Which paint brush is your favorite and why? And which group of brushes would you grab if you suddenly needed to evacuate? Like me, you may also have your favorite palette knife or two. Isn’t it interesting how you have tools in your paint box that are like your best friends? Sometimes you may go to great lWhich paint brush is your favorite and why? And which group of brushes would you grab if you suddenly needed to evacuate? Like me, you may also have your favorite palette knife or two.
Isn’t it interesting how you have tools in your paint box that are like your best friends? Sometimes you may go to great lengths to glue and tape them so that they last longer. Just like a professional tennis player is lost without their specific racket and string, you have your tools that you cannot live without.
When it comes to our favorite substrates — be it paper, board or canvas — you probably have this established as well. It took some trial and error and many paintings to accomplish. It feels good to know your favorites – which to buy, which to ignore.
The other “tool” that is in your cache is one that I have noticed gets overlooked too often. I am referring to that other bunch of stuff in your painter’s box — your tubes of paint! Sure, you have a few favorite colors, but do you know why they are your favorites or do you just use them because it is a habit?
I am always surprised to learn that many painters do not know their colors intimately.
If I picked up a tube out of your box and asked you, “What are the properties of this color, would you be able to tell me?”
My suspicion is that your tubes of paint are feeling neglected — poor things — and that they are not as intimately known as your brushes or substrates. However, they are just as important. It is similar to a cook knowing her knives, spatulas, pans, cooking surface, etc., and not knowing her ingredients. Yikes, I am not sure I would want to eat from that kitchen, would you?
How do You Get to Know Your Colors Well?
The best place to start is to create what I call a Pigment Chart. You may have a collection of paints like the above. If you work in more than one medium, then you would have 2 or 3 piles of paint. Aren’t you lucky? 🙂 For this post and exercise, it’s easiest to focus on one medium at a time.
Why is it important to know your colors? Because knowing them intimately will give you valuable information for:
- Achieving the effects and textures you want;
- Identifying similarities & differences within hues;
- Identifying the paints you want to purchase;
- Identifying the paints you can discard;
- Helping you develop your color palette(s);
- Having more confidence in mixing colors.
Directions for Getting to Know Your Colors:
- Gather EVERY tube of paint you own for one medium, including duplicates, student & professional grades, etc.
- Next, group them into hue families and start with just the primary colors of red, blue and yellow. You can put the others to the side for now.
- Write EVERY paint color with its brand on a regular piece of paper; this will help you to know how many tubes you have when setting up your chart. You may want to create a code for your brands. For example: Winsor & Newton = WN, Liquitex = LQ; Holbein = HB; etc.
4. Per the photo below, turn your canvas paper vertically and create 2-3 columns with your pencil and straight-edge (18” ruler works well). Watercolorists, you need to use good Arches paper for this color chart. It will not work well on cheap student paper. Acrylic painters can also use good watercolor paper. Next draw horizontal lines every 2” or so.
5. Write the name and brand of each tube and bottle with a permanent pen into each box you have created — this is important because it is too difficult to remember which pigment is which (Trust me on this one! It is easy to get brands and color mixed up.). And DO NOT be concerned about sequence of colors. That just makes it too complicated and takes the fun out of painting every color.
6. In each box, paint a swatch of each of your colors — approximately 3/4” x 2” in size. (See example below.) Apply the paint as you would do so on a painting using a 1″ flat brush as in my red swatches below. You will notice that I added water to the concentrated color on the right side of each color swatch.
IMPORTANT: Clean your brush thoroughly between each tube to maintain the integrity of the color. Some painters like to use a palette knife to create their Pigment Chart because it is easier to keep the colors clean.
Feel free to vary your Pigment Chart to suit your needs. Some students of acrylic and oils like to add a little white to each pigment and paint a swatch. In the pigment chart of my blue paints below, the two swatches on the right of longer swatches have different ratios of white added. Before moving onto the next hue family, leave a few spaces blank for any new tube you may buy in the future.
This chart and others are demonstrated in depth during my Craftsy online video course Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy! Though I demonstrate with acrylic paints in this course, the principles are the same for watercolor and oils. The lessons apply to all media.
What are the different pigment properties?
As you painted each swatch of color, did you start to notice different properties from one tube to the next? Perhaps some are more transparent than others? Some may feel gritty or have sediment; this is more prevalent with watercolor paints. You noticed that a few paints need very little paint to create a swatch while others need a larger quantity of paint. Here is a list of different pigment properties:
- Transparency versus Opacity: I will discuss this in my next post.
- Tintorial and Viscosity or Creeping Strength: To learn more about the properties of viscosity and tinting strength read my blog post: http://wp.me/p3c5su-1nY Do You Care About Viscosity & Tintorial Strength?
- Manufacturer Characteristics: Every manufacturer uses a different formula in creating their paints which impacts how thick it is, as well as few other unique idiosyncrasies.
- Modern versus Earth Colors: Originally, all of the pigments artists had access to were mixed from earth, plant or animal materials. These substances are ground up into tiny particles and then combined with a binder to make paint. In the 20th-century, additional pigments started to be produced with human-made materials. There is no good or bad in using either, it is strictly a personal preference, but important to understand and to see how each behaves in a painting.
- Permanence or Light Fastness: Manufacturers code the light fastness or permanency of each of their tubes of paint. Always use the highest light fastness pigments otherwise your paintings can begin to fade. (I have seen this.)
Unique Watercolor Pigment Properties:
- Staining versus Non-Staining: This refers to the ability of the pigment to stain the surface of the watercolor paper. Some pigments have little staining capacity and can therefore be removed, though not totally, whereas other cannot be removed at all.
- Granulation or sediment: There are watercolor pigments that have particles of pigment that never dissolve in the water. They have a very grainy or molted look.
Unique Oil & Acrylics Pigment Properties:
- Sheen: This property describes how shiny or dull a color may look after it dries. Note that this can often be altered based on any mediums you may have added to the pigment. It is also different between brands.
- Drying time: Some pigments dry faster than others and the thickness of application also has an impact.
Isn’t great to see ALL of your colors in one place on your Pigment Chart?
Each is its own little jewel and you discovered that many have outstanding characteristics. I don’t know about you, but I love knowing the properties of my colors intimately. …And we have more discuss to become more intimate — hue, value and chroma! Stay tuned.
Once you have painted all of your colors, let them dry and then take a moment to study their loveliness.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are some of the discoveries/surprises?
- Have you ever seen all of your colors in one place? (Add any new purchases to your chart. BTW, this chart is a great reference to keep handy.)
- Why do tubes of paint with the same name (e.g., cerulean blue) look different from brand to brand?
- What have you learned about the pigments you own?
- What seems to be missing or perhaps, needs to be added?
- Do you now see your colors any differently? If so, how?
- How much of this did you consciously know before you created this chart, versus how much was hit and miss?
TIP: Every time you purchase a new tube of paint, add it to this chart; this is another reason to leave 1 or 2 blank boxes between hue families. Some students use a separate sheet of paper for each hue family. It does depend on how many tubes you have!
In my next blog, I will show you how to determine the transparency and opacity of your colors.