I am at the point where during 2017 I am wanting to upgrade my student quality paints to artist quality as my current tubes run out. I have both half-pan watercolours and also tubes in the following colours in the Aquafine by Daler Rowney and also Cotman ranges:
Lemon yellow, Gamboge (hue) Yellow, Ochre
Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine and Indigo
Cadmium red (hue), Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose and Purple Lake
Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna
Sepia (hue) and Payne’s grey
Viridian hue and Phtalo green
However I am aware my choices have been determined by I guess what I would term as ‘common usage’ or for the tubes what was in my Windsor and Newton half-pan palette box when I purchased it some years ago. I certainly have my confirmed favourites – Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt and Cerulean Blue or Ultramarine and prefer Ochre to Lemon Yellow now but I am getting more practised in mixing colours I am looking for a more ‘refined’ palette or if you like more professional choices.
About 18 months – 2 years ago I subscribed to Artist & Illustrator magazine and in April 2015 there was an article on Choosing a Palette which recommends a good basic selection of 3 cool colours such as Cobalt Blue, Lemon Yellow and Alizarin Crimson or Permanent Rose) and 3 warm colours such as French Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow (deep) and Cadmium Red – certainly the Crimson and Rose were added after reading this article! Other useful additions recommended included Burnt Sienna and Permanent Mauve along with Sap Green, Winsor Blue Green Shade and Green Gold – the latter colour I am definitely including in my new list of colours to get as I have seen it and it suits some of the landscapes I seem to enjoy working from.
This first article in April 2015 suggests working with a restricted palette to obtain unity in the work you are doing and also to base colour selection on what mood or emotion or memory you wish to evoke and this ties in very much with the lessons I learnt during A Creative Approach. Another consideration that was pointed out is the whether the colour of the painting is the subject or whether it is used to describe the subject – thinking of my previous theme book I used colour very much to evoke the emotion and therefore in a descriptive manner although it was also the focus of my final textile piece.
This article also mentions the qualities of the watercolour – the bottom line is the cheaper paints are not of the same quality as the more expensive artist versions in terms of granulation or staining. These qualities can greatly effect the finished piece – granulating paints combined with say rough or Not watercolour papers can give great textural effects whilst a staining paint can be useful for glazing.
Going forward there is a question posed which relates to the colour exercises of ACA – whether you match every colour to your subject – some artists try to match closely and others use ‘close enough’ colours as the article suggests and I am definitely in the latter camp! I am also happy to use different colours which the author classes as ‘arbitrary colours’ which bear no relation to the actual colours and this moves away from a realistic approach to a more abstract approach which is becoming increasingly appealing as my personal voice starts to develop.
One lesson I am learning is not to use black as a colour – this is where the author suggests mixing your own version and this ties in with discussions I have seen in watercolour groups on Facebook social media whereby the artists state that a ready-made black tends to be flat in appearance as they do not reflect light. I only use a ready-made black in my half-pan palette as an easy way of darkening existing colours – it is quick and easy in the same way I like to keep Chinese white in my tube collection as I find I can create different effects when it is used on its own or mixed with other colours e.g. I find Cerulean blue mixed with white is a favourite mix which cannot be created simply by diluting.
I ‘sat on’ this article for a period of time as I worked through ACA adding some of the colours mentioned above in my list and also working with those in my palette box – sometimes the box was just more convenient for either course work or personal sketchbook work. My selection worked well and did what I required but I now feel I am moving forward due to increasing experience and I want to look again at what I am using and how. I have also finished my History of Art module too and am fascinated by the different palettes of the Renaissance masters going forward to the Impressionists or Pop Artists and understand that different genres required different colours – obviously taking into account the difference between watercolours, oils and the newer, in historical terms, acrylics.
However from January – April 2016 there was a also a series of articles by Grahame Booth, a watercolour artist, about his perfect palette. Mr Booth went through why he used his original palette of 12 pigments and also the difference between fugitive pigments and permanent – the fugitive ones being impermanent and lightening or darkening over time or changing appearance. Mr Booth started off with the primary colours before moving on to secondary and earth pigments and with each article tested a variety of brands with their lightfastness and whether they could be lifted out easily or whether the paint had stained the paper – incredibly useful articles to keep for future reference!
Reading the series of 4 articles gave me a clear view of the differing brands and also just the difference in the hues between each brand – some are very similar and some are surprisingly different e.g. Schminke’s Cadmium Red Middle is darker and strikes in the photographs as more opaque than the translucency of M Graham & Co’s Cadmium Red and this is something to consider.
Grahame Booth recommends considering the pigments, granulation, light-fastness, transparency and staining when choosing new paints. What I did not know was that all pigments had chemical numbers and names on the tubes e.g. on my Aquafine Yellow Ochre it is listed as Yellow Iron Oxide PY42 – the latter numbers are the colour index numbers (CI). I am also learning that the Series numbers on the tubes refers to how expensive the paint and the lower the number the cheaper the paint – all mine are Series 1! I also now understand that my Alizarin Crimson is a fugitive pigment and hence that is one that would benefit from being updated to the permanent version. I also understand why Ultramarine tends to granulate when I use Not or rough watercolour papers as it is a suspension in water as opposed to a pigment that dissolves. Regarding the transparency or staining qualities – these are both something I need to keep in mind without question but at this stage in my studies are lesser concerns to me although they could prove very useful.
So what is the palette which Grahame Booth decided on and could this prove a good new palette for me on which I can build?
The colours he chose are Phthalocyanine Green (yellow shade), Green Apatite Genuine, Titanium white, Modern Aureolin, Quinacridone Gold, Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Magenta, Pyrrole Red, Neutral Tint, Ultramarine, Phthalocyanine Blue (green shade) and Cobalt Teal.
Some of these are colours I have seen recommended in watercolour groups on Facebook – particularly the Quinacridone Gold, Green Apatite Genuine and Cobalt Teal. The Quinacridone pigments only became available in 1958 although they were apparently discovered in 1896 and they are both very transparent and also staining colours so I can definitely understand their popularlity – Daniel Smith’s range is one of the most recommended in the Facebook groups I am in. The Pyrrole pigments (diketopyrrolo-pyrroles or DPPs) are also recent discoveries – literally 30 years ago and are deep, lightfast pure colours and hence the popularity of Pyrrole Red which for me seems more intense in hue than Cadmium Red.
The Green Apatite Genuine is a Daniel Smith colour and is a wonderful olive green – this is at the top of my list as although I find I can mix olive greens relatively well this suits my love of landscapes as it apparently has a dark brown granulation which could prove really effective if I go out to Dovedale in Derbyshire next summer.
The colours Grahame Booth has chosen are the ones I will build my new artist grade selection on although I may stick with Winsor & Newton’s Lemon Yellow as opposed to the Aureolin – it depends on the brand and the offers at the time! I also suspect I will add in colours such as Quincridone burnt orange, Moonglow (this is a granulating colour which seems to be a mix of an Indigo separating into a violet) and also Undersea Green which are all highly recommended by other watercolour artists – I copied and pasted a list of recommended Daniel Smith colours from one of the aforesaid Facebook groups for future reference). There is also no doubt I will also look to upgrade my favoured Payne’s Grey, Burnt Umber and possibly Indigo as well as all 3 of these have been used extensively – relatively neutral darks that have become staples for me personally.
I am becoming much more aware it is not just the paint to consider but the paper – if I want texture I look to Rough or Not but if I am looking for smoother washes or glazes then Hot-pressed is the one to go for and I am now using Fabriano 300 lbs or Bockingford 300 lbs which are good quality and considerably better than what I used at the start of ACA!