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.

The colour of joy is a mixed pigment

 

Over the past couple years I have primarily been focusing on watercolour as a medium, and building up my collection of watercolours one tube at a time.  I’ve been focusing on single-pigment colours, especially those rated “very lightfast” by independent testers. I now have quite a large selection of different colours, fairly well distributed around the colour wheel, yet I still felt like something was missing.

A couple of months ago, I was swatching out dot sheets by Schmincke.  I got to the colour “May Green” and squealed out loud.  It is such a lovely, happy green!  Of course, it was also a mixed pigment (PG151 and PG7) so I debated whether I should get it, since I could just mix it myself.

Around the same time, the single pigment Py117 Greenish Yellow by Holbein had caught my eye.  Although I love the colour, I was put off by Handprint’s review, which showed less-than-perfect lightfastness (Holbein ranks the lightfastness as “excellent”)

Greenish Yellow by Holbein (Py117) and May Green by Schmincke (PG7, PY151)
Two lovely yellowish greens. One has debatable lightfastness, the other is a convenience mix of two greens

I debated whether to buy these paints for a while.  I really, really wanted them, but my dogmatic side prevented me from pulling the trigger, until one day, while working on a coloured pencil piece, I noticed which pencils were worn down to stubs in each of my sets.  Without fail, it was all my yellowish greens in the light olive to bright spring green family.

Favourite greens in other media
Most used colours in other media (Neon Green by Prismacolour scanned teal for some reason, it actually is a neon yellow-green)

This should not come as a surprise.  A fun fact that few people know about me is that I have synaesthesia.  In fact, I only found out a few years ago that I have it.

Synaesthesia is a quirk in brain wiring that affects something like 3% of the population – causing different senses or concepts to be associated/linked in unusual ways.  When I first read about synaesthesia, the article used some examples that seemed really foreign and crazy to me, such as one person who has shape-smell synaesthesia (ie- cubes smell like carrots, etc), and another who uses her number-depth synaesthesia as a way to perform complex arithmetic really quickly by “balancing” distances.  I was kind of jealous that other people  had these crazy, weird superpowers when my brain was just normal (or so I thought).

The second time I read about synaesthesia was in a much more in-depth article that gave examples of more common types of synaesthesia.  This time I was very confused, because several of the examples given were things that I do experience.  For example, as I am writing this in my cold basement, my fingers feel a very nearly white, icy blue, whereas my arms and hands are more of a teal.   I have temperature-colour synaesthesia.  Since I’ve experienced temperatures as colours as long as I can remember, I have trouble imagining the concept of a warm day that is NOT orange-yellow,  or of cold fingers that are not icy blue.  I thought, since people often discuss the concept of warm vs. cool colours, and that water taps are labelled with blue/red, that this was the universal experience of temperature (although I always did find it odd that the cold tap is labelled with ultramarine, which is most definitely not the “cold” blue).

In fact, I have many types of experience/colour synaesthesia.  Among other things, I experience emotions as colours, some kinds of sounds have colour associations,  people have colour associations.

 

Testing Greens
“Joy” and “Self” greens in various media

 

Notably, my colour association for the emotion “Joy” is a bright, spring green, nearly a perfect match for Schmincke’s May Green watercolour.  You can see similar examples in the top row of the swatches of my most used/favourite colours in other media below.   No surprise then, that my reaction to painting it out was so giddy. (Again, ignore Prismacolor’s neon green.  It is neon green, not teal)

On the second row of swatches are some more olive yellow-greens.  These are all near matches for the colour I associate with myself.  The truest match for “Lee Green” is between Faber Castell Polychromos May Green, and Lyra Polycolor Apple Green.  Holbein’s Greenish Yellow is among the closest single pigment watercolours, although a little too muted and yellow.  Daniel Smith’s Serpentine Genuine (from the Primatek line) is also fairly close, but a little too cool, and not as transparent as I often want.

So, needless to say I bought both of the watercolour paints.  I will conduct independant lightfastness tests for the Holbein paint, but even if I am not satisfied it will have a place in my travel/sketch palette.  May Green may be a mixed pigment, but Joy should always be available in my palette.

I hope you will all join me in hoping for more single pigment greens to be discovered and developed for watercolour!

 

Watercolour Palette Tour 2017 – Teaser

Whew, I haven’t blogged in a really long time.  I’m eager to get back to it.

I’ve made a number of changes to my palettes since my last colourholics post last year.    Recently, I set up a “complete” studio palette in  a tin of half-pans of all of the watercolour paints I regularly use  (it claims to hold 48 – I haven’t filled up the 52 I crammed in there yet and I think I could find a way to fit a few more in the brush well) , and repurposed one of my old 24-half pan tins to hold my 14 most commonly used pigments in full pans.

Soon after creating my 14-colour “greatest hits” set, I received some freebie dot cards from Schmincke.  One of the samples was  a 12-colour dot card.  These are the colours they include in their filled version of the same tin.  I couldn’t resist painting out the comparison.  The results are a reminder of how far I’ve drifted in only a couple of years, when I used to use sets much like this one.

The top row in the dot card below are the colours in the Schmincke 12 colour set.  The ones in the bottom row and middle are the 14 colours I’ve recently put in the same tin.

Paint Palette
Comparison of Schmincke 12 paint set vs. my top 14.

The colours in the Schmincke 12-colour basic set are:

Lemon Yellow 215 (PY3)
Cadmium Yellow Light 224 (PY35)
Cadmium Red Light 349 (PR108)
Permanent Carmine 353 (PV19)
Ultramarine Finest 494 (PB29)
Prussian Blue 492 (PB27)
Phthalo Green 519 (PG7)
Permanent Green Olive 534 (PO62, PG7)
Yellow Ochre 655 (PY42)
English Venetian Red 649 (PR101)
Sepia Brown 663 (PBr7, PBk9, PB15:1)
Ivory Black 780 (PBk9)

My set contains the following (the starred items are the most permanent fixtures)

Nickel Azo Yellow (Py150, M. Graham)*
Quinacridone Gold (PO49, Daniel Smith)
Translucent Orange (P071, Schmincke)
Quinacridone Rust (P048, M. Graham)*
Quinacridone Rose (PV19, M. Graham)*
Purple Magenta (PV122, Schmincke)*
Neutral Tint (PV19, PG7 M. Graham)
Indanthrone Blue (PB60, Daniel Smith)*
Prussian Blue (PB27, M. Graham)*
Phthalo Turquoise (PB16, Winsor and Newton)*
Amazonite Genuine (n/a, Daniel Smith Primatek)*
Serpentine Genuine (n/a, Daniel Smith Primatek)*
Burnt Sienna (PBr7, M. Graham)
Raw Umber (PBr7, Daniel Smith)*

I find this comparison a rather hilarious reminder of how far I’ve come.  I much prefer my colours (of course).  They are overall much more transparent, more saturated and darkly valued, and are far more chromatic in the magenta and turquoise ranges.  I love turquoise.  Over the course of the past 2 years, I have very effectively gamut shifted from a beginner set like this one to something I find more attractive and fun to work with.

The colours in the Schmincke 12-paint set (and most 12-colour sets like it) remind me quite a bit of the basic box of crayola crayons or pencils.  This is not a criticism of Schmincke paints, as this is the impression I get from most basic colour sets across manufacturers.  The highest chroma “primary colours”  included are the yellow, blue and red we are familiar with from kindergarden – a highlighter yellow (Py3), an opaqueish orangey red (PR108), and a very violet blue (PB29).

The magenta tone in the Schmincke set (PV19) is still quite a warm rose, and relatively muted – there is no way to use this set to mix nice violets and magentas. It’s a shame, as Schmincke manufactures an amazing pure magenta (PR122 Purple Magenta) which would really round this set out.  Even a less muted, cooler variant of PV19 (Schmincke has a few) could be used.  Similarly, the greenish blue spot is occupied by PB27 Prussian Blue.  I actually quite like Prussian blue (and have included M. Graham PB27 in my own set), but the Schmincke version  is particularly muted, and I would like to see a high chroma  turquoise-slanted blue, such as a PB15:3 Phthalo Blue or  PB16 Phthalo Turquoise (my personal favourite) in that spot.

As with most beginner sets, the Schmincke set has a black watercolour as well as a mixed dark containing black.  As most artists, the first thing I do when I buy a set is chuck the black/white and replace it with a personal favourite.  The earth tones – a yellow ochre and “English Venetian red” a brownish brick red made from PR101, are a somewhat surprising choice.  I actually quite like the venetian red but I think I would prefer a PBr7 in this set, to mix neutrals with the Ultramarine Finest.  I don’t like the yellow ochre, and would prefer something livelier and more transparent.

I also got some larger dot cards from Schmincke with my order, which I will review in a later post.  I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different watercolours, and it’s renewed my confidence and love for the pigments I’ve chosen for my own palettes.  I look forward to sharing my full palette tour and colour swatches with you soon.

 

 

Drawing carrots that look even better than real carrots

Carrots that look even better than real carrots

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about defining my own personal style in art.  I know a few things – I strive for fairly accurate, realistic art.  However, I do not like my art to be too delicate or technical.  I really like quirky subjects, bold contrasts and colour.

The past few weeks, I’ve been working on painting carrots. Orange carrots are boring, so I’ve added in carrots that are purple, green and yellow to make a spectrum – a literal rainbow of carrots.   This was originally intended to be an assignment for the SBA diploma course in coloured pencil, but after some initial sketches and colour swatches, I decided to complete it as a personal project in watercolour instead.  I think it will look great on greeting cards for spring.

Carrots that look even better than real carrots
Taste the (Heirloom Carrot) Rainbow – Work in progress

I’ve been focused on showcasing the things that make heirloom carrots unique.  I’ve chosen the most colourful carrots.  I’ve been drawing them under a warm light and bumped up the colour saturation and contrast just enough to make the rainbow pop.  Carrots are knobbly root vegetables, and I’ve spent time developing all of the bumps and blemishes and hairs to make them extra carroty.

The whole time, the sentence  “She drew carrots that look even better than real carrots” has been running through my head.  It’s an adaptation of a line from an old favourite children’s book appropriately named Purple, Green, and Yellow, by Robert Munsch.  The main character, Bridget, collects hundreds and thousands of markers, which she uses to draw “roses that look even better than real roses, oranges that look even better than real oranges”, until she gets bored and draws all over herself.

I decided I was going to be an illustrator when I was very little. One of the first things to spark my interest in illustration were the wonderful illustrations in the children’s books my parents read to me.  Robert Munsch took up much of our library, perhaps because his characters reminded my parents so much of our own family.  Michael Martchenko‘s illustrations of Munsch and his kids in Something Good are a comically accurate caricature of my own dad and siblings, from the mannerisms to the eyebrows.

The character who I identified most with was not any of the kids in Something Good, however. I was most like Bridget, the little artist who uses her collection of 500 permanent markers to draw on herself in Purple, Green and Yellow

I’m still that little girl in many ways.  I don’t have quite 500 indelible markers (only about 50 Copics) but my collection of coloured pencils might soon exceed 500.  I also hoard other art supplies – a few dozen tubes of watercolour paint (including sparkly amethyst coloured paint made from REAL amethysts), pens, watersoluble crayons, ink, graphite…

I don’t often use them to colour on myself anymore, but “carrots that look even better than real carrots” is very much an accurate summary of what I try to achieve with my work.  I don’t know if I’ll ever quite hit the mark, but I hope to be able to draw, say, carrots, in a way that makes you want to pick the carrot off the page and bite into it, even more so that a real carrot.

IMG_4120
You can juuust see the edge of a real carrot I am using for reference in this shot, how am I doing?