Colorful Fridays–Incredible Inedible Yellow Reds

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There is no blue without yellow and orange.”  Vincent Van Gogh (from Brainyquote)

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters preferred heavy applications of opaque paints.  Among the favored paints of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were the cadmium family of yellows, reds and oranges.  The cadmiums make rich, strong dominant colors in any painting.  Fears of toxicity with the cadmiums have limited their use for many artists.  However, some minor precautions will prevent the harmful effects of the cadmiums allowing artists to make use of these paints without concern.

The cadmiums are toxic only if you eat them or inhale them.  Chances of toxicity through the skin are limited but you probably wouldn’t want to paint yourself with them either.  One source says a potential point of toxicity is smoking with cadmium paint on your fingers.  The paint absorbs into the cigarette facilitating inhaling the paint into the lungs where it becomes carcinogenic.  Best not smoke and paint at the same time.  (Well, best not smoke at all but who’s lecturing!)  If mixing dry paint pigments, wear an appropriate mask.  If you are concerned with the toxicity, paint with colors labeled “hue” as in cadmium yellow hue.  These are entirely free of the cadmium toxins.  Listed below are links to safety sites with more information.

Taking proper precautions with the cadmiums will enable their use in myriad ways.  Gary Bolyer on his website lists two important points to success with the cadmiums.  First use only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light.  Secondly, refrain from mixing the cadmiums with white.  Mixing with white will result in chalky, diluted colors.  (Follow the link to Boyler’s site for more success with the cadmiums).  Gamblin says cadmium yellow was preferred by Claude Monet because of its higher chroma and its greater purity of color.  There is more at Gamblin’s site, as well.

Rumor has it that Vincent Van Gogh’s problems were the result of the use of the cadmiums.  According to the rumor, Vincent had a habit of holding his cadmium paint saturated brushes in his mouth.  So if you don’t want to go off the deep end and cut your ear off, keep the cadmiums out of your mouth.  Don’t smoke them either.  Otherwise, you can enjoy the regular use of these beautifully rich opaque reds, yellows and oranges profusely in all your paintings.

Safety links:

Princeton Artists Safety


Draw Mix Paint Forum

Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Les Alyscamps” with lots of yellows, reds and oranges!

Seeing is believing!

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)


The role of many artists is to bring to life for others the subjects that move the artist.  In the bringing to life of the subject, the artist sees things others frequently miss.  The artist seeks to portray those sparks and bits of emotion that might otherwise be missed but for artistic expression and in the process create memorable art.

Edgar Degas brought to life the world of ballet in late nineteenth century Paris.  His beautiful portrayals of dancers are beloved the world over.  His sculpture, “The Little Ballerina, aged Fourteen,” is perhaps one of the better known sculptures from the Impressionist period.  But his painting of “The Absinthe Drinkers” depicts the despair and hopelessness of these people in a way that might be missed by the average person if it not for the hand of the artist.  The dancers are paintings of lightness and beauty.  The drinkers are sad and depressing yet the painting is quite beautiful.  Degas took a sad scene and made it a beautiful work of art and in the process forces us to look at the painful life of a group of people with little lightness and joy in their world.  The artist has made us see people we might have been inclined to pass by without acknowledging.

Robert Thompson of The Art of has an article on the website titled: “Where do you find art?”  The article points out how a beautiful photograph of snow shoes tells  a deeper story behind the photo.   The photographer has portrayed something in these simple snowshoes that leads us to want to know more about the story behind the shoes.  We might ask the question, “Why are those shoes there and where have they been?” The artist has made us see something we might otherwise not see.  And in seeing we learn an amazing story of survival against unbelievable odds.

Artist Luke Roland asks the question, “What do you see when you look at a blank canvas?”  He asks artists to think about what excites them, what do they want the world to see.  Roland directs artists “to do something worth remembering.”  The artist puts on the canvas what excites him/her.  That excitement comes through into the painting giving the art that unmistakable quality that makes the artwork “worth remembering.”  Sparks of excitement create a vision we might not otherwise have seen and now will not forget.

The great master, Edgar Degas, through his art, made us see the lyrical beauty and the behind the scenes work of ballet.  He also enlightened us to the ugly reality of absinthe drinkers.  Robert Thompson gave us snowshoes and made us see a story of survival.  Luke Roland encourages artists to go for what excites them and put it on canvas.  Artists who heed these words of experience will perhaps be able to make others “see” beauty and sadness, a story behind an artwork, and the excitement that makes art worth remembering.  Isn’t that why we paint?  We want others to see what we see.

Over 100 of Degas’ art can been seen at The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA.


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For more on “The Little Dancer, aged Fourteen” here is a lecture from The Norton Simon Museum on the subject.

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