When mixing your colors, the properties of color transparency and opacity often play a role. If you are going to paint a still life with a clear glass flower vase or if you are painting dense foggy clouds over a sandy beach, don’t you want to know which paints will best suit the texture and mood that you are trying to convey?
The color transparency and opacity of a tube is the salient pigment property of a paint and the one most often discussed among painters. Pigments in every medium have distinctive characteristics and knowing them facilitates our intimacy with our paints.
I know that I can become quite frustrated when I accidentally dip my brush into an opaque cerulean blue and I end up with a dull and milky looking sky. Frustration sets in because my intent was a clear blue sky that sings like a stain glass window.
Would you like to know how to determine the property of color transparency and opacity in the paints that you use? Creating a color chart that reveals this information is simple and straight forward. I remember the first time I did this with my watercolors and found it quite fun and fascinating. It still is.
In my most recent post, I reviewed all of the color properties that are helpful to know intimately. For a review, refer to How to Know Your Colors Intimately | Part 1.
Directions for Creating Your Color Transparency and Opacity Chart:
As in the Pigment Chart that you did via Part 1, gather up all of your paints – tubes and bottles – and group them into hue families. I recommend that you start with your primary colors and then move onto secondaries and earth tones.
Using canvas paper for acrylics and oils or good watercolor paper for your watercolors, draw out two or three columns as seen photo above. Then measure out 1″ or 1 1/2″ rows.
With black waterproof ink (India ink) or black acrylic paint, paint one or two straight lines about ½” wide down the columns of your sheet of paper. Space the lines at least 4” apart and about 2” from the edges of your paper. Refer to the photo above.
Let the ink or black paint dry completely. With each of your tubes of paint (consider painting each color in the same sequence as your previous Pigment Chart), apply maximum strength brushstrokes or palette knife strokes about 1 ½” x ½” wide across the black strip. Lay on your paint deliberately and completely straight out of the tube. DO NOT GO BACK INTO THE PAINT!
It will be helpful if you label your pigments before applying paint. After the colors dry, you will be able to see the black line completely through some pigments, but less completely through the more opaque colors. Make notes as they apply to you and your work. Which paints surprised you? Are there some paint manufacturers that produce predominantly opaque or transparent colors?
Below, you can see an example of some random acrylic and oil pigments I used and applied over black acrylic paint. I cannot stress how important it is for you to test this with YOUR colors!! We each have completely different assortments of paints for lots of different reasons. Please do not rely on what others say or what a manufacturer may report. Create a chart and experiment with your colors as you paint. It really is fun to do and you might enjoy the discoveries.
COLOR TIP: You want to know the paints that are the most extreme. In other words, it is most helpful to identify the paints that are very transparent and those that are very opaque. Most will fall somewhere in the middle and can be called translucent.
Paint manufacturers do provide the color transparency and opacity of their paints on the tubes/bottles. You can find the information on their websites as well. However, I do not trust their information because I have found a few that are not correct. Also, nothing beats getting to know my paints better than to test them myself.
Below is an example of how Golden acrylics displays the color transparency and opacity of two of their red pigments. This shows that pyrrole red light is more opaque than alizarin crimson hue.
Here you can see on a larger tub of white titanium paint how they use a continuum chart to explain the transparency versus opacity of a paint. A few other properties of this paint are displayed as well. Kind of fun, eh?
On the reverse side of a Liquitex tube of paint – photo below – you can see how they tell you that this pigment is translucent. There is also some other interesting information available. The more geeky and chemistry oriented artists love this information.
Here is a graphic provided by Winsor & Newton, that shows you how to read their label for watercolors.
Below is my completed color transparency and opacity chart of my red and yellow acrylic paints. Isn’t this interesting to review? It is a great chart to keep on hand as a reference. Reminder: the paint is straight out of the tube and I did not go back into the paint once I applied it.
This next chart is an example of my watercolors following the directions above. In the lower left corner I have two swatches of raw sienna by different manufacturers. One is more opaque than the other. This information helps me to decide which brand might be my preference. Making this chart gives me more confidence in choosing the paint tube I want versus relying on the manufacture’s labels or just guessing and then being frustrated.
Being more conscious of the color transparency and opacity of your paints, will allow you discover your personal bias or preferences. Some painters like only transparent paints, while some painters like a mix. Or you might be creating a painting where you want to use only opaque paints. Try it and see what happens. This is some of the fun stuff we get to discover as creatives. I love it and hopefully you do as well.
Which to you prefer? And why? Let me know in the comments below.
If you would like to follow along with me via my Craftsy online video course, click over to Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy! You will be able to see my demonstrate these various color charts with more thorough explanations.
P.S. If you like this post and find it helpful, I’d love it if you’d pass it on via email or social media. You can use the buttons at the bottom of this post to share it.
Great little article for beginners and intermediate’s like myself and a good reminder for more advance students. Concise , good pictures and no fluff. Will save this on my I pad. Thanks?
Carol McIntyre says
Hi Kikt — glad to be of help. Feel free to share it. Thanks for the delightful feedback.