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Monday, March 13, 2006

What do you know about your paints?

It's astounding how many artists reply, "Nothing" or "No more than I have to know." It isn't that hard to learn the composition of your paints, their handling characteristics, and how different brands compare, but it can sure save you a lot of grief in your painting (and a few dollars in your wallet) if you take the time to do it. Most people accept printed brochures from paint companies as their guides, without realizing how much difference there is between a printed color and a painted swatch. That's why I wrote Exploring Color --to offer a method for learning about paints and using them creatively. I'm teaching an eight-week class how to explore their colors. The main benefit of such a class is having scheduled time to do the charts and comparisons. I'm seeing a lot of "aha!" expressions as the students work their way through the colors and charts. They have homework, too, because the class falls a few hours short of my five-day workshops and I want to give them the full program. At the end they'll know how NOT to make mud, how to test their paints, and how to use many different palettes for expressive painting.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Bart said...

"Nothing"?? - Hmmm.... - quilty! You're right - I'm wrong!

2:29 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

It's just a matter of choice. Some people prefer trial and error over the long haul, but I'd rather get that over with, so I can have more fun painting and spend less time second-guessing my colors.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Paul Herman said...

My father taught me how to grind my own colours when I was still a young painter. The experience and knowledge derived was useful in many ways, not least of which was in fostering the intimate and loving relationship every painter should have with his materials. Every pigment has its own character and requires its own treatment to turn it into paint but once I learned this I saw no reason to take the time with the lengthy process since colours of equivalent quality ARE available. At another time, a long time ago, I saw an experiment done with various popular brands of paint. A sample of each one was placed in a test tube with a little turpentine and the test tubes were spun in a centrifuge. Some brands like Winsor and Newton (founded in the U.K. in 1832 though they were bought out by the U.S. company Colart a few years ago) trusted by artists widely around the world, turned out to be a shameful mix of extraneous ingredients & very little pigment content. Old Holland, made in Utrecht since 1664, showed itself to be far and away the finest quality prepared paint in the world, maximum quality & quantity of pigment, without preservatives, chemical suspenders or half a dozen other chemicals many paint companies use.

3:35 AM  
Blogger Nita said...

Interesting comment, Paul. It's unfortunate that artists today don't have the intimate connection with their paints that comes from making them themselves. Artists did that for centuries, although many had studio apprentices who did the actual mixing of the paints. I'm not surprised at your high opinion of Old Holland paints. The few OH watercolors I've tested seemed very good. Old Holland isn't available locally, so I've never tested the full range. I haven't experienced the deplorable lack of quality you describe in Winsor & Newton. I wonder if the test you saw could have been made on the student grade of paint? I've found the artist's colors have always been richly pigmented and consistent. I've tested more than twenty brands of watercolors and have found a handful that suit my taste, but it's a matter of opinion. The proof is in the painting, I guess.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Paul Herman said...

I am not as familiar with watercolours as I am with oils but with the possible exception of Schminke, I still think of Winsor & Newton as the best watercolours. (Aside from some small manufacturers in Northumberland I think the Schminke make the best pastels). What you say about studio assistants making colours is true and I know artists in Italy who still run their ateliers that way, especially fresco artists whose egg tempera must be prepared daily, but the assistants are never professional colour makers but rather, young artists. In other words, the Maestro also had his turn making paints for someone else, someone he wanted to learn from before finding his own market. Despite what I said about Old Holland there are certain colours, like Raw Umber, that I prefer from W&N simply because it makes a true grey when mixed with white, the purer Old Holland makes a brown of it. However, as my mother, the restoration artist (or conservator as they are called now-days) can attest, unless you are using truly second-rate paints like student quality, or Rowney/Van Gogh 'artist' quality oils, the true test is not in the painting but in the years.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

Another good comment, Paul. In some ways we're talking about apples (oils) and oranges (watercolors), though, with the differences in media. Also, I don't think of Royal Talens' Van Gogh label as artist's colors, but as student colors. RT makes a Rembrandt extra fine artist's watercolor that is good, or it was when I tested it several years ago.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Paul Herman said...

Yes, I agree, it IS apples and oranges. I love watercolours and have nothing but admiration for those who can handle them, I try but am too heavy-handed for their subtlety. I have never taken part in a blog before, this is fun! Living in Thailand has its advantages but I have no-one to talk art with...

11:30 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

This global art community on the Web is amazing, isn't it? Tell me more about your oil painting. What do you think of water miscible oils?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Paul Herman said...

In the U.K. we would call these emulsions, oils made to suspend in water, first I don't trust them over time, though I have used them in murals for practical purposes, I can't imagine any reason to give up the lovely smell of turpentine in my studio, it is indeed, the aroma of my life, without it I might suffer an identity crisis!

11:48 AM  

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