Monday, 20 May 2013

Watercolour testing - looking for a versatile three colour triad.

I have been testing and comparing a whole range of different watercolour paints and colours. It's very easy to get stuck with what you know, so I decided to see what else was available since I started using Daniel Smith back in 1995.

What I want in my watercolours are mostly single pigment colours with excellent light-fastness. I prefer tube colours and I squeeze the paints into a palette to dry so they have to set in the palette and re-wet well. Once re-wet, I want them to wash out easily and have strength in mass-tone.

What I discovered is that Daniel Smith are still really great, mostly, but that there are some other pigments that are not offered by D.S. and some colours that could be equally useful and perhaps more readily available for some people. I tried some Da Vinci, Old Holland, Schmincke, Daler Rowney, Rembrandt, Winsor & Newton, Joe Miller, Maimeri Blu and M. Graham.

One of my aims was to find the best single pigment red for a three colour triad. I'd decided on a mid yellow (D.S. Hansa Yellow Medium or Schmincke Pure Yellow or Old Holland Schev. Yellow Light or Winsor Yellow are all lovely) rather than a cool or warm yellow and Ultramarine (PB29) since it suits whatever I am working on and can be warmed up or cooled down with the addition of the yellow or 'red', but was tossing up between a crimson or magenta for the red option.

The most versatile reds are actually not reds really, if you think of red as a Fire Engine red. That has too much yellow to make nice purples and I wanted to be able to make purples, oranges and neutral greys with the one pigment. Using a cool red - on the blue side ever so slightly - will allow you to create lovely purples and to mix gorgeous bright reds and crimsons with a yellow.

Best options seem to be Quinacridone Rose PV19, which will make a range of oranges and gorgeous purples, or Quinacridone Magenta PR122, though there are a couple of crimson pigments that are also very versatile, such as Da Vinci's Permanent Alizarin (Quinacridone) made with PV19, Daniel Smith Carmine and Winsor & Newton Permanent Alizarin - these three wash out to a pink and make decent purples, though not as bright as the Rose or Magenta mixes.

Quinacridone Rose is made by just about every company so is easy to find. Daniel Smith make a Quinacridone Red using the same pigment that is a really lovely paint to use. D.S doesn't make a PR122 magenta, so I tried Winsor and Newton, Daler Rowney, Old Holland and Schmincke. All are very similar in colour so will make great oranges with a yellow and gorgeous purples with Ultramarine (or phthalo blue or even phthalo green!) but will also wash down to a pink. I found the Old Holland and the Schmincke more powerful in mass-tone. In Australia Schmincke is better value so that will be my Quinacridone Magenta choice. It is called Purple Magenta, by the way.

D.S. Ultramarine, Schmincke Purple Magenta, D.S. Hansa Yellow Medium, Schmincke Ultramarine Finest.
Ultramarine, though always made with PB29, varied quite a lot. The Old Holland Deep version was more purple and granulating than some, the Schmincke Finest the least granulating. The others varied slightly in hue, some looking a little chalky, some a bit shiny with too much gum. I really liked Da Vinci, Schmincke Finest, and Daniel Smith. See them all compared here.

Colour mixing using Schmincke Triad - Pure Yellow, Purple Magenta and Ultramarine Finest.
The only limitation in this palette are really bright greens, which I don't generally need. Phthalo Blue RS would be an option if bright greens are common in your painting. Add Burnt Sienna or Quinacridone Burnt Orange for a more convenient mixing of browns and neutrals and you can paint pretty much anything with this set of colours provided you have plenty of mixing space!

August 2014 update
See more on this set here

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