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”)
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.
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.
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!