Tuesday, February 7, 2012

February Newsletter: Color Study, Part 1

For the next several months I will cover the subject of color. This was a difficult subject for me when I was in school as well as when I returned to fine arts. I had no problem with color management when designing ads, brochures and the like in my old advertising life. It was somewhat easier because of the Pantone® Color System, PMS for short. Everything is pre-mixed and all you have to do is select the colors you want. In fact, it was the best part of the job.

In fine arts, it's different, harder. In my college years, I never received any instruction in color. When I returned in 2000, I again didn't have any instructors who would (or may it was could) not share more than the simple color wheel. It's a tough subject. I was so confused back in the early days that one teacher wondered if I had a color deficiency. Not!

So as I do in many of my workshops, I am going to share with you what I have not been taught. In the end,  I hope you will know more than you ever wanted to about color--because knowledge is power.

Having said all that, I want to begin with the basic painting tube. Why not the color wheel? We'll get to the wheel, but for now I want to share with you some important information that will help you understand color a little bit better.

Some definitions

Pigment is the colored stuff that goes into your paints. It comes in powdered form and is suspended in a liquid vehicle: with watercolors it's usually gum arabic; with acrylics it's polymer emulsion and so on. Every pigment has its own Color Index name and number. For example Cobalt Blue is PB 28 or Pigment Blue #28. Why is this important? Because sometimes manufacturers are forced to combine two pigments to get the final one. Sap green (look at the M.Graham chart) is made of three different items: Chlorinated Copper,  Phthalocyanine (PG 7) and Isoindolinone Yellow (PY 110). If you are having trouble mixing your colors, you may want to look at your tube to make sure that there isn't a pigment that's in conflict with another. 

Diana Graham from  M. Graham  & Co., a local paint company, headquartered out of West Linn,  gives us one cautionary note though, "One of the biggest points of confusion is the color name and number.  This is by no way like the Pantone System.  There are no rules about what we name a color and the variance from one pigment manufacturer to another can be huge even with the same name.  The color index number refers to the chemical make up  of the pigment, not a visual color.  If you look at cad red light, medium and deep-it is all the same number."  

So in the end, although we have some guidelines, we still have to do some digging on our own. For a more detailed and scientific slant on paint content, please go to the most complete on-line treatise I've ever read: http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/pigmt3.html#strategy

Color is the product name given to the paints (quinacridone rose, hansa yellow, sap green).

Paint is the end product of mixing the pigment with the liquid vehicle.

What does the tube tell you.For this dicussion, I am going to use M. Graham watercolor paints. They sell acrylic, watercolor, oil and gouache paints. If you look at any painting tube you will find the following on the front:
  • The company name: M. Graham & Co.
  • Paint quality: Artists' Watercolor (also words like Extra Fine, Finest), meaning the good stuff.
  • The common name for the color: Cadmium Red Light
  • Series number: Series 5. This indicates the price and also how expensive the ingredients are. A series 5 (cad red light) is more expensive than a Series 1, (burnt sienna).
  • How much is inside: Net. 5 fl.oz./15 ml.

The following appears on the back:
  • Lightfastness (LF)means how long will it take for your paints to fade. There is a US organization called the American Society for Testing & Materials or ASTM for short. They have a class system that rates the quality and longevity of your paints. The higher the number the lower the quality. You'll usually see the numbers I, II, III.
  • Pigment: PR 108--The CI name is the pigment(s) or sometimes you may also see CI number. (see above)
  • Vehicle: Gum Arabic. This is what the pigment is suspended in. Unlike other watercolor companies, M. Grahams also adds a bit of blackberry honey that adds a touch of moistness. I have Graham paints that date back to 2004 and they are still moist!
  • Company information: West Linn. Usually you will see where the paint was made and also the company website for further information
  • Cautionary words: There are some art materials that have been found to be hazardous and label warnings are required by federal law. 
For further reading, here is a great pigment database site: http://www.artiscreation.com/Color_index_names.html

Next month I'll be talking more about paints--what type of pigments are there and a new set of definitions.