Colorful Friday–Photographic Shadowy Earth Brown

Van Dyck

“It is not the form that dictates the color, but the color that brings out the form.”  Hans Hoffman  (from Brainyquote)

The deep rich brown known as Van Dyck Brown is both a paint color and a photographic process.  The name is derived from the paintings of early seventeenth century painter Anthony Van Dyck.  Van Dyck was a prolific portrait painter whose talents were nurtured by mentors and fellow Flemish painters, Rubens and Frans Haals.  Van Dyck’s portraits are noted for the rich brown shadows present in all.  Van Dyck’s portraits were very popular and sought after by the royalty of England and France.  Van Dyck spent time in commissions for the Pope and the nobility of Italy.  Van Dyck achieved great financial success and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle but died at the age of 42.

According to Winsor-Newton, Van Dyck Brown is an earth pigment and can vary greatly between brands.  Testing of brands is advised.  Winsor Newton states Van Dyck Brown was, “Originally made from a lignite or bituminous earth containing iron oxide found in Kassel or Cologne, Germany, it was known as Cassel Earth and Cologne Earth,” and is permanent, lightfast and transparent.”  Stories differ as when the name officially changed but was sometime before the mid-nineteenth century.

A photographic process known as Van Dyck Brown Print Process was developed in 1842 by British astronomer, Sir John Herschel.  The process is named for the print color similarity to the paint color.  The ingredients for the process can be obtained for those adventurous enough to try this on their own.  A video is linked below on the process.  Van Dyck Brown prints are an ethereal haunting brown very different from the bluer prints of traditional printing.

With Van Dyck Brown beautiful, striking shadows are a breeze.  Or in photography, ghostly, mysterious effects can be created in the processing to achieve a sense of other-worldliness.  Van Dyck Brown does not appear to have the problems of Burnt Umber, so go ahead, pour it own.  However, caution is advised.  A little bit of shadowy mystery could easily become a large bit of depression.

Colorful Fridays–Berry, Berry Grass Green

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“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

Pedro Calderon de la Barca  (from the

The perfect green for the leaves of the trees and the grass of the fields has a name that misleads.  Sap green was not made from the sap of trees or leaves or grass.   Berry green would have been a more appropriate name.  More precisely, sap green was made from buckthorn berries and stored in animal bladders.  Why animal bladders?  Beats me!  For some reason, bladders seemed better than jars to these early makers of sap green, perhaps because at the time this green was known as verde de vescica.  (Since my knowledge of animal bladders and what they have to do with paint, is limited, we will move on.)  It is an old paint color and early painters of illuminated manuscripts considered it part of the four primary colors needed in their work.  Red, yellow, blue and green were the primary colors of these artists.  Sap green was the primary green.  Unfortunately, the early sap greens were not lightfast as they are now.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 8.32.44 PMIf you would like to make your own sap green, the blog, Medieval Whimsies, takes us through the process of identifying the different varieties of buckthorn plants growing in North America, Europe and Asia today.  The writer is planning to make a personal supply of sap green and is gathering berries from different buckthorn shrubs to make a determination as to which shrub’s berries make the best sap greens.  So far step one is all that is posted and we will have to stay tuned to find out what the outcome was.  In the meantime, you’re on your own with the berries but the blog has nice pictures (shown right) of the plant and the various berries to help you identify each.  There is no mention of where to find the animal bladders.  I guess you are on your own with that, too! describes Winslow Homer’s use of Hooker’s green and sap green in his wonderful landscapes.  Homer’s The Blue Boat is featured on the website and is a great example of the lovely green grass that can be made with mixtures of sap green. claims to have found the perfect “luscious” mix of sap green using Schmincke sap green and Schmincke translucent orange for richgrass and moss.  Gamblin states sap green warms nicely when mixed with Hansa Yellow and cools nicely with any of the blues.

Daniel Smith’s website describes techniques for using sap green’s staining ability in paintings.  Removing sap green from a painting, whether in oil or watercolor, leaves a green stain behind that creates many different wonderful effects.  This staining ability is the main reason sap green is favored in the layers needed for glazes in botanical painting.  Daniel Smith’s description goes on to point out which color mixes will make the best deep shadowy forest greens or the more olive tones of mossy greens.

Sap green is a must have in all paint boxes, especially for landscape painters.  Whether or not you make your own pigment, sap green is essential for wonderful lovely green mixes.  The adventurous may try gathering and boiling down the berries to see what happens.  Since buckthorn is wild and grows profusely, it should be easy to find.  Animal bladders may not be so easy.  Good luck finding them.

Artist Martine L’Etoile, at demonstrates a beautiful step-by-step use of sap green in a landscape painting here.

Winsor-Newton demonstrates sap green washes in the following You Tube video.

Colorful Fridays–Disgustingly Beautiful Yellow

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Yellow-colored objects appear to be gold.”  Aristotle (from

Discussions of the origins of Indian Yellow vary though most authorities believe it to have arrived in Europe from Asia in the Fifteenth Century.  Conflicting accounts exist as to the truth of a 19th century investigation into the process of creating Indian Yellow.  The disgusting smell of the hard brown balls imported from India to make the paint gave credence to the story of how it was made.

According to a late nineteenth century investigation by The Journal of the Society of Arts in London, the hard brown balls of pigment were made from the urine of cows fed only a diet of mango leaves and water.  The urine was collected and dried to form the hard brown balls that were imported intact and later ground down to create the paint.  The paint was banned when news of the treatment of the cows became known.  The cows fed the mango leaf diet exclusively were severely undernourished to the point of starvation.  Synthetic forms of the paint began appearing shortly afterward.  Winsor Newton has some of the original imported brown balls on display in the Winsor Newton Museum.  However, they are quick to point out that the balls are in a sealed glass case to prevent the smell from escaping.

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Indian Yellow is a rich, beautiful color making its origins hard to fathom.  Frequently used in glazes and for tinting, Indian Yellow makes jewel-toned greens when mixed with ultramarine blue.  Alizarin crimson, zinc white and Indian Yellow make a nice warm orange.  The Dutch Masters used Indian Yellow to create the luminescent glazes so characteristic of Dutch painting.  It was also a favorite with the Scottish Colourists of the early Twentieth Century.  The picture at top by Scottish painter, Lesley Hunter, is a perfect example of the beauty of the warm, glowing gold the liberal use of Indian Yellow can produce.

Fortunately, today’s painters don’t have to deal with the disgusting smell of the original Indian Yellow.  In both oil and watercolor, Indian yellow is highly transparent and lightfast.   As a tint, Indian Yellow gives depth and richness to the paint.  On its own, it is beautifully golden.

Enjoy your Indian Yellow with gratitude for the synthetic process we have today. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with the smell or the knowledge of the disgusting origins of the paint, true or not.  Aren’t scientists wonderful!

For more on Indian Yellow, Winsor Newton has a “spotlight on color” feature on the website with a detailed description of the history of Indian Yellow.

More information on the Scottish Colorists can be found at the Scottish Colorist website.  A wonderful group of painters!

Colorful Fridays-Accidental Blue

There are connoisseurs of blue just as there are connoisseurs of wine.” Colette (from The Painter’s Keys)Swamp44withmark

Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” relied on a newly discovered blue.  Picasso could not have managed his “Blue Period,” without this very unique blue paint.  Many artists look for ways to save money on supplies without compromising quality.  Such was the case with eighteenth century Berlin artist, Diesbach when he stumbled upon the ingredients for making a new blue paint later called Prussian Blue.

Blue was expensive for artists in the early seventeen hundreds.  Painters used very little blue in their works, reserving it for the most reverent religious depictions.  Diesbach was actually working on a mix for reds when his local chemist sold him iron sulfate and contaminated potash.  Oil made from animals was the contaminant. It was this potash that set up the chemical reaction that became Prussian blue.  It gained in popularity throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Winsor Newton began selling Prussian Blue in 1878.   The name derives from its use as the color of the uniforms of the Prussian Army in the early eighteenth century on.

Chemistry World gives a detailed description of the actual chemical reaction that creates Prussian Blue.  Since I barely muddled through college chemistry, I won’t attempt to describe the process and suggest following the link to Chemistry World for a fascinating account.  Their essay also outlines the use of Prussian Blue on patients with certain radioactive poisoning or thallium contamination.  Good to know if you are ever in that situation!

Prussian Blue’s name was changed by Crayola to Midnight Blue in the 1950’s because it was felt few would understand the name.  Prussian Blue continues to be a popular paint to many painters, myself included, though some complain that its light fastness might be lacking.  I exercise care when using Prussian Blue because of its ability to quickly overtake other colors. For some fun reading on Prussian Blue try Joshua Cohen’s “Thirty-six shades of Prussian Blue” (though not to be confused with a book of a similar title concerning grays!).  And if you would like to imitate those eighteenth century artists and make your own Prussian Blue, here is a YouTube demonstration by Dr. Mark Foreman:

Colorful Fridays–Sunset Yellow

It has the quality of appearing to recede into the picture’s distant plain (sic) (un)like other yellows that sit in front of the plain(sic).”– Pigments Through The Ages

ImageAll of the Naples colors are favorites of mine but especially Naples Yellow.  I just love it.   It squishes so nicely.  Naples Yellow mixes well with just about all the colors of a sunset, even purple.  Naples Yellow is one of those colors I will drive miles to get if running low.  Could there be anything worse than being forced to paint without Naples Yellow?

Apparently, Naples Yellow has been around for quite some time.  It has been found in ceramic glazes of pottery found in ancient Babylon from 1500 B.C.  Most of the Old Master’s worked with Naples Yellow.  The websites of Winsor Newton, Gamblin and Golden all state it was originally made from lead antimoniate but all three makers use various synthetic chemicals to simulate the original color today.  Winsor Newton’s website says” Its name probably comes from its presence as a natural deposit that could be found in the volcanic earth of Mount Vesuvius, a volcano on the bay of Naples.”

Naples Yellow is so popular it has its own Facebook page!  Who knew??  I guess lots of artists would drive miles to get Naples Yellow.