Understanding Colour Pigments & Jargon

Colour, colour mixing and understanding different terms and jargons can be a daunting experience and sometimes it seems easier to just buy the specific colours that you want to make life easier.

 

Colour mixing takes practice and there is nothing wrong with buying more colours to enhance your work but you will find that your pigments are oversaturated. Your illustrations and paintings may turn out brassy and cartoonishly bright.

Here is a little breakdown of colours and colour mixing to help you on your art journey.

 

Image found on bradshawfoundation.com

Naturally occurring pigments such as ochres and iron oxides have been used in decoration since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have discovered that early humans used paint for body decoration and home décor.

FACT 1
No colour is completely pure: every colour contains traces of all other colours. The pigment most evident after the principal
colour will affect the principal colour. White, Black and Grey are only pure pigments in theory.

Two Primary colours mixed together make your secondary colours. Orange, Green and Violet are called secondary colours.  A colour mixed from two secondary colours is called a tertiary colour.

Pigments provide the paint with other properties: its transparency or opacity. This property is different for every pigment. We distinguish between very transparent pigments, very opaque pigments, but also pigments for which the transparency or opacity lies somewhere in-between. If colours that appear the same are applied in equally thin layers, the differences in transparency and/or opacity are clear to see. Therefore depending on the painting technique, opaque or glazing transparent layers, you have many possibilities for a single colour.

If colours that appear the same are applied in equally thin layers, the differences in transparency and/or opacity are clear to see. Therefore depending on the painting technique, opaque or glazing transparent layers, you have many possibilities for a single colour.

Some pigments are less environmentally-friendly (Cadmium’s and Cobalt’s) and some are very expensive. That’s why an extensive range of colours provides alternatives as well most contain hues and pigments.

Cobalt pigments are very expensive, but an “imitation” cobalt blue based on an ultramarine pigment is equally durable and considerably less expensive. The colour is not exactly the same, and a real cobalt blue is noticeably more opaque.

FACT 2
Indian Yellow was once produced by collecting the urine of cattle that had been fed only mango leaves. It was popular with Dutch and Flemish painters of the 17th and 18th centuries for its luminescent qualities and often used it to represent sunlight.

 

Rose Madder, Verde Green, Indian yellow (original)

Complementary Colours are opposite each to other in the circle.  Using complementary colours together can create the right tones in your work. Two complementary colours mixed together contain the three primary colours. If they are mixed in the right proportion these also create black colours, and of course greys when white is added.

FACT 3
Ultramarine Pigment originated from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. These days it has been replaced by an inexpensive modern synthetic pigment named French Ultramarine. This new synthetic pigment is manufactured from aluminium silicate with sulphur impurities, since synthetic ultramarine is chemically identical with lapis lazuli, the “hue” designation is not used.

 

Colours and colour mixing is a science but a creative one, it is best to practice blending your colours to make as many as you can, keep notes of the colours you have used. This is me trying to make a perfect vibrant green. It went on for a few more pages!

Titanium White has considerably more tinting strength than Zinc White. This means that if we make a blue lighter we have to add more Zinc White than we would Titanium White to achieve the same brightness. On the other hand, we would therefore add less of a certain colour to Zinc White to achieve a light colour.

Zinc White is considerably more transparent than the very opaque Titanium White. In the watercolour range we therefore always find a Zinc White, though with the name Chinese White.

Zinc White is a cool (bluish) white, whereas Titanium White is a warm (yellowish) White.

With regard to the results of mixing, the difference in colour hue and the difference in opacity play a role. The degree of brightness of a colour (light – dark) depends on the amount of light that is reflected by the pigment back to our eyes. The amount of light can be measured, and when Zinc White and Titanium White are compared, the amount of light reflected back appears to be practically the same.

We, however, perceive Zinc White to be whiter, as we tend to perceive a cool white as lighter (whiter) than a warm white. It is in this optical phenomenon that we have to look for the reason why Zinc White is known as Mixing White; the mixed colours appear more intense.

Also when highlighting an underpainting it appears as if the light that is reflected through the glazing layer is more intense in these areas. We also experience transparent colours as deeper; they demand more attention.

The transparency of Zinc White, furthermore, makes it easier to vary the intensity of the reflected light in a highlighted underpainting by applying the paint either in a thicker or a thinner layer.

Ultramarine, originally the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, has been replaced by an inexpensive modern synthetic pigment, French Ultramarine, manufactured from aluminium silicate with sulphur impurities. At the same time, Royal Blue, another name once given to tints produced from lapis lazuli, has evolved to signify a much lighter and brighter colour, and is usually mixed from Phthalo Blue and titanium dioxide, or from inexpensive synthetic blue dyes.

Since synthetic ultramarine is chemically identical with lapis lazuli, the “hue” designation is not used. French Blue, yet another historic name for ultramarine, was adopted by the textile and apparel industry as a colour name in the 1990s, and was applied to a shade of blue that has nothing in common with the historic pigment ultramarine.
 
 

There is a lot of science behind pigments now, as a contentious world we no longer make many pure pigments due to cost, process or environmental impact.

Hues are better for the environment and better for your health and although some you use are wonderful to paint with the biggest complaint people have about them is the muddy mixing.

Greens and purples can look muddy and ever mixed a red and blue and got brown?  Try mixing a magenta with blue to get a more vibrant tone.

Well, I hope that has been helpful.

I am really loving learning about pigments and colour.

 

 

#ArtJargon #ColourPigments #understandingartterms

 

 

 

Comments are closed here.