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.

28 comments:

  1. Thanks for this very well documented post. You are one of first watercolorist I have seen who actually is making use of the pigment numbers. I used to get so caught up in my color experiments, I ran out of time to paint.

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    1. Pigment numbers are essential if you want to know what you are using. i have been painting with watercolours for over 35 years. My first set had Alizarin Crimson and so I have seen first hand how that colour fades. As a consequence, I light-fast test my colours myself and won't use any that are known or proven to be fugitive. No PR83, PY40, NR9 etc. But without the pigment numbers, you simply don't know what you are painting with.

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  2. Hi Jane

    Geat post - thanks for this!

    I was pleasantly surprised to see the grey achieved by mixing permanent rose (PV19) + hookers green (PG36, PY110)
    =Grey http://moynahanstudio.blogspot.ca/2015/01/my-colour-files-hookers-green.html

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    1. Thanks for the link Cindi.There are a myriad of wonderful greys that can be produced by mixing two opposite colours. I have shown some of them here http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/colour-exploration-single-pigment.html, where I have created a single pigment colour wheel and mixed each pair. I just love playing with colour mixes :-)

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  3. Hi Jane,

    I'm just getting started with watercolors and I've found your site to be a godsend with such great information. This post was especially helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

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    1. Enjoy the journey Kelly. Watercolour is the most wonderful medium.

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  4. Ditto on all of the above.. wonderful, extremely helpful and so kind of you to share your knowledge.

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  5. Hi Jane, this is a very interesting article. Thanks for doing it. I would like to know if PBr25 creates the same range of greys with PB29 and PB15:3 as Burnt Sienna PBr7. What can you say about the similarities and differences between PBr7 and PBr25 ?
    Thanks,
    Poornima.

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    1. The Daniel Smith Permanent brown PBr25 is slightly more red than Daniel Smith Burnt Sienna - one is an orange earth and the other is a more red earth. You can see them larger on my website in the earth section here - http://www.janeblundellart.com/earth-watercolour-swatches.html though of course it's hard to really tell. Think of the Permanent brown as a transparent Indian red colour. I suspect they would mix differently, though not as differently as a more orange PBr7. I'll give it a try ;-)

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    2. Yes as expected, PBr25 with the blues mixes more like an earth red so produces mixes with PB29 and PB15 more like Indian red than Burnt Sienna.

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    4. That makes sense if you are using a definite orange-based burnt sienna. Visually there is not a lot of difference between DS burnt Sienna and DS Permanent Brown - there is a difference, but they would be next to eachother on a 24 colour wheel, for example. Other interesting replacements for opaque earth reds are DS Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet/W&N Brown Madder both made with PR206. I'll add a few extra swatches so you can see them.

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    5. Thanks so much for your time Jane. The transparent PBr25 will be a better replacement for opaque Venetian red. And probably be a good complementary for cerulean.Oh! this is exciting. I need to try this.Thanks again.
      Poornima.

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  6. Oh Jane, thanks soooo much for the swatches. The differences are more clear. If you have the time, I was wondering if you could explore the versatality of PBr25. How does it combine with standard pigments etc. Of course, this could be demanding of your time. I do appreciate immensely what you have done so far. When I think of colors, your name pops in my mind. Thanks again for all your wonderful sharing.

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    1. I don't have a tube of PBr25 in either W&N or DS, but have painted the swatches with a little sample paint dot of each which have basically run out so I'm afraid I can't really do much more. My feeling is that PBr25 is useful where you want a transparent earth red rather than an opaque earth red. It is more like Indian Red than Venetian red or Light red (which tend to me a little more 'brick') in the way it mixes. You could make the hue by mixing a warm red (eg Pyrrol Scarlet) with Phthalo Blue GS. Mix it to your exact desired hue from tubes paints and stir it up and let it dry. Might be worth exploring :-)

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    2. Oh Thanks so much, Jane. I'll try that combo. Do you think, if I add a little yellow to PBr25, it will combine with Ultramarine like burnt sienna does? It is the transparency of the pigment that interests me. Also, will it be a substitute for perylene maroon PR179 ? I haven't used Indian/venetian red. Hence so many questions. Thanks again for your time.

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    3. Difficult questions to answer as the colours vary by brand. I'll just talk about the Daniel Smith versions of each of the colours you mentioned. Yes if you add a little transparent yellow to PBr25 I think you would create a Burnt Sienna hue. Permanent Brown is quite different from Perylene Maroon - which is a deep crimson dried-blood sort of red - so whether you substitute it depends what you use Perylene Maroon for. I wonder if you might prefer Deep Scarlet - that is a brighter transparent earthy red that could substitute for Perylene maroon and also mix a burnt sienna hue with a yellow, but is a lovely rich colour. You can see it here http://www.janeblundellart.com/red-watercolour-swatches.html

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    4. Thanks for the guidance, Jane. I think I can now kinda imagine the combinations. Gosh, playing with colors!!! I sometimes feel like a kid in a candy store :) :) Have a nice day !!!

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  7. Thank you for your fantastic articles and books. They are incredibly interesting, helpful, and inspiring. I wonder if you would mind explaining in more detail how you mix custom colors from the tube into your palette? What tool do you mix them with (I'm imagining a toothpick or the world's smallest spoon), how thoroughly are they mixed before being left to dry, how do you figure out color ratios, etc...

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    1. Lucy I have written two posts about specific custom mixes - Jane's Grey here http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/custom-made-watercolour-mixes-janes-grey.html and Jane's Gold here http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/a-question-of-hues.html that show the ratios.

      Specifically - for Jane's Grey I had figured out that it is almost a 50/50 mix, but that I wanted it just on the blue side so I start with about the same amount of paint from the tube squeezed into the pan/palette, stir well until completely mixed using a fine porcupine quill, though a toothpick would to it, and then test. I then adjust by adding a little more of one colour or the other if necessary, stir again and allow to completely dry. These days I make up Jane's Grey in 60ml tubes so it takes 4 whole tubes of paint. Other custom mixes are usually only enough to fill one pan or half pan.

      For colour ratios, I have done so many mixing charts and explorations that I am pretty comfortable knowing how much of each colour I'll need to add. I tend to make a little test using the paint from my palette, then if I want to make a pan of the colour I'll use the tube paint.

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    2. Oh those posts are exactly what I was looking for. Looking around my studio there is an abundance of knitting needles, I'm thinking the smallest will now lead an exciting new life as a paint stirrer. And thank you for your email... So looking forward to your course!

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  8. Hi Jane,
    Great post as usual
    Davy's Grey is used by a lot of botanical artists including Anna Mason. It can be used on white petals as a 'white,' and the paper left untouched next to it for bright highlights. It is also used behind very white petals negatively to separate the petals which are paper white from the background. Hope that makes sense.
    Sennelier use PB29 in their Payne's Grey, and the only time I tried it the pigment's split, in a similar fashion to Quink ink, showing almost neat blue. This was really attractive, but unfortunately it merged back together again, but interesting nonetheless. Thanks Jane,
    David.

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  9. I forgot to mention that Daler-Rowney make a really lovely transparent red brown, but it is Pr 206 though.
    David.

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    1. PR206 is also used in Daniel Smith Quin burnt scarlet and the W&N Brown Madder shown above. Maimeri Blu use it in their Avignon Orange.

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  10. Wow your blog is so awesome!! I learn so much from your posts & just want to say Thank You!! :)

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