Click the links for a look back at the main reds used by most artists, for a bit of history and a few tips.
“Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.” Pablo Picasso
Colorful Fridays has reached a turning point where the majority of single colors have been covered. Colorful Fridays will begin color mixes after recapping the colors we have covered. Here are the yellows:
Colorful Fridays is off at the Double Decker Festival in Oxford, Mississippi. Here is a return to the first Colorful Friday. See you next Friday!
“Like emotions, colours are a reflection of life.” – Janice Glennaway (from Irene Osborne)
Most greens fall into the yellow spectrum following the colors of leaves, grass and other growing things of the natural world. These greens usually produce a nice mud color if mixed with red. The discovery of Viridian green changed that, creating a clear bluish green perfect for cooler uses and making a better glazing green. Mixed with alizarin crimson, viridian makes a beautiful grey, similar to Payne’s grey. Viridian next to red creates an energetic drama.
In the early nineteenth century, painters began looking for a less toxic green than the highly toxic emerald green. Painting Through the Ages states that viridian is Chromium oxide Dihydrate and was first patented in 1859 by Guignet of Paris. It quickly became a widely used color. So popular now it is even seen in the paint of cars…
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“But, luckily, he kept his wits and his purple crayon.” From Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) (from Sensationalcolor.com)
If you want to know more about this deep rich clear purple, look to the artists. Only the artists have an appreciation for this purest purple. Dioxazine Purple is a mainstay for today’s flower and nature painting but is little known outside of artsy circles. Some users of printer’s ink may have a basic knowledge of Dioxazine Purple. But to find more about Dioxazine Purple, ask the artists who know.
Liz Powley of Inspired Gumnut has most of the background scoop on Dioxazine Purple. According to Powley, Dioxazine Purple is a derivative of coal tar and was discovered by two Carls, Graebe and Glaser, in 1872. Carbazole is the extracted chemical’s name used to create this luscious, velvety purple. (Maybe they should have called it Carl-bazole??). Most makers of artist’s paint have this purple listed as Dioxazine Purple except Daniel Smith. Daniel Smith’s lists Carbazole Violet as a purple with, “intense,vibrant color,” and it “can invent an iris petal with each stroke.”
Color Curriculum from the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), features an article by Carolyn Payzant on the properties of Dioxazine Purple. Payzant describes Dioxazine Purple as, “one of the bluest shades of violet,”and says, “it mixes well with most any pigment.” Elizabeth Floyd, on her website, says Dioxazine Purple, “is a strong staining purple that can go a little crazy at times.” Floyd advises caution by starting with a small amount of paint on the brush as, “a little goes a long way.”
Fans of intense purples can be grateful to the Two Carls whose experimentation led to artistic abilities of reaching the highest of purple peaks. If the intensity and vibration of rich Dioxizine Purple becomes overwhelming, Zazzle.com offers a Dioxazine Purple mousepad with the admonishing words, “Keep Calm and Carry on.” If you find yourself overwhelmed by a wave of purple fury during an intense session of inventing iris petals, simply look down at your Dioxazine Purple mouse pad, take a deep breath, keep calm and carry on.
Here’s a demonstration of Dioxazine Purple by Liquitex:
“Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.” James McNeil Whistler
In the nineteenth century, the color mauve became all the rage in more than one country, so much so that the 1890’s were called The Mauve Decade, in a book by Thomas Beer. The rage started with two royal ladies, Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugenie of France. Queen Victoria wore a dress in Mauve to her daughter’s wedding setting off one rage. Empress Eugenie declared Mauve was the color of her eyes setting off another rage. But Mauve’s beginning came about in a scientific experiment gone wrong.
A young chemist named William Henry Perkin in 1856 was experimenting with chemicals working to produce artificial quinine. He was unsuccessful at the quinine but his experiments produced a residue with an unexpected tint. That tint later became known as Perkin’s Mauve and was the first synthetic dye. Perkins left his chemistry studies to initiate the development of the synthetic dye industry. Perkins Mauve was derived from coal tar. Some sources give the origin of the name as from the French word for the mallow plant, malva. The mallow flowers are a color similar to what is now known as mauve.
Mauve rages come and go. Mauve goes into favor and out again. Sometimes mauve returns disguised as a “new” color. Pantone’s color of the year, Radiant Orchid, looks more than a bit like a dressed up version of Mauve. Another Mauve will eventually replace the current Radiant Orchid and Mauve will be recycled again. Mauve as an artist’s paint color lives mainly with botanical painters.
I can’t help thinking of Mauve as a popular color for dresses worn by my grandmother and her friends. Its difficult to get excited about a color that brings up pictures of old ladies in dusty pinkish purple dresses, white gloves and dainty hats, sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Unfair maybe, but shutting down that visual is just impossible.
“Red is the ultimate cure for sadness.” Bill Blass (from Brainyquote.com)
The very-expensive, highly-toxic Vermilion red was replaced by the lesser expensive and less toxic Cadmium reds in artist’s palettes in the nineteenth century. Less toxic and less expensive was less than perfect so the search for the perfect red continued. Eventually, chemists came up with a fairly good substitution for Vermilion and Cadmium. Naphthol Red was born in a chemistry lab as a derivative of coal tar.
Just Paint on the Golden Paints website describes Naphthol Red as, “bright, opaque, fire engine red.” Gamblin’s website says Naphthol Red is a, “modern organic, warm red that closely matches Cadmium Red Medium,” though Naphthol Red “makes more intense tints” and is “more transparent.” Gamblin also reports Naphthol Red is “excellent for high key painting.” AArbor Colorants recommends Naphthol Red for printing inks and gives it an excellent light fastness rating. Some sources report Naphthol Red as fading in tints. Confirmation of this claim was not confirmable so tests may be in order.
Naphthol Red does not have the toxic properties of Vermilion and the Cadmiums and is considerably less expensive. The Material Safety Data Sheets give Naphthol Red a very low toxicity rating. The MSDS says Naphthol Red may cause some mild skin irritation, nausea if consumed, or respiratory irritation if inhaled. Contact in large amounts could be more toxic.
If in need of a bright intense fire engine red, Naphthol Red may fit the bill, especially if you don’t want to shell out a lot of money. Just don’t have the Naphthol Red for dinner or add it to body lotion. It’s probably not a good idea to set any dried pigment around a fan either. Otherwise, Naphthol red can be a palette staple as a strong clear red without fear of damage to health or wallet.
“A good painter needs only three colors, black, white and red.” Titian (from The Painter’s Keys)
Older than Ultramarine from Lapis Lazuli, probably as old as ivory Black, the warm orange-red known as Vermilion has ancient roots. From Chinese laquerware to the villas of Pompeii to illuminated manuscripts and more, Vermilion was the red anchor of artist’s palettes up to the nineteenth century where it was replaced by the less toxic cadmium red. Other less expensive reds were made from clay and similar “earth” sources but these lacked the depth, richness and opaqueness of Vermilion. Vermilion was the red favored by Titian.
The mineral cinnabar, primarily derived from mines in Spain has long been the main source of true Vermilion. The breakdown of cinnabar reveals the main component as the highly toxic mercury. Despite the toxicity, Vermilion remained the red of choice for artists who could afford it, for centuries. Vermillion is also used in the ceremonies and symbolism of several major religions. Today’s Vermilions are entirely synthetic without a trace of mercury.
Vermilion is so named from its similarity to a red dye made from an insect, kermes vermilio. Other sources claim the name Vermilion is from the Latin word, vermiculus, for the small worm known as vermis, also used for red dye. Maybe the worm, vermis, is actually the insect kermes verilio. It could possibly be a wormy, red insect used for the dye. Whether named for the vermis worm or the buggy verilio, Vermilion, the paint, was still made from the expensive, highly toxic, mercury-laden mineral, cinnabar.
Why couldn’t all those brilliant medieval Illuminated manuscript artists conceive of a way to make paint from the wormy, red insect dye instead of the highly toxic expensive mineral? Maybe they weren’t all that illuminated, after all. Its probably best to stick with Cadmium Red and avoid wormy, red insects altogether.
“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the cat is going somewhere.” Groucho Marx
Artists are divided on the use of black in painting. Many artists prefer to mix black from complementary colors believing this mix to have more depth than actual black from a tube. Some artists use no black at all. Rembrandt used black heavily in all of his paintings. Impressionists used very little. The most common and widely used black is Ivory Black. Ivory Black, in some form, has been available to artists for centuries.
The other name for Ivory Black is Bone Black. Rembrandt referred to the black he used as Bone Black. Both blacks are one and the same. This black can also be known in some places as Char Black or Bone Char. The obvious reason for the name of this black is the source. It was originally made from burning animal bones to charcoal using the powder residual as pigment. Early versions were made from the charcoal of ivory, thus the name Ivory Black. Ivory Black has not been made from burning ivory since the nineteenth century. The original Ivory Black was almost as expensive as the Ultramarine Blue made from Lapis Lazuli.
Gamblin’s website reports “Ivory Black is a good, all-purpose black,” but cautions that its use in a painting may cause the painting to look grey. Gamblin also says Ivory Black has good transparency and mild tinting strength. According to other sources, the use of black will create flatness in a painting. Ivory Black or any black may not be a good choice where more fullness is wanted in a painting.
To use or not use black in a palette is a personal choice for artists. The idea of painting anything out of animal bones may be a bit trying on the nerves. All current sources for Ivory Black say animals used for Ivory Black have died of natural causes. Maybe that helps! Still for those wishing to use black without the burned bone thing may prefer to mix their own blacks. Some say Pthalo green and Alizarin Crimson make a nice black. As do Viridian and Alizarin. And these mixes have a greater depth without the flatness of plain black.
Basic black comes in many forms. For depth, use the mixes. For flat black, go with Ivory Black from the tube. The choice depends on the artist. But it is still basically better to stay out of the path of the black cat unless wishing to press your luck.
More Rembrandt, (because you can never have too much!):
note: painting image is a licensed free use image
“I cannot pretend to be impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns” Winston Churchill (from Sensationalcolor.com)
Warning to fans of Burnt Umber: this will not be pretty. Treatises on Burnt Umber tend to be generally polite and seldom stoop to name calling, however unflattering they may be. Occasionally, a fan may make a positive statement on the warmth of browns made with Burnt Umber. The most prolific use appears to be in under-painting. But there in lies the problem. Burnt Umber’s negative qualities can have a profound effect on an overall painting if used in the under-painting without proper precautions.
The name derives either from the Italian region of Umbria where the clay for the browns known as Raw Umber and Burnt Umber was first extracted or for the Latin word for shade, Umbra. Burnt Umber is the same pigment as Raw Umber that has been fired to achieve the darker brown. Sources describe Burnt Umber as a warm brown with reddish purple undertones. For watercolorists, burnt umber is hydroscopic and will hold water, according to Real Colorwheel, which can allow mold to set in. Yuck! Who wants a moldy painting? Well, maybe someone might but I can’t imagine why. Proper precautions with sealants will prevent this problem.
One paint maker advises oil painters that burnt umber be used in thin layers because of high oil content. Instead of moldy, the painting is now oily. Oily may be marginally better than moldy, maybe. The best overall take down of burnt umber comes from The Painter’s Log of Timothy Joseph Allen at American Artist in Rome.com. Allen’s post is titled, “Is Burnt Umber Evil? Allen spoke with pigment supplier, Kremer Pigmente and others about the problem of Burnt Umber. From Kremer he received the advisement, paraphrased by Allen, not to use burnt umbers because they “creep to the surface.” After researching the issue and discussing it with other authorities, Allen chooses not to make the final judgment that Burnt Umber is actually evil but has decided to experiment with mixing new browns anyway.
Essential Vermeer.com has a more positive description of Burnt Umber. Essential Vermeer says the pigment is derived from manganese oxide and iron hydroxide, the basic elements of clay. The website states burnt Umber became the favored paint for the creating the shadows in flesh tones by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens replacing the green previously used. Nothing evil in those Masters. They evidently knew how to tame the evilness.
Burnt Umber is a rich warm dark brown. Its uses are many when armed with the necessary knowledge. Some may choose to go that route. Others may tame the oily problem for oil painters and the moldy problem for watercolorists. No word on taming the creepiness. If not interested in dealing with the mold, oil, or creepiness, just go for Van Dyke brown or mix a new brown. Or go for no brown at all.