Update: In September of 2015 there was a fire at Blue Ridge that put a stop to making new paint for a long time, but in February of 2016 they’ve started taking orders again. However, the selection is much smaller than what it was and some of the paints below may not be available. They’ve said that eventually more paints will be added to their lineup. Also, the prices quoted below may be out of date now.
A couple of weeks ago I received my first order of paint from a still young brand that’s new to me, Blue Ridge, and I’ve been practicing with them since then so I can do this review. Blue Ridge is a small company (i.e. one man, Eric Silver, owns the company and makes all the paint) that’s located in North Carolina. You can watch a short video interview with him on youtube here.
A few notes before I start-
All of these photos were taken in full outdoor sunlight, and I can’t guarantee perfect color accuracy. Most of these paints I chose because I didn’t already have one of them from any brand, so I won’t be able to do many direct comparisons. The Winsor & Newton paint that I am comparing a few of these against was gotten probably around 10 years ago and from what I’ve read their quality has improved (I don’t know by how much) as of a few years ago, so I can’t guarantee the same comparison results with current production paint, however I do have high regard for the quality of Winsor & Newton. The white that I used to mix the tints of each paint sample is Charvin titanium white (PW6). Each tint is made by taking a small amount of the previous swatch and adding roughly equal amount of white to it. So the first tint is a 1:1 mix of the original paint swatch with white, the second is a 1:3 mix, and the third is 1:7. I can’t guarantee I got the mixes exactly equal, but it’s close. Finally, note that this isn’t exactly a scientific review and is largely my own opinions and observations from first hand experience. First I’ll go over each individual paint and then my thoughts on the brand as a whole.
All of the paint I tried had very similar, and very good, handling. Not too thick or too thin, and were pleasurable to work with. They seemed to have a semi-matte finish when dry, which might be something to keep in mind if you’re going to use them on the same painting as another brand that’s glossier.
First is cadmium lemon, which is very bright and sunny. Actually much brighter than I expected based on the swatch of it on Blue Ridge’s website. I’ve found it to mix very good greens. I’m currently glazing (with a little liquin added) it over cerulean blue in a painting I’m working on and the greens I’m getting are especially good. I’ve compared it next to Winsor & Newton’s cadmium yellow pale, which is warmer but the closest paint I had to this, and hue differences aside I found the tinting strength to be pretty much the exact same. Blue Ridge’s cadmium yellow’s are all currently $19 for 40ml, while according to dickblick.com Winsor & Newton’s cadmiums all currently retail for $35.49 for 37ml, though you can mail order Winsor & Newton’s cadmiums from various catalogs for around $19ish as well.
A long time ago there was a pigment called indian yellow which was made from the urine of cows that had been fed mango leaves. There’s a little more to the process than that, but yeah nobody I know of does this anymore. This means modern “indian yellows” are made with various pigments and mixes that different brands feel mimic the warm orangish yellow of that historic pigment, and because of this there does tend to be some variation between brands. This particular one is a very warm and attractive orange and is made with a reliable pigment, PY110, the same one that M Graham uses in their indian yellow in oil, watercolor, and acrylic paints. I think the first tint is similar to the color of some pumpkins.
The cadmium vermilion was one of my favorites of all the paints I tried from Blue Ridge. Very bright, intense, slightly orangish red. So much so that my camera had a hard time really capturing the color, and I see the same in the color swatches on Blue Ridge’s website. The red from Winsor & Newton that I’m comparing it with was a little more pinkish in tints than this photo shows, but their tinting strength was similar. The cadmium reds from Blue Ridge are slightly more than their yellows at $21 each.
The transparent red and yellow oxides are another paint that I just never got around to getting in oils until now. To me, these two should go together as a pair, and fit very well in an earth palette. I especially liked the yellow in its tints. Cadmium brown is an oddity, since I only know of one other brand that carries it and until recently had never heard of it. I emailed Eric about this one and he said it is indeed a cadmium red pigment, PR108, but is apparently made a little different to get this very deep brown. He also said this is lightfast but isn’t made anymore, and he just has old stock left, so if you’re interested in it I’d suggest getting it sooner rather than later. I like the interesting greys it produces in tints. It’s cheap too, only $9.
Cobalt blue is my own favorite blue, so it’s the only paint from Blue Ridge I got that I already had a matching tube of in another brand. Blue Ridge’s version is slightly lighter straight from the tube and appears higher chroma to me. I was very pleased to see it also has higher tinting strength than Winsor & Newton’s version, which is really saying something when you consider than their version was the darker of the two at the start and yet was lighter by the very first tint. Winsor & Newton’s blue is the same price as their cadmiums, while Blue Ridge’s is $21.
Here’s a closer look and as you can see Blue Ridge’s paint is definitely lighter and slightly stronger. Between the two, I prefer what I’m seeing from Blue Ridge.
My own collection was a little sparse in green paints, so I got most of the single pigment ones Blue Ridge offers. I think the cobalt turquoise was just a little greener than the online swatch shows, but both that and the cobalt green light are very attractive paints. In fact the turquoise was among my top favorites of all the paints I got in this order. Cobalt green deep seems like the color of a dark pine forest to me. Emerald green is what many other brands call either phthalo green yellow shade or some unique name depending on the brand. Its masstone is darker than what is shown here and it’s very intense, just as a phthalo green should be. For some reason it has a strange very slight grainy texture to the paint. It doesn’t appear to affect its use any and I don’t feel any grit under the palette knife, but I just thought I’d mention it.
I don’t have any of these from Winsor & Newton, but from what I’m seeing there’s a huge price difference between them and Blue Ridge. For example, Winsor & Newton’s cobalt turquoise retails for $59.99 for 37ml and even from a catalog is still $32.39 (on dickblick), while Blue Ridge’s version is only $20 for 40ml (more on that below under prices).
It’s a transparent black with lighter masstone than any of the others I own. The tinting strength is very low, also more so than any other black I own. To me the tints are very neutral. I’m finding it to be one of my favorite black paint because it’s unique. It also has the same grainy texture as above, but again this doesn’t affect its performance.
You can kind of see the faint and very thin lines of what I guess are pigment particles in the paint. I know it may seem odd to say this about a black paint of all things, but I just think this is the most attractive of all of these.
So here’s my overall thoughts on Blue Ridge and my experiences.
The box these paints arrived in was the most thoroughly packed box I have ever received from a catalog. Bubble wrap like crazy. As a result, everything was in essentially perfect condition. The only exception is that the tube of transparent red oxide had bit of an oil leak from the bottom, which only affected itself as no other tubes had oil on them thanks to the bubble wrap. I wiped it up and the leak has since stopped. While this is unfortunate when it happens it does happen, even to one of my recent tubes from Old Holland, and wasn’t a big deal. The mouths of the tubes are large, actually larger than I’d like, since I tend to be really stingy about how much paint I squeeze out and find it to be harder to do that with a larger mouth. It’s actually the exact same size as far as I can tell as what M Graham uses, and in fact the caps look identical except for M Graham being white and Blue Ridge being black. The labels all have a paint swatch of the actual paint that’s inside the tube which is very useful.
I think I counted 70 paints currently on the site. That’s a good number for such a small company and I liked how many single pigment greens there were, but there’s some pigments I wish were included. Of course since this paint is all made by one guy there’s a limit to how many different things he has time for. I thought the purples/violets could use a couple of extra, since there’s only 4 of them total. There’s not a lot of violet pigments out there though, and even fewer are reliable, but maybe an ultramarine violet or manganese violet? The overwhelming majority of paints are made with very reliable pigments, with the obvious exception of alizarin crimson.
Currently I only know of one way to get paint from Blue Ridge, which is directly from their website.
-Update- The paints used to also be available from Italian Art Store, but it looks like they’re not there anymore so I’ve removed the link and updated this text.
I don’t think I can stress this part enough, the prices are really good. It’s like getting premium grade paint without the premium grade price. There’s something I noticed that may not seem like a big deal, but I appreciate it. The prices are all whole dollar amounts, except the cheapest tubes at $7.50. I hate the way nearly every business tacks things like *.95 to the end of every price, because you know they’re just trying to trick you into paying almost a dollar more without actually thinking about it because everyone focuses on the dollar amount instead of the change. Like I said it may not seem like a big deal, but I did notice and like the straightforwardness of the whole dollar amounts. All prices for the 40ml paints range from $7.50 to $21, except the genuine naples yellow which is $42.
Very easy to use and I really liked the very large (and usually accurate) color swatches for every paint. Nearly all of them even come with short descriptions too that are actually useful and pretty much free from marketing language. My one minor annoyance was that when adding items to the cart each one takes you to the cart page and you have to click back to the product page after each item you add. Also I noticed a couple of typos, including apparently one in the price of cobalt turquoise which the site says is $19 but rang up as $20. Oddly, that same paint is one of the only price differences between Blue Ridge’s own site and italianartstore.com who lists it as $21. I’m not sure which is the correct one.
-Update- The current site is a completely new one compared to what I had originally reviewed. It looks like the color swatches are different, but still large. Overall it looks good, but one downside of the change that I’ve noticed is that you have to click each paint and go to a separate page to see the price for it.
I emailed him a couple of times with plenty of questions and he actually took the time, which he probably doesn’t have much of, to answer me. My impression is that he was friendly, candid, and trustable.
The Bottom Line
Would I recommend Blue Ridge? I absolutely would. I’m very satisfied with every one of the paints I got, which I guess would make me 100% satisfied.