the ASTM documents for his pigment ratings, he has been critical of this pigment without any corroborating evidence of its fallability. I suggest you do your own lightfastness test on PR122 paints until a consensus emerges, but at present I see absolutely no reason to avoid this splendid pigment." 

I haven't tried it yet in a controlled fade test, but I've used the color in a painting. You can watch the whole 12 minute YouTube video here.

Unraveling Color Pigment Terms

Organic / Inorganic

Unraveling Color Pigment Terms

Pigments are divided into organic (containing carbon) and inorganic (without carbon). 

Inorganic pigments were traditionally made from natural earths such as the ochres and siennas, and the hard minerals such as azurite and lapis lazuli, plus metals such as cadmium, cobalt, iron, and zinc. They are more opaque, denser, and generally weaker in tints than organic pigments. 

Organic pigments were originally made from plant materials, such as root madder, or animal materials such as cochineal. Organics tend to be more transparent, lighter in weight, and higher in tinting strength. 

Synthetic pigments

Both organic and inorganic pigments can be manufactured artificially in the lab, and the resulting pigments are for the most part indistinguishable from their natural counterparts. 

So, for example, ultramarine is a synthetic replacement for the rare and expensive mineral lapis lazuli. The properties are identical, but the price has become so low that it's used in low cost children's paint. 

Light / Deep

When a color is called "light" or "deep," it doesn't only mean light or dark in value. It also has to do with the position on the hue circle. Cadmium yellow deep is more toward red, really orange, while cadmium yellow light is not only lighter in value but also more toward the green side of yellow. 

Convenience Colors / Hue

Some pigments are blended to make colors with familiar names such as “mauve” or "peacock blue." Convenience mixtures fill gaps by offering intermediate mixtures for which no pigment exists, such as phthalo yellow-green. In watercolor, Payne’s gray is a blue-black made from black and ultramarine or other blends. 

When a color is called a "hue," such as "cerulean blue hue," it's a color that resembles its expensive counterpart, but it's made of a blend of inexpensive ingredients.

Designers Colors

The term "designers color" has been used for a paint color that is meant to match a particular color note. A designers color is made to match not only a hue, but a particular tint or shade and a level of chroma or saturation. Designers colors are often mixed with white to result in colors like "pale rose blush" and "cobalt turquoise light." House paints and hobby acrylics frequently are formulated in this way because people use them right out of the bottle for a given use.

Nowadays most manufacturers of artists' pigments use pure pigments and let you do the adjusting, because you may not want the white in the mixture from the beginning. So if a pigment is naturally transparent, it will still be transparent, even in gouache. 

Permanent / Lightfast

The word “permanent” appears on many different art products, but it’s a confusing term. On some graphic art products, such as inks or felt-tipped markers, it really means “waterproof,” rather than “lightfast” (resistant to fading). Many calligraphy or fountain pen inks are not waterproof, but they’re reasonably lightfast, considering that most handwriting isn’t usually subjected to light for long periods.


Learn more:

Color terms explained on the website Handprint

Color of art pigment database listed by pigment numbers on website ArtisCreation

Signed copies of my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Did I get something wrong, or do you have something to add? Please let me know in the comments.

Article on Gradients in International Artist #142

Article on Gradients in International Artist #142

The new issue of International Artist Magazine features exercises and insights about painting smooth gradients, using watercolor washes, brayers, and stipple blends. 

Article on Gradients in International Artist #142

John Ruskin observed in his landmark book Modern Painters (1843) that a gradient color has the same relationship to a flat color as a curved line has to a straight line. He noted that nature contains movement of color both on the large and the small scale, even down to the smallest brushstroke or pebble: “Nature will not have one line nor color, nor one portion nor atom of space without a change in it. There is not one of her shadows, tints, or lines that is not in a state of perpetual variation.”

Article on Gradients in International Artist #142
Also included in the magazine are features on Brad Teare, Julia Albo, Natalia Karpman, Kristine Rapohina, Vanessa Rothe, and Anastasia Mily
You can get a copy from the publisher or get the video download

How Sacrificing Detail Can Add Mood

In a new YouTube video I show how I painted this moody morning scene in gouache by sacrificing detail and emphasizing light effects.

My goal is to capture a fleeing light effect by using a warm priming color to achieve a "photographic" lens flare. Halfway through, I paint over the whole thing with a glaze to reduce detail. The glaze is risky because gouache reactivates when it's rewet, and to be honest, it's kind of a disaster for a while.

Here are some takeaway quotes about the theory of sacrifices: 

“Nature instills sentiments in the spectator through the selective sacrifice of details in order to improve the overall effect.” 
--The Theory and Practice of Water Colour Painting: Elucidated in a Series of Letters

“Painters without experience often weaken the effect they wish to produce by a prodigality which multiplies uselessly the figures and accessories of a picture. It will not be long before they learn that, the greater the conciseness and simplicity with which a thought is interpreted, the more it gains in expressive force.” 

Mass Tone and Undertone

The appearance of a watercolor pigment as it comes out of the tube may be rather different from the way it looks when it is thinned with water.

Mass tone and undertone demo by Winsor & Newton

The tube color is called the mass tone (or masstone), and the color when thinned down is called the undertone.

For example, what inspired the color treatment on this sketch was the strange behavior of Azo green watercolor. It has a dull olive-green mass tone but the undertone is a rather strong yellow.

If you're not too familiar with the difference between mass tone and undertone, here's a short video by Winsor & Newton that demonstrates the difference.

A Whiter White Paint

Scientists at Purdue University have developed a white pigment that they say is significantly whiter than existing pigments. A surface looks white because it reflects back a diffuse version of most of the the light hitting it. 

This new pigment reflects back up to 98% of the sunlight, while commercially available white pigments only reflect back between 80 and 90 percent.

 A Whiter White Paint
Professor Xiulin Ruan with a sample of his "ultra-white" paint, courtesy BBC and Purdue

According to the BBC:

"The new paint contains a compound called barium sulfate, which is also used to make photo paper and cosmetics. 'We used a very high concentration of the compound particles,' explained Prof Ruan. 'And we use lots of different sizes of particles, because sunlight has different colours at the different wavelength.' How much each particle scatters light depends on its size, 'so we deliberately used different particle sizes to scatter each wavelength.'"

The new white pigment should be more reasonably affordable and available compared to the ultra black "Vantablack" or the new blue pigment that I mentioned in 2016.

It looks intriguing. I'd like to see how it looks next to Titanium or lead white. But I don't know how useful it would be to me as a painter because I almost always want to darken my lightest light and raise my darkest dark in a picture anyway. The challenge isn't pushing the absolute range of values but rather organizing the tones so that the picture makes sense.
Thanks, Joseph and Dan

Painting with Two Colors (Plus White)

Here's a great exercise to try: paint a snow scene with just ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, plus white gouache.  (Link to YouTube video)

Art teachers of the past have recommended this method for centuries.

Arthur Guptill said, "A rich effect can be obtained with only a limited palette. A warm and cool combination affords the student the best approach to his color problems, especially as they relate to outdoor sketching." 

In his book on the history of watercolor painting, E. Barnard Lintott said, "For a young student there cannot be a better way of entering upon the study of water colour than by rigorously banishing all but two colours from his palette. It is the best and surest way to the study of full colour. The colours should be a cold and warm one; cobalt blue and warm sienna—or Prussian blue and burnt sienna—are two combinations which lend themselves to a great variety of treatment."

I also used a tiny bit of Alizarin crimson

Get the full video
Gumroad (HD download or lifetime streaming)
Sellfy (HD download) 
Cubebrush (HD download) 
DVD direct from publisher 

YInMn Blue

YInMn Blue or Yin Min blue is a recently developed inorganic pigment, the first inorganic blue pigment discovered since cobalt blue was discovered in 1802. 

YInMn Blue

The pigment was accidentally discovered a decade ago by Professor M.A. Subramanian in Oregon. Composed of yttrium, indium, and manganese, it yields a blue pigment that is chemically stable, fade-proof, opaque and non-toxic. 

Because some of the ingredients are fairly rare, the patented pigment is still mostly inaccessible as an artist's color, but Gamblin has made a 164-tube limited run of the color for oil painters at a cost of $75 per tube. 

Professor Subramanian has experimented with other variations of the basic recipe, substituting some less expensive ingredients, and the result has been some additional colors, which also look promising.
 Is Opera Rose Fugitive?Unraveling Color Pigment TermsArticle on Gradients in International Artist #142How Sacrificing Detail Can Add MoodMass Tone and UndertoneHooker's GreenA Whiter White PaintPainting with Two Colors (Plus White)YInMn BlueThe Iron Triad

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