The search for transparent yellow

I’ve realised that not only am I generally a fan of transparent,non-granulating pigments in watercolour, I am particularly fussy about this preference when it comes to yellows.  I can enjoy a fair bit of granulation and opacity in mossy greens and browns (great for adding visual weight to heavy foliage, bark and rocks).  The opacity of Cobalt Teal is what gives it that absolutely yummy irresistible bright colour in the pan.  Softly granulating, semi-opaque manganese and cobalt violets are great for laying in shadows, and even one of my favourite primaries, Purple Magenta (PR122) is far from transparent.  But even the smallest hint of milkyness in my yellows makes me gag.  In my ideal world- all yellows would be like clear, pure liquid sunshine.

This is a stroke of terrible luck on my part.  Whereas transparent pigments abound in some sections of the colour wheel – there’s a transparent, non-granulating phthalo pigment for every shade of blue-green you can imagine, transparent yellows are few and far between – the most common yellows being opaque cadmiums or semi-transparent azo and hansa pigments.

As a result, for the past year, I have basically used one yellow pigment, PY150 (Nickel Azo Yellow or Transparent Yellow) for all my yellow needs. I do also use small amounts of Green Gold (PY129) and Quinacridone Gold (PO49), which are arguably also part of the yellow family, but PY150 is the only “true”  yellow I have used in a painting in the past year.

Nickel Azo
My single yellow – PY150 Nickel Azo Yellow by M. Graham

As an unapologetic pigment magpie – at last count I had 15 blues in my half-pan palette, most of which I find a use for regularly, my yellow section has been relatively anemic.  I do keep some Hansa Yellows PY3 and PY97 I tried and never took to, along with my trusty PY150.  On somebody’s recommendation, at one point I also bought M. Graham’s PY110 Indian Yellow, which is a lovely colour, but also rarely used (and really more of a yellowish-orange, IMO).

Apart from an impulse to try ALL the things, having only one yellow I regularly use hasn’t been much of a problem.  As a botanical artist – I primarily use yellow to mix greens for leaves. PY150 is very close to a primary yellow in tints, and I have so many blues and greens I can easily mix any green I could imagine with only the one real yellow.

However, the trouble with PY150 as a sole yellow comes when rendering pure yellow subjects such as flowers.  Transparent pigments are darker in masstone – in the case of PY150, this masstone shifts to a greenish-brownish sludgy colour I like to refer to as “birdshit brown”.  In rendering leafy subjects, this is never a problem, as this colour works with the shadows.  However, pure yellow flowers often want similarly “clean”  shadows in a warmer orange colour or a cleaner greenish one.  So a few months ago, I started once again feeling the itch to try exploring alternative yellow pigments.

Reading up on pigments, I became very curious about PY153 Nickel Dioxine Yellow, often sold as “Indian Yellow”  or “New Gamboge” up until 2012 or so.  It is described as transparent, non-granulating marigold yellow in masstone fading out to a warm primary yellow in tints.

Manufacturing of PY153 ceased a couple years before I started painting in watercolour. Most lines have since discontinued  the once popular PY153, but a few brands still use it and of course there’s some older tubes still floating around.  I decided to try to find as much PY153 while I could, and stock up if I liked it.

From Jackson’s Art Supplies in the UK – I ordered two PY153 paints.  Sennelier Yellow Light, still made with single pigment PY153, is an oddball formulation that is much lighter/greener than the Indian Yellow/New Gamboge usually associated with the pigment.  I also ordered Jackson’s own brand Indian Yellow, which claims to be made with PY153.  I actually question whether this is true – Jackson’s brand is also made by Sennelier, who a few years ago reformulated their own Indian Yellow to be a mix of PY153 with PY154.  However I will trust the label, as it is possible that it is older stock, or that Sennelier is still making paint they resell to other labels with the old formula.

I also wanted to try some of the popular, discontinued Winsor Newton PY153.  Luckily for me, I live in a smallish town – large enough to have art stores, small enough that their stock turnover rate is extremely slow, and was also able to get my hands on some Winsor Newton Indian Yellow made with single-pigment PY153.  Winsor Newton also apparently sold PY153 as New Gamboge, although I could not find any left over in the local shops.

IndianYellow
Comparison of “Transparent” Yellows  – 3 Formulations of PY153,  3 Indian Yellows, PY150

In this way, I’ve managed to collect 3 different formulations of PY153.  I also, rather confusingly, now have 3 paints named “Indian Yellow”.  In the test swatch above, I’ve painted out Sennelier Yellow Lt (PY153),  MG Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150), Winsor Newton’s old formula Indian Yellow (PY153), Jackson’s Indian Yellow (PY153) and MG Indian Yellow (PY110)

On the bottom line I glazed all the yellows over Winsor Blue GS – clearly I didn’t let the latter dry long enough as it bled into the yellow paints.  It is a hot, humid day here.

My results were somewhat mixed, and I feel somewhat foolish for spending a whole bunch of money on yellows when really I’m happy painting with PY150 99% of the time

PY153 Sennelier Yellow Light (Sennelier)  is a beautiful pure yellow colour, just to the lemon side of primary.  It would make a good addition to my palette, but it really isn’t transparent.  You can see the yellow over the top black line.  Also, annoyingly, it is less transparent when wet, which really adds to my gaggy reaction painting with yellow milk.  That said, for those who don’t have such an illogical response to non-transparent yellows, it is a pretty colour.

PY150 Nickel Azo Yellow (M. Graham) remains my favourite yellow.  The birdshit brown really doesn’t look so bad unless it’s REALLY concentrated, and it makes a beautiful variety of greens and oranges in mixes.  I would probably still choose to paint most things with this.

PY153 Indian Yellow (Winsor Newton) This is my favourite of the PY153 paints (and of the paints named Indian Yellow).  It is the most transparent and the most chromatic of these groups, although still less than PY150 – ranging from a golden orange to a beautiful marigold yellow, down to a buttery colour in tints.  It is really too bad this is discontinued.  I’ve managed to get my hands on 2 5mL tubes.  I can see reaching for this paint to paint warm yellow flowers such as sunflowers or black-eyed susans, where it would capture both the body colour and midtone shadows perfectly.

PY153 Indian Yellow (Jackson’s) This is similar to the WN paint but slightly less transparent and slightly less chromatic.  I don’t know if this is down to the paint manufacturing, or whether the Jackson’s tube is incorrectly also contains the less transparent PY154.  On the brighter side, it is about a quarter the price, not discontinued, and comes in massive 21 mL tubes – a couple of those should last a lifetime.  If you are less fussy about transparency, it’s a nice colour.

PY110 Indian Yellow (M. Graham) Although my scanner is exaggerating, this really is more of an orange than a pure yellow, although it does make a nice golden glaze.

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