In a comment in an earlier post, Sergio asked about the purple/violet I have been using as of late:
Which one do you use? I’ve been using Cobalt Violet Hue by Holbein which has the hue I like but its tinting strength is too weak. Lefranc & Bourgeois has a Mineral Violet I like too.”
What a great thing to discuss, and hopefully something interesting to read about as well. But first, let’s take a moment to check out Sergio’s site. There is some fine painting to be found there: http://www.themainloop.com
Wow! Some nice violet flowers to look at.
Plus an extra bonus for those who can’t get enough of the color purple.
Sergio, to answer your question: I am still experimenting with various purples and violets and haven’t found one to settle on yet. As I mention earlier, I am looking for a reddish version of a violet, one which would fit in the pocket between alizarin and ultramarine blue — ultramarine being a blue which already exhibits a minor red bias as compared to cobalt or cerulean. It seems to me as a colorist/painter that there is a gap in the red-to-blue spectrum waiting to be filled. Sure, I could mix alizarin and ultramarine together to bridge that gap but I’ve tried it and am never satisfied with the result. Especially when I use that mix to modify other hues.
As for intensity, almost any mineral colorant will exhibit a weaker tinting strength than a modern synthetic – assuming all other things are equal. But in my mind, and for my way of painting, a weak purple isn’t bad thing. It’s rare for purple to appear in an intense state out in nature. So I tend to use my purples as a modifier, to gray down distant greens, or to create a transition between warm reds and cool blues in flesh tones. I don’t paint a lot of kittens. At least not yet, anyway.
The thing is, we artists need to learn more about the actual colorants used in our paint and rely less upon what I call the “shelf name” on the tubes. A shelf name can deceptive because the paint manufacture will often use it as a marketing ploy. If you go to the grocery store to buy some milk and eggs you can be reasonable sure that when you get home you will have, in fact, milk and eggs. But with artist’s oil colors, the label can say Cadmium Red, or Cadmium Red Hue, or Cerulean, or Cerulean Hue. Or worse, you tube of white might say Kremitz/Cremnitz/Cremetz/Flake White and it isn’t even an actual lead white but a substitute. Let alone a historic form of lead white that was once manufactured by stacking and enclosing thin coils of lead above a pool of horse urine. (And human urine too in some locales. But excuse me, I digress…)
So, simply learning a little ASTM nomenclature and paying attention to the ASTM labeling on a paint tube, will ultimately help us figure out what to buy. Lefranc’s informs us on their online color chart that their cobalt red violet (shelf name) uses a colorant identified as “PV49” (ASTM standard). Hooray for them. So if I want to try to find an equivalent in another manufacturer’s line, say a Gamblin paint, I should be looking for PV49 and not something called cobalt red violet. But Gamblin’s closest color is PV 16 or 19, (Manganese Violet and Quinacridone Violet). Which means I won’t find either to be a good match. (Perfectly acceptable to paint with, I’m sure, but not a match.) That being said, even if the paint manufacturer is adhering to the latest ASTM standards there still can be a significant variation between two similar brands using the same ASTM coding. The variation largely has to do with either the temperature and time the mineral colorant was heated to, or, because the manufacturer has added something else into the tube besides the colorant and oil.
Another thing to look for on the paint label is how many colorants were involved in creating that hue. Again, LeFranc’s chart states that their Cobalt Violet Light is composed of PV49, PV14, and PW4. That’s three hues, not one. This means LeFranc’s cobalt violet light may be a fine color to paint with but it also might behave differently than a single color equivalent would when they are mixed into other hues. (There is a school of painters out there who fastidiously restrict themselves to using single colorant paints. They believe they have more control over what happens in the mixtures if they do. I am not a passionate advocate of this idea but on occasion I do see their point.)
I don’t know, I might be getting lost in the weeds and geeking out too much on paint colorants, and ASTM standards so I’ll stop here and summarize by saying the best way to develop your own palette is to adhere to the following three principles:
1) Chose a range of hues that encompass a wide spectrum of light. If not the entire spectrum, then at least range which travels from a warm to a cool. Our eyes are excited by the contrast of warm and cool passages. Without that, our paintings look dead.
2) Chose a range of hues that are fairly equal in intensity with each other. (Chroma, instead of intensity or saturation, is the term I prefer.) For example, if you decide to paint with subdued mineral earth colors such as ochres, siennas, umbers, and a terre vert, then throwing down a phthalocyanine green (a.k.a., the crack-cocaine of plein air painters) will likely to cause a train wreck. I mean, you wouldn’t water your iris garden with a fire hose would you?
3) Feel free to mix and match any brand or manufacturer. In truth, all artist-grade oils play nicely together and sometimes a loose sloppy brown is just the ticket. Or a really blunt white is what you want for your finishing impasto. When you choose a tube of paint there are other things to consider beyond the color. Such as, “How will this perylene red pull?” “Is this viridian going to be buttery or ropey?” Or, “How long is this frickin’ white going to take to dry?” And the ubiquitous, “What is this genuine Chinese vermillion going to cost?” The answer to that last one is, of course, “More than your house.”
In the end, your palette becomes a personal one. Often, it becomes idiosyncratic to you as well. None of us end up working with the same colors all the time, or even the same set to us throughout our lives. If that happened there would be some sort of mind-numbing formula going on, and well, I have never been a fan of formulas. Or mind-numbing…
To quote Nicolai Fechin, who was speaking about painting with color:
“Any standardization is negative in its meaning. If conventional shades and colors are used, the ability to see them in reality is lost. It is essential that the artist should regard every new painting as an entirely special world of color, light, form and line. Every new canvas is a completely new challenge.”
Take that, Bob Ross . . .
If you are interested signing up my upcoming August ‘Essential Plein Air Techniques’ workshop, click here. There are only three spots left on a first-come, first serve basis, so don’t delay if you want to join the fun! Learn to paint en plein air with a knowledgeable and respectful teacher. This class will be limited to 12 participants to guarantee quality one-on-one time with the instructor.
UPDATE: Because workshop sign-ups this year have been so quick I may offer a second outdoor class the following week, if there is enough interest. That will be decided after the first week closes.