Why Pigments Matter


Here we have a photo of my palette with 3 different oranges on it- M. Grahams Cadmium Orange (PO 20) in the upper left, Winsor Newton's Cadmium Orange (PY35 & PR 108) in the bottom left, and Scarlet Pyroll over on the upper right.  Why?  Since the Joseph Zbukvic workshop I took, I've recently have been using a lot more Cobalt Blue.  Cobalt is cleaner and slightly greener than Ultramarine Blue.  It also mixes lighter greys more easily.  It also lifts whereas UMB stains.  UMB tends to get dark quicker, in my opinion.  They do different things, and so are a good combo even though they're close in hue.  The mixing compliment for Cobalt Blue, if I want to make a grey, is.... orange.  I recently ran out.  So I went to the little file on my laptop (I actually keep a record of the pigments on my palette in a file, dating back a few years).  "Sacre Bleu!" I hadn't updated since the workshop.  What orange had I been using?

And so the journey began.

What follows is a record of how different oranges mix quite differently.  If you've not looked at some of the older posts I made on color mixing (linked to here), they're useful and relevant to the conversation, because these different shades of orange where shooting me around the color wheel in different ways.  Here's a mixing chart I made to illustrate the point (half to myself as much as to you guys!)-


What's the chart meant to show?  At the top is the reddest orange of the bunch (PO73).  As such the neutrals are the coolest and richest purples.  As we go down the chart, I show different oranges I tried, each warmer and more yellow than the last, until I reach WN Cadmium Orange (the yellowest of the bunch).  What should become clear is the subtle yet definite shift from cool purple-greys to warmer, greener greys as the Oranges become warmer too.  As an example, for comparison, WN Burnt Sienna is a yellower brown and so mixes warmer greys, whereas Venitian Red is a redder, more purple-brown, and so mixes cooler greys.  The hue bias of the mixing compliment matters, as we move around the circle!

I started off with PO73- Scarlet Pyroll.  I happened to have it in my pigment bag (yes, that bag full of all the extra pigments you bought that you tried out and don't really use!), and so squeezed some out. 

PO73 combo.jpg

It's a nice vibrant orange.  But I quickly discovered that it only mixes violets and purples, and sort of dodges the greys.  The PO73 is too red of a orange.

Next up, I moved to Venitian Red.  I like its muted purpley-red. 

Venitian REd combo.jpg

It's an old school color that I use for mixing deep, muted warms.  Handprint says its one of the mixing compliments, so I gave it a go.  It's better, for sure, but was still giving me cooler mixtures.  Everything is sort of a deep, muted purple.  Even the browns.

So I went and bought a tube Winsor Newton Cadmium Orange.  I was pretty sure that was the pigment I'd been using.  It arrived, I put some on the palette, and got this!

WN Cad Orange combo.jpg

I checked the tube, and discovered that Winsor Newton is no longer using PO20 for their Cadmium, but have instead created a hue mixture (PY35, PR108).  It is far too yellow of an orange, which is why I'm mixing blue-greens and muted pea-greens.  Waaaah!  :(

I go back to Handprint (link here) and it suggests Burnt Sienna.  I was suspicious of this, as WN Burnt Sienna is my mixing compliment for Ultramarine Blue, and that is a more violet blue. 

WN Burnt Sienna combo.jpg

However, it mixes pretty well with Cobalt Blue, although it definitely has (to my eyes) a gentle green bias.  This is what I'm seeing in the warmer neutrals, as a "dirty" (aka not reddish) brown is a muted yellow.  This particularly becomes clear when you compare it to things like Venitian Red or Scarlet Pyrrol (go back up to the chart above, where comparison is easier) which are clearly cool.  Still, all in all a good warm grey combo.

So I go back to my little Word doc, and hunt through some of my notes on my older palettes.  Thank goodness!  There I discover I'd been using M. Graham's Cad Orange.  This rings a bell, as I remembered it would sometimes run out of the well- a problem with some honey-based pigments (which M. Graham uses).  :(  Still, I go and buy a tube of that.  It worked before, hopefully it'll work again.  I actually bring the WN Cad Orange and Scarelt Pyrrol tubes with me, to be able to open them up and compare pigment color.  And indeed, the M Graham Cad Orange lies right in the middle of the other too. 

PO20 combo.jpg

Not too hot, not too cold, but still a cool grey.

It's DEFINITELY worth noting that the two Cadmium Oranges are different hues.  Brands can matter.  Not that one brand or pigment mix is somehow better than the other,  but that different brands shift their hues around a bit, and I needed a mixing compliment for a specific blue (this one is Winsor Newton's Cobalt Blue). 

For comparison, here's WN Ultramarine Blue mixed with Burnt Sienna.  Still the truest grey of this bunch, in my opinion.

WN UMB combo.jpg


In the end, my Cobalt Blue + M Graham Cad Orange (PO 20) mix has a slight cool bias for the greys, but it makes a nice true, warm brown (not too purpley), and the mixing line extends for a longer distance (into the bright oranges) than when I was using the Venetian Red.  Besides this, I like Cads in general- they're a little heavy and so don't explode so much when I apply them wet into wet, and Cad Orange (PO20) is a much gentler mixer than Scarlet Pyroll (PO73, that brute!) was.  Cobalt Blue is so gentle, I'd put a dollop of PO73 in there, and it would take over the whole mix in a second. Ugh!  As an added bonus, to make some lemonade, having to use Venetian Red so much for a few weeks helped me learn it's value as an alternate mixer for Cobalt Blue.  Once again, all is right in the jungle, and I can mix a blue and an orange and get a muted grey.

Lesson learned?  An Orange is not just an Orange.  Test your hues and keep records!