Thursday, 22 October 2015

Custom watercolour mixes - a question of Greys

I have been adding a number of greys to the Painted Watercolour Swatches section of my website, which you can see here. I noticed how much the colour of 'Payne's Grey' varies between the different brands, ranging from a warmer blue-grey to a cooler blue-grey to a more neutral grey. Pretty much all have black in the mix, which makes it a convenience colour that doesn't interest me as black pigments seem to dull a painting badly.

It got me wondering, though, who Payne was. A little Googling and Wikipedia had the answer - William Payne was an English watercolourist, and the colour was made for him. The term has been used in English since 1835. Interestingly though, the original version did not contain black. It contained iron blue (known as Prussian Blue, PB27), Yellow Ochre (PY43) and Crimson Lake, which as far as I can find is a fugitive carmine pigment PR23. I don't have any PR23 to look at but I thought I'd mix some Yellow Ochre, Prussian blue and a Permanent Alizarin together and see what I could get. (All watercolours Daniel Smith unless otherwise noted.)

Traditional Payne's Grey mix of pigments - yellow ochre, Prussian blue and a crimson.
It makes some interesting greys. With more Prussian blue it turns into a cool dark blue-grey, similar to the commercial black and blue mixes available. The interesting thing is the way the yellow ochre and crimson pop up in blooms. I made these mixes using tube paint mixed in a pan to get it really strong, to have plenty to play with. Yellow ochre, Prussian Blue and Permanent Crimson actually make a rather interesting old-fashioned looking triad to paint with.

Since I don't use Prussian blue in my palette, I thought I'd experiment with some other colours. I switched to Ultramarine PB29 and PV19 Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone - a single pigment crimson from Da Vinci - and tested that trio in a strong wash. Two granulating colours made it too dull. 
Next I tried the same yellow ochre and crimson with Phthalo Blue GS - another cool transparent blue, like Prussian blue. I think this may be fairly authentic - I can see this being a useful mixed grey.                                  
I switched to Indanthrone Blue to try making a warmer grey. I like this - rather like my Jane's Grey - so not necessary to create.  
Payne's Grey variations using a red, blue and crimson.
Then I tried both transparent blues with Quinacridone Gold instead of Yellow Ochre. This makes almost a black, that could be warmer or cooler depending on the amount of blue added, and which one is used. Interesting to explore, perhaps also with Quinacridone Rose, but not mixtures I feel I need. Though why do all of the commercial mixes contain blacks instead of these wonderful colours?

Next I come to Davy's Grey - another grey named after an Englishman, Henry Davy. It was a mix of powdered slate, iron oxide and carbon black. The commercial versions are quite different, though interestingly QoR make an Ardoise grey using PBk19 which was in the original watercolour for Davy. Winsor & Newton use a white, a green and a black pigment today. It's not a colour I have ever seen a use for.

So then I thought about Neutral Tint - another grey that has been around since the 18th century. It was designed to be used in mixing to darken colours without changing their hue. Today most also contain a black pigment, with a couple of exceptions such as Neutral Tint by M.Graham, which is PG7 + PV19, Schmincke Neutral Grey, which is PR255 + PB60 + P062,  and Old Holland has a 4 pigment mix of PB15:2 + PV19 +PR259 + PBr7!

Bruce MacEvoy of Handprint fame mentions his 'synthetic black' recipe with uses PB60+PB25+PG7 in roughly the ratio 8:6:1. I have Indanthrone Blue and Phthalo Green in my palette, but the only available PBr25 I could find are DS Permanent Brown and W&N limited edition Indian Red Deep - both transparent reddish brown watercolours. I mixed them as suggested and created a rich and rather lovely RGB black. [Update - Mission Gold also have a PBr25 Red Brown, though I haven't tried it.]

However you can easily make a rich transparent black with just Phthalo Green and Pyrrol Crimson, which I premix to make 'Jane's Black (R/G)'. 

Mixing blacks and greys.
You can also mix Phthalo Blue RS with Transparent Pyrrol Orange to make my other favourite custom black 'Jane's Black (B/O)'. 

Phthalo Blue Green Shade will make another black with Pyrrol Scarlet, though I have not often chosen to paint with this combination. It could be useful in landscapes where prussian blue and indigo blue hues are also needed.

And then of course there is Jane's Grey that I premix that works as a neutral tint, without the addition of a black pigment. The other advantage of this pair is that the grey is liftable. Many mixed greys are staining.

There are two single pigment darks that interest me - DS Lunar Black, the fantastic granulation creates wonderful effects, and DS Graphite Grey. This is like painting with liquid pencil - it even has a slight sheen. Really interesting to use.

It is easy to mix a number of greys and blacks with regular palette colours but mixing them from the tube paints and allowing them to dry in the palette does speed up the painting process and enable you to get good darks fast. I'd still rather mix them myself than buy the commercial versions currently available. What about you?

Update - here are some extra swatches of the colours shown above and discussed in comments below. Notice that DS Burnt Sienna PBr7 is slightly more orange than the DS permanent Brown PBr25 or W&N Indian Red Deep PBr25. W&N Burnt Sienna PR101 is much more of a burnt orange hue. Brown Madder W&N or DS Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet are made with PR206 - another transparent earth red option. There is also the option of PR179 Perylene Maroon is another interesting transparent neutralised red but it varies hugely by manufacturer. I have shown the more burnt scarlet version by W&N. In Daniel Smith is is far more of a maroon and in Daler Rowney it is a deep crimson.

Many more interesting red and brown watercolour samples can be found on my website in the Painted Watercolour Swatches section. They are arrange by colour first, then by pigment.