Color Curriculum

A Kaleidoscope of Color  

By Carolyn Payzant

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 16, Issue 1


I was perusing a distinguished instructor’s suggested materials list and found two unfamiliar colors, both which contained Titanium White PW6. Naturally I rushed out and purchased! Manufacturers use Titanium White PW6 more than any other white to modulate other pigments. They use it because it has practically no drying shift, is more neutral, and slightly, and I mean slightly, more translucent than any other white available to artists. Artists add PW6 to a pigment: to soften and lighten a color and/or change semi-transparent/transparent pigment into a pigment that is opaque. Unfortunately, when using white we can’t have a pigment modification without increase in opacity.  

We all have softened a pigment by adding white and found that glowing transparent color becomes less saturated, less transparent and more velvety/chalky, great when painting arid plants such as cactus paddles. Which leads to the definitions of opaque – opacity depends on something that blocks the passage of light. In white pigments, that something is tightly packed particles such as chalk.  

Holbein’s Lilac, PR122, PV23, and PW6, is absolutely stunning; in mass tone it looks like an opaque lilac Easter egg, while in tint it emerges as frothy chiffon. In mass tone it is so opaque that the color would tint a brown egg, and in tint turns a beautiful clear lilac with a blue bias. I was so disappointed when I found two hidden bad actors in this tube: Pr122 Quinacridone Magenta and PV33 Dioxine Violet – yikes! — ASTM rates both as Light Fast III.  

Holbein’s Lavender, PV15, PB29, and PW6, is another dazzling color. Add a jonquil, a slight cool breeze and you would think you were experiencing a perfect early summer’s day. In mass tone it does not appear quite as opaque as Holbein’s Lilac, and is perfectly safe to use, for all the pigments are ASTM Light Fast I. It did take considerable water to dilute the pigment enough to lose the chalky appearance, but is well worth it as it is a near perfect blue with slight suggestions of blushing pink. 

A Change of Topic 

I n the September 2009 Journal, I wrote an article on M. Graham’s PR209 Quinacridone Red. One of you was kind enough to send M. Graham a copy of the article and they contacted me. It appears they were happy about what I had written. The long and short of it is they sent me several tubes of paint. I do love their paints. They typically make perfect washes and therefore handle beautifully. But let me assure you - I have not, do not, and /or will not generate any personal compensation by recommending any brand. However, I am pleased to share what I have learned. 

I have an affinity toward two-tone pigments so I gravitated toward three of M. Graham’s tubes: Nickel Azo Yellow, Azo Green, and Nickel Quinacridone Gold. All three make a wide color shift from mass tone to tint; the more pigment on your brush, less diluted, the more two-tone the pigment appears on your paper. All three are Lightfast I, semi-transparent, nongranulating, and have a slight drying shift. In tint all three are near crystal clear.  

Nickel Azo Yellow, PY150, clearly has raw sienna overtones and vibrant Indian yellow undertones. I have a very old brittle Norway maple leaf in which the upperside matches this pigment perfectly. 

Azo Green PY129 is one of those oxymoron pigments. It has a PY (Pigment Yellow) designation but in fact is really green. To be exact it is green gold. In mass the overtones are of a rich green khaki color with green gold undertones. In tint it is reminiscent of “Rich Green Gold” with tiny speckles though out.  

Nickel Quinacridone Gold (PO49 + PY150). This color really shines. The overtone of this pigment is a rich saturated yellow ochre while the undertones are pure glowing radiation of sparkling burnt orange. It reminds me of the dried oranges used for holiday ornamentations.  

I personally would not mix any three of these colors with another pigment. They clearly stand on their own. When I look at my splotches, I visualize Rudbeckias, and California poppies, and Gaillardias, and pears, and autumn leaves, dried corn stocks, and let’s not forget desiccated shriveled oranges!