Monday, 26 January 2015

Treasured Transparents


'Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.'

George Bernard Shaw 


Moving on a bit from my previous post on the possible replacements for cadmium colours, this one will cover a few other things to consider when choosing paints and colours and some of my favourites. It's time to embrace change. See Complicated Cadmium At the end of the post I have included a number of resources that you might find helpful.

The early days.

Cadmium pigments played a large role in my palette choices.
A number of the colours used here also contain black and are therefore not transparent.
When you try to layer these colours, they end up looking muddy.

Later on I started introducing Quinacridone colours.
More transparent colours here but still a few stubborn favourites.

Cadmium Yellow was still around though  
An early green chart with cadmiums and colours containing black.
Not a great selection of transparent pigments and colours here

A few years ago, I discovered Transparent Yellow by Schmincke, and since then it has become my go to friend for glazing over greens. In the palette, this particular watercolour looks decidedly unappealing and unpromising, but once on the paper, wow it's amazing.


Hmm, how very unappealing
Schmincke translucent Yellow in the raw 

These bramble leaves have had a bit of a 'facial'.

A thin glaze of Schmincke Transparent Yellow washed over various areas of the leaves,
gives a bright, fresh look and adds warmth.
Cerulean Blue in a thin glaze is also washed onto the leaves in areas where I wanted a cooler look.

With leaves I love to vary the temperature, as I think it really makes for an interesting contrast.    

I really like using transparent watercolours, but of course for me, this hasn't always been the case. As a Graphic Designer, the brief often required a design to be as flat and uniform as possible, important for the printing process and to keep streaks at bay. Without the assistance of the ever-present Photoshop or equally clever studio computer software, this had to be achieved with hand-rendered artwork.

For the 'Hello' exercise I demonstrated in my Topical Typography post I would have preferred to use a Gouache mix to get a beautifully flat, matte surface with a good saturation of pigment. However, getting watercolour to a similar consistency, (single cream) and using it on fine lettering can give a good finish. For larger type though, watercolour would not have the strength to cover evenly.

Perylene Maroon mixed quick thick to give a saturated consistency 


The medium of choice for many a designer in these circumstances was Arcrylics or Gouache, an opaque "poster paint" type watercolour medium that dries to an extremely uniform, matte and flat surface, (we also had these marvels called Magic Markers, but that's a different story). Although some of the "en plein air" paintings of J.M.W Turner contain Gouache, This type of medium was most recognisably used in 20th Century in animations, cartoons, illustrations and backgrounds, but some artists in the Pop Art movement of the 1950s brought this flat style of work into the public domain, with their bright, illustrative styles.

One of my favourite 'Pop' artists is Roy Lichtenstein. His works were mainly done in oils, but his control and use of the medium as well as his witty, (and somewhat dark) humour has always caught my attention.

Roy Lichtenstein 'Drowning Girl'
oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Solid colours and graphic, black outlines are so reminiscent of the style

The MoMA Collection
Image care of Wikipedia
Andy Warhol
'Campbell's Soup Cans' 1963
Synthetic Polymer paint on canvas

c/o The MoMA Collection 

Opaques, such as the cadmiums have more of a covering quality, that does not allow previous layers or the white of the paper to shine through. The more opaque the colour, the flatter and greater covering quality it will have over previous washes, making it very difficult to layer washes over opaque colours. The varying transparency and opacity of a pigment will affect the optical character of the individual colour as well as how the colour mixes with other colours. The most transparent colours will enable you to create a pure glazing effect by applying a number of washes on top of one another. Just what I'm after.



Some of my new favourites in the transparent armoury
Anthraquinoid Red, Pyrrol Red, Pyrrol Scarlet and Transparent Pyrrol Orange are the reds

M.Graham Azo Yellow is a lovely bright lemony yellow
and the Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Deep is my new alternative to Cadmium Yellow

So why is transparency so important for botanical work? Well, This is particularly important as transparency is the key characteristic of any watercolour, with its thinness allowing the reflective quality of the paper and previous layers to come through. Transparent pigments also have a refracting quality in much the same way as stained glass, making a jewel-like brilliance, and clean, pure mixes. The more transparent the pigment, the more purity and clarity you get.   


The latest tomato painted in transparent colours

About four layers of washes went into this one
plus some dry brush work to really build up the impact 


As I will be working on some really important projects this year, it will be important to invest in the right paints and colours to ensure the very best result. For me, these will all be transparent colours with single pigments not mixes, (many colours contain more than one, so when you try to mix them with other colours, they don't mix successfully). The old saying goes that a poor workman blames his tools. So, if it all goes wrong this time, it will be all my own fault.


'To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.'

Winston Churchill


(Well, practise might help a bit there too Sir Winston, but I like the sentiment) :)



My choice of translucent and transparent colours.

Quinacridone Gold is a beautiful transparent yellow and perfect for mixing greens 

Colour swatches and tests still play a large part in my early experiment with colours.

Here, I have got my hands on some lovely transparent purples too.

Extra Reading

For further assistance in selecting transparent colours visit the Handprint website

Yellow - All the technical data on all of the watercolour brands

Reds - technical data for red watercolours and brands

Blues - technical data for the blue watercolours


Want to find the best transparent colours? here are a couple of tables that shows you the properties of the colours in the range for W & N and M. Graham

Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolour - permanence and composition table

M. Graham - Watercolour composition table


Where to buy in the UK

M.Graham watercolours are available at Lawrence Art Supplies

Schmincke Horadam watercolours are available in the UK at Jackson's Art Supplies 


1 comment:

chrishaywoodart said...

I always learn something new when I read your blog. Thank you.