Williamsburg Black Paint Assortment, Plus Lemon Ochre

It’s been awhile since I’ve done this, but over the past few months I’ve gotten various new paints from several brands in both oil and watercolor and I thought I’d make some swatches with them over the next few days.

This time I have the 1 ochre and 4 black oil paints I got from Williamsburg over the summer. Each swatch was first spread from a small blob of paint and then mixed in a roughly even mix with M Graham titanium white (PW6 + PW4). I’m pretty sure that’s the white I used. It was actually yesterday that I did these. That mix was then spread to the right of the original paint. A small amount of that was mixed again with an equal amount of white, and then again once more, for a range of increasingly lighter swatches that show the tinting strength of the paint.

All of these photos were taken today in the afternoon during overcast clouds. I can’t guarantee perfect color accuracy.

German Earth (PBk11) is natural black iron oxide. As expected of this pigment, it’s an opaque paint and a strong tinter. Williamsburg’s website describes it as “bluish” when mixed with white, but I’m really not seeing it. I’d say it’s fairly close to neutral.

Slate Black (PBk19) is actually very similar to German Earth, but less opaque. It’s apparently made from slate from Pennsylvania. Just a little bit gritty.

Davy’s Gray Deep (PBk19) is also slate from Pennsylvania but much lighter and with a warmer color. It’s very smooth and spreads surprisingly thin. I think it’d be very good at glazing. The photo doesn’t show it the best, but this was lighter than the first two in masstone. Its tinting strength is pretty low. Apparently slate comes in several colors, and as far as I can tell Williamsburg might be the only paint company that currently makes oil paint with slate. Many other brands all produce a “Davy’s Gray” of their own that is always one of various mixtures of pigments. A very unique paint.

Graphite Gray (PBk10) is made from ground graphite. It’s another unique paint that I’m glad I got. I think it looks a little lighter here than it really is because of how the light was reflecting off the paint, but this is the lightest of the four. It’s just slightly iridescent because of the graphite. I really like this one because it’s easily the bluest black paint I have.

This Lemon Ochre (PY43) is another natural iron oxide and is part of the Native Italian Earths set. I only have this one from the set. It’s a very strong earthy yellow. I really like the color a lot. Kind of gritty though.

As you can see in this closeup the vertical streaks are where tiny particles of grit were dragged along under my palette knife as I spread the paint thin. I had heard that Williamsburg’s earth pigments tended to be gritty, and at it seems least a couple of them are. While I can’t say this is a positive thing, it’s not necessarily a big deal. I mostly notice the grit in any paint from any brand, if it has any, while spreading and mixing it on my palette with a palette knife. When I’m actually brushing the paint onto a canvas I don’t really notice as much because of the different tool and surface texture.

Since I recently got some dry pigments from Natural Pigments and one of them was their version of Lemon Ochre I thought I’d make some paint myself and see how it compared. The color between the two was nearly the same, although the Williamsburg paint on the left was slightly lighter. The paint I made had a little bit higher tinting strength but I don’t have enough experience with making my own paint to know what the best proportions of oil to pigment are and I may have used too much pigment. The paint I made had a tiny bit of grit too, but noticeably much less.

Here I made an earthy green with a mix of Lemon Ochre and Graphite Gray. I really like the subtleness of it. A very natural looking green.

Just to show it, here’s what’s left of the white in the corner of my palette. Each time I get another dab of white I thoroughly wipe off my palette knife first so it doesn’t get the white messy.

Overall I really like all of these paints. My collection of black paint still doesn’t quite have all of the black pigments out there, but I’m now a lot closer to it.

Zinc White vs Titanium White in Tints

I posted this on an art forum a little earlier in response to a thread asking if the long held belief that zinc white causing mixes to be “cooler” (i.e. bluer) than when using titanium white is correct.

Titanium white (PW6) is much stronger so it only takes a small amount to have a big effect on the paint you’re tinting with it. It’s more opaque and is often times said by artists (from what I’ve seen especially by those who prefer lead white, such as PW1) to make tints seem “chalky” or dull. In this comparison I’m also trying to see if this is the case.

Zinc white (PW4) is more transparent and much weaker when it comes to lightening other paints in tints, so you’ll need more of it to have the same effect. For this reason it’s sometimes called mixing white, because you can more easily make small adjustments to a paint’s lightness without accidentally making it too light. It’s also said to become hard and brittle if allowed to dry on a canvas by itself and not mixed into anything else.

This was photographed yesterday in late afternoon outdoor sunlight. The image should be mostly self explanatory. I mixed each row to be about the same value (amount of lightness/darkness), and it did take far more of the zinc white to get the same result.

The color samples were averaged in Photoshop over a 31x31px area of each swatch and the results are shown in Lab color space.

As you can see, the “cooling” effect of zinc white was minimal, being only noticeable by a small amount in the middle and dark values of grey. I chose charcoal black because it’s close to being neutral black, so I thought if anything would show a slight blue shift then that would be it.

The blue showed almost no difference between the two in the photo, although in real life I can see a slight difference with the lighter value being a little duller on the titanium side.

The red was easily the biggest difference, with the lighter value being very noticeably duller on the titanium side. Interestingly, the green/red results had almost no difference but blue/yellow did.

It appears people who say titanium white makes chalky tints actually may have a point, as it definitely affected the red.

This photo was taken the next day in about the same lighting as the previous one. I thought there’d be a difference in the greens or yellow, but they’re almost 100% exactly the same. I got most rows to be nearly the same value, except the last couple on blue. This time some samples were averaged from 11×11 squares because small ridges of paint across a few samples that might throw off the accuracy.

The conclusion that I’m coming to includes three things-

1. The idea that zinc white “cools” colors in mixes doesn’t seem entirely true, at least not with this tube.

2. The idea that titanium white produces “chalky” tints also seems to be false, given that most of the tints from both tests are nearly the exact same whether it was made with titanium or zinc. Maybe the people who say it’s chalky are comparing it to a lead white, but I avoid lead paint and can’t do a proper comparison with it.

3. Either of the above conclusions may have specific exceptions, and those alone may be the origin of these ideas. The lightest cadmium vermilion tint was much duller with the titanium than zinc, and the charcoal black did show a small shift toward blue with zinc.

My camera itself and the lighting may also have played a role. Even so, from what I’m seeing here it seems that there is in most cases no more than a minuscule difference between zinc and titanium whites when both mixes have been mixed to the same value, and many cases where there is no visible difference.

Color Theory Thursday: Black

This time I’m going to show a variety of black oil paints to you guys. I’ll divide this in two sections, first showing my collection of black paints and then I’ll show some mixes with yellow in the second part further down.

A few notes first- I tried my best to get accurate colors in all of these photos, but my lighting and camera skills aren’t the best. I made some minor adjustments in photoshop to get the light and colors to match what I see on my palette, but that’s for my own screen. I can’t guarantee what things will look like on your screen. Unfortunately I don’t have every black pigment out there (yet), but I felt I have enough to give a good idea of what’s available. The white I used for everything here was Charvin Titanium White (PW6), but I wasn’t necessarily exact in the mixing proportions.

Part 1: Not All Black Paints Are Alike

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M Graham – Ivory Black – PBk9
Along with Lamp Black (PBk6/7) and Mars Black (PBk11) this is one of the three most common black paints. Made from charred animal bones, depending on the brand it will either produce slightly warm greys or cool, bluish greys. I think it’s because this tube is so old that there’s been a little oil separation which you can see running down the side.

Rembrandt – Ivory Black – PBk9 + PB29
I guess in an attempt to mimic the bluishness of some ivory blacks, Rembrandt has decided to add a little ultramarine blue to theirs. They’re not the only brand to do this, but I wish they’d put something in the paint’s name to let you know that the “ivory black” you’re buying isn’t just ivory black.

Blue Ridge – Charcoal Black – PBk8
Slightly lighter and much more transparent than the rest, this is made with ground charcoal. It has lower tinting strength. I’ve found it to be a very attractive pigment in the short time that I’ve been using it and I highly recommend giving it a try.

(self made) – Mars Black – PBk11
An iron oxide. This black is very opaque and a very strong tinter. I don’t actually have this in a tube from any brand but I do have some dry pigment that I mixed with walnut oil. I really need more experience and tools for making paint because I think I made it a little too concentrated, so I wouldn’t expect mars black from a tube to be quite this strong of a tinter. I’ve read that this one dries faster than ones like ivory black.

Gamblin – Black Spinel – PBk28
The most expensive black here, it’s marketed by Gamblin as “the only truly neutral black in masstone and tint.” In the past I criticized this claim because I found the tints to be cool, non-neutral greys. I still find this to be the case, and will show a comparison in a moment. The tinting strength seems to be on the stronger side. This same pigment is available from Mussini (they call it Mineral Black) for a little more than half the price on dickblick.com

Mussini – Atrament Black – PBk31
An unusual greenish black. I only recently got it and haven’t used it a lot, but it makes very muted green greys in tints and is a very dark shadow green in masstone.

Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna – PB29+PBr7
There’s a lot of ways that artists have come up with for mixing their own black. This is one of the more common ones because both paints used are among the cheapest and most commonly available and used. I found that I had to add more of the blue than the brown to get it about right, at least with the Old Holland versions. The end result wasn’t as dark of a black as I expected though. I would recommend staying away from the old favorite of some artists to mix phthalo green with alizarin crimson, as the crimson’s infamous ability to fade greatly after short times will mean that your mixed black will become greener over time.

So here I’ve compared Gamblin’s “neutral” black spinel with Rembrandt’s ivory black, which is mixed with blue, and they both seem to have about the same amount of coolness to me. On the right is Blue Ridge’s charcoal black which I find to actually be very neutral, more so than the black spinel.

Part 2: Black + Yellow = Green

So a very long time ago the Impressionists heard that black was, by definition, “the absence of color.” They therefore exiled it from their palettes so they could instead focus on light and color. While not all artists ever subscribed to this thinking, this has been handed down to us over generations of artists so that today many are taught to have a near phobia of using black paint. I’m going to show you guys just one of the many things that can be accomplished with black by mixing M Graham’s ivory black with some of the various yellows from my collection. In almost all cases I only added a tiny amount of black to the yellow. I’ll note again that on my palette every one of these mixtures is green, even if only a little, but I don’t know for sure if my camera was able to get accurate colors.

The indian yellow is more of an orange than a yellow, but even so the result was a slightly greenish mix. I liked the mix with nickel titanate yellow. I don’t actually have a cobalt green pale (PG19) in oil paint and I only have a small sample in watercolor, but to me this looks similar to the pictures of it I’ve seen.

The nickel azo yellow was really special. A very dark masstone with an almost golden olive green undertone. It looks a little more intense in real life.

The cobalt yellow, also known as aureolin in other brands, is known to not have very good lightfastness so I normally never use it, but the olive green I got from it was interesting. The last two were a little difficult, with the mars yellow overpowering the black until I added more, and neither mix being especially green.

So I have a couple of old tubes of Winsor & Newton olive green. It used to be that they made theirs with a mix of PO49 and black, but in 2001 pigment manufacturers stopped making PO49, so since then everyone who used it to make paint had to switch to different formulas. That is, everyone but Daniel Smith, who apparently bought up all the remaining supply and even still has some left. They refer to it as quinacridone gold (GS). It doesn’t seem like you can get it from them as a single pigment oil paint anymore, unless you want to buy the entire quinacridone set (and I’m not sure that the one named gold in there is the real PO49 or their newer imitation mix), but they do still offer it in watercolor form. To recreate the olive green, I’ve mixed my tube with black, but probably less of it, and got a warmer green with and more golden undertones.

The burnt orange was rather unexpected, because as you can see it’s definitely a reddish orange in its transparency, but yet the mix with black produced a subtly green paint. This is one of the ones that I’m not sure if it’s really showing the colors right in the photo, but in real life it actually is a bit green to me.

So why mix yellow with black to get green when you can do the same with blue? There’s probably a few reasons, but one is this scale above. Starting with the yellow the paint is bright, warm, and very yellow. As I add increasingly more black the paint gradually becomes darker, more neutral, and greener, but never becomes blue. Mixing yellow with blue, at the darkest values, would be much less neutral and much cooler/bluer, but here I have a progression of bright yellow to very dark green that never enters the blue section of colors.

So hopefully after all that you guys might be willing not only to give black a try but maybe even consider some of the less mainstream pigments. As for myself, I’d like to try some slate black (PBk19) and maybe some graphite (PBk10) sometime soon.

Color Theory Thursday: Secondary Palette

This week I thought I’d show a palette that most of you have probably not seen before. I’m assuming you all know about the color wheel and both primary and secondary colors, where the three primaries are red, yellow, and blue, and by mixing them you get the three secondaries of green, purple/violet, and orange. It’s probably been explained to you that the reason the primary colors are called that is because by mixing them you can get any color but you can’t mix any color to get them. Well today I’m going to challenge that.

Click for full size

Above I have green, purple, two oranges, and white along the top of the palette. I mixed each with a little white just give a fuller picture of what they look like. I didn’t end up using the cadmium orange, and instead opted for indian yellow from Blue Ridge. Although classed as a yellow pigment in the Color Index, Blue Ridge correctly describes it saying “not really a yellow, more orange than anything,” and besides this gives me an excuse to try more mixes with my new paint anyways. I added a second violet in the bottom left to see how it’d mix with the green.

Green + Purple = Blue

When mixing any two colors what you’ll end up with is basically whatever is between them on the color wheel. Normally you’d get green by mixing blue and yellow because it’s between those two, but since blue is between green and purple that’s what you get from mixing them, as you can see in the PG7+PV23 and PG7+PV16 examples.

The blue was a little dull, and different greens and purples might result in a more intense blue, but this is an important point to notice here- From my experience, whenever you mix two colors the overall chroma (aka intensity) of the resulting mix will be less than at least one, if not both, of the original colors, especially if the two colors are far apart on the color wheel, and especially when your mix is midway between the two colors. There could be exceptions I’m not thinking of, but that seems to be the case to me. So if you want a really high chroma green, for example, using something like a phthalo green will get you higher chroma than a mix of yellow and blue.

Purple + Orange = Red

So here my goal is to get a red, and since it’s between purple and orange that’s what I’m mixing. I made three mixes with different amounts of each. The middle mix is an earthy orangish red and was a nice surprise. I’ll definitely be recording that one for latter.

Green + Orange = Yellow

Yellow was a hard one for two reasons: First, the green I was using is very overpowering in mixes and I started off with way too much of it, so I kept adding more and more orange. Second, yellow is only a very narrow slice of the visible light spectrum, and there wasn’t a lot of room for error in the mix. I actually went a little too far with adding more orange and should have stopped at the bright yellow I had right above the last color in the bottom right, which you can still see some of. I think the whole range of greenish yellows I got leading up to it were also a nice surprise too, and worth recording.


The idea of “primary” colors being something that can’t be produced by mixing other colors is false. While there may be something to be said about about psychological colors, for example psychological yellow (a yellow that has no visible traces of green or orange), I think there’s an overemphasis on the traditional primary colors of blue, yellow, and red on artists’ palettes. Having more colors on your palette does give more mixing options and make it easier to maintain high chroma in mixes, however a full range of hues can be achieved through the mixing of any three colors that are sufficiently spaced on the color wheel, primary or not.

Color Theory Thursday – Ultramarine Blue

For the first Color Theory Thursday I thought I’d take a look at one of the most common paints, Ultramarine Blue, also known as PB29 (pigment blue 29). I’ll start out with samples of a few varieties, tell some brief history, and then show what I mixed with them.

If you don’t want to read it all, skip to the end where I show a nice mix I discovered on accident.

There are many subtly different varieties of ultramarine, with many paint makers offering as much as 2-4 varieties at once. All varieties are going to be a very dark, transparent, intense, somewhat reddish blue. Ultramarine “light” or “GS” (green shade) are about the same thing; a slightly lighter and less reddish blue. “French” or “deep” ultramarines are also the same thing, or close to it; a slightly deeper and more reddish blue.

Note: The photos are all taken at the same time in direct sunlight. I find it to be impossible, at least with my camera skills, to capture the intensity of ultramarine. In reality the blues below are more intense, except the lapis lazuli, which is actually pretty close to reality.


The paints above are each mixed with Charvin Titanium White at the bottom, first 1:1 and then 1:3.

Winsor & Newton French Ultramarine
Because this was the first one I ever got I regard it as the benchmark by which others are measured.

M Graham Ultramarine Blue
Good color, but very oily. Actually one of the most oily paints I own. This is not necessarily bad and can be a good sign. Ultramarine is famous for oil separation if a stabilizer isn’t used. I’m sure M Graham does use a stabilizer, but using too much can also be bad and changes how the paint behaves. The fact that there’s this much oil separation here indicates that they do not use too much stabilizer.

Rembrandt Ultramarine Deep
A surprisingly deep and vivid blue. Of the paints here it’s my favorite as far as color goes. It’s a little oily, but not as much as M Graham by a large margin.

Old Holland Ultramarine Blue
This one is the most expensive of the first four paints because this brand is one of the pricier ones out there. The pigment concentration is high and I like the way the paint spreads and handles the most out of the paints here. The color is a close second behind the Rembrandt example for my preference.

Of all the above paints, I think the Old Holland one had the highest tinting strength, although not by much. I might not have gotten perfectly exact mixes, but overall it seems like there’s not a lot of difference. Where there is a lot of difference is how each paint handles, with Old Holland being my preference and followed by Winsor & Newton. I hardly see any difference in the color, except the depth and vividness of the Rembrandt example, and I don’t seen much of a point in having multiple varieties of this blue on one palette. I think your choice of what brand to get should be based on price and handling.

Daniel Smith Lapis Lazuli Genuine
By far the most expensive of the paints here, being two to three times the price of the others.

Long ago artists had very limited options for blue paint, and one of those was to take the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli and basically grind it up into paint. There’s a lot more to the process than that, but the important part is that while this paint was a very good blue it was also worth more than its weight in gold. The stones were imported to Europe from mines in Afghanistan and the paint was therefore called Ultra (beyond) Marine (the sea).

In 1826 everything changed when chemists in France developed synthetic ultramarine, called French ultramarine. It was as good if not better than the real thing due to lack of impurities, chemically identical though with smaller and more uniform particle sizes, and very cheap. The market for lapis lazuli paint quickly switched to synthetic ultramarine and today it’s the synthetic ultramarine that is simply called by the name ultramarine blue.

There’s several paint makers today that still offer genuine lapis lazuli. However, there’s different grades of pigment quality based on how much of the impurities have been removed and every lapis lazuli paint on the market falls far short of the purity and intensity of synthetic ultramarine, such as what you see above. In the samples of that paint mixed with white it very quickly disappears because it’s so much weaker than the synthetic versions, on top of being duller.

The left example is lapis lazuli. To the right of that I took Winsor & Newton French ultramarine and added Gamblin Portland Grey Deep plus a few things to thin the paint. I think it’s a pretty close match as far as color goes, and considering I had to actually add grey to the synthetic ultramarine it’s clear how much duller the natural pigment is due to impurities. The only thing I couldn’t seem to match was the way the natural paint produced delicate glazes due to its high transparency, and that’s something it’s very useful for.

While going though old threads on forums I came across a reference that mentioned mixing some of the synthetic ultramarine into the natural to boost its color intensity. I tried that with some of the Old Holland paint and then a little more on the right side. The obvious result is a much stronger paint that’s still good for glazes.

My conclusion? Genuine Lapis Lazuli isn’t worth its marketing hype with the choices in today’s market, but in specific cases it could be useful. If it were to cost much less I might actually like it in the same way I like natural green earth, which is also transparent and weak tinting, but the price is a bit prohibitive. I have updated the wording here to be a little less critical than it used to be. I still think it’s far too expensive, but again it does work well in some situations.


Here I mixed each of the above paints, in the same order, with cadmium yellow pale (PY35) from Winsor & Newton. I tried to go for 1:1 mixtures in the first row. You can see they each produce about the same green, even though two of these blues are the french/deep variety and two aren’t. The Old Holland mix seems a little bluer, maybe because of it being slightly stronger than the others. The lapis lazuli on the other hand barely had an effect on the yellow. To get the same effect from the first four blues I had to mix the yellow in the bottom row with the tiniest little droplet of blue paint. I’d estimate the mix to be about 1:20, or somewhere around there.

Note than when using ultramarine mixed with yellow for greens you’ll typically get earthier, duller greens around the middle of the green range because the reddishness of ultramarine will cause the mix to come closer to the neutral center of the color wheel than what you’d see if you used a greener blue to begin with.

For all of the mixes past this point I used Winsor & Newton’s French ultramarine exclusively, making three mixes of different amounts with each other paint.

One of the most common ways that artists mix their own black paint is to combine ultramarine with burnt sienna (PBr7), such as this one from M Graham, because they combine nearly perfectly to hit black in the center of the color wheel and because they’re both among the cheapest paints. On the left side I used more blue in the mix, producing a very dark blue black. The center is a neutral mix. It’s not exactly a 1:1 mix, and since I had to add more paint back and forth to get the right balance I’m not sure what the final ratio was. On the right is mostly burnt sienna with a little blue added.

Here I mixed Winsor & Newton cerulean blue (PB35) with ultramarine. The left side has the most cerulean and the right the most ultramarine. I wasn’t too excited about the results, but the middle one is kind of nice.

I really liked this mix of ultramarine with Williamsburg Naples yellow italian (PBr24). It looks a little washed out in the photo but that’s mainly because the yellow is dull to begin with. I’ll be recording the greenish blue on the left in my library of mixes to remember. Update- Since posting this Williamsburg has changed the formula for this paint due to changes in pigment supply so it’s no longer a single PBr24 pigment.

Here I mixed ultramarine with M Graham raw sienna (also PBr7). I like the middle green a lot. It’s a very nice earthy green. I highly recommend this mix for landscapes.

Here’s where I think ultramarine really shines, being a reddish blue to begin with. I mixed it with Daniel Smith quinacridone pink (PV42) and got a range of vivid purples and violets.

This time it’s Daniel Smith quinacridone violet (PV19), which is more violet to begin with than the pink version above. The mixes are very similar, but I think a little more intense, because the violet is closer to ultramarine than the pink already and so doesn’t have to cut across the color wheel quite as much.

I used Holbein Scarlet Lake (PR188 and PO69 mixed) this time. Because this red is closer to orange than to violet it has to cut across the color wheel closer to the center to get to blue, so mixes with this produce dull purples. I actually kind of like the left mix, being similar to eggplant, and the right mix, being a very earthy red, but I don’t think I like the middle one at all.

So here’s the mix that I mentioned at the start of this whole post. On the far left is pure Daniel Smith Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine. Like the lapis lazuli before this is one of their “PrimaTek” paints, made from real turquoise. In the mix to the right of that I used mostly ultramarine and a little bit of the turquoise and immediately thought how similar it looked to cobalt blue (PB28), a much more expensive paint than ultramarine. I got out a tube of Winsor & Newton cobalt and put that above it. I can’t really tell a difference between the two. I know of another mix for imitation cobalt that involves ultramarine, phthalo blue (PB15), and white, but what I got here was basically a mixed paint that nearly perfectly, to me anyways, matches my cobalt and doesn’t use white to do it. This mix is far cheaper than cobalt.

My Palettes

Well I haven’t actually made much lately, but I have been doing art related things. As you can see from my palettes, I’ve been mixing paint like crazy so I can find combinations that I like. The example above is a small portion of a palette where I’m recording 50/50 mixes of different pigments. In the past I never did get the hang of mixing skin tones, so I’ve been practicing that as well.

Actually, I’ve been enjoying it so much that I thought I might turn color theory into a regular thing on this blog. How does Color Theory Thursdays sound?

Also, I’ve gone overboard lately with ordering paint and I’ll soon be getting two separate new shipments, which will include paint from four brands that I’ve never used, plus 1 more tube from Old Holland. Just 1-3 tubes from three of the brands, but I think 11 tubes from the forth. I am -very- excited for this 4th brand. I’ve only recently learned about this brand and it’s apparently a somewhat new and very small one, but I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it. Once I get all of these I’ll try them out and post my findings here like I did before with Old Holland, Gamblin, and Williamsburg.

Old Holland, Gamblin, Williamsburg

New Tubes of Paint

I finally got my order of new paint from Jerry’s Artarama today. All three brands – Old Holland, Gamblin, and Williamsburg – are ones that I’ve never tried before and I thought I’d write my first impressions of each. I normally use brands like Daniel Smith, M Graham, or Winsor & Newton.

Note that the photos in this post are not 100% true to life, even though I tried many times to get as accurate of colors in the photos as I could.

Here’s what I got and Jerry’s normal price for each. I actually paid less for most of them thanks to a coupon and sales. The normal retail price would be higher for any of these if you got them in an art store.


I first learned about this brand about 10 years ago, but I never got around to trying it until now. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t have the reputation that a brand like Old Holland does, but I expect it to be of solid quality.
Raw Umber – Burnt Umber – $7.46 each
Black Spinel – $17.96
Portland Grey Deep – Portland Grey Medium – Portland Grey Light – $8.96 each
Torrit Grey – free ^__^

Old Holland

This is often regarded as a “premium brand” of paint. Their prices can get very high, very fast, so I only got a selection of their cheapest paints. Theoretically the quality should be the same as the expensive paints, it’s just that certain pigments cost more to make. There’s no way I’m spending $50 on a 40ml tube of paint, and some of their paint does reach that. I’ve seen worse though.
Burnt Sienna – Ultramarine Blue – English Red – Mars Yellow – Yellow Ochre Light – $11.75 each


I’ve heard this brand is on par with Old Holland, but since I couldn’t use my coupon on it I only got one color. I kind of have a thing about only wanting to buy paint when there’s some sort of sale or coupon discount.
Naples Yellow Italian – $11.56

Paint Sample Color Swatches

To get to know each paint, I squeezed a small dab of each onto a wax paper palette sheet. I then scraped away the paint at the bottom of the dab to see its transparency. After that I made a roughly 50/50 mix of the paint with M Graham Titanium White (actually a blend of titanium white, PW6, and zinc white, PW4). I then took some of that blend and made another 50/50 mix with that and more white, and then repeated that once more. This showed me what the paints looked like in tints (i.e. having white added). I didn’t use any solvents because I normally don’t when I work and I wanted to see what the paints would look like under normal conditions for myself.

Quick note about a pigment’s color index code- Each paint has a code like PB29 on it. This stands for Pigment (P) Blue (B) 29. The number is just the number given to it when added to the color index. Knowing these codes is a lot of memorization, but important because different brands may refer to the same pigment by different names. For example, depending on the brand PO62 might be called “permanent orange” or “azo orange” or even “helio genuine orange.”

Naples, Ochre, and Mars Yellows with English Red

Williamsburg – Naples Yellow Italian

This is my first experience with pure PBr24. It’s much warmer than I thought it’d be, but without the intensity of other yellows. The paint is very thick, and took a slightly firmer squeeze than I’m used to to get it out of the tube. This would make a very good yellow for an earth palette. This one example of Williamsburg’s paint has made me very interested in trying some more from them in the future.

Old Holland – Yellow Ochre Light

PY43 is natural yellow iron oxide and because of many different factors this pigment can have a range of appearances. Given that this paint has “light” in its name I didn’t expect it to be nearly this dark. Instead of this one I wish I had stuck with the Yellow Ochre Half-Burnt that I was originally going to, so it’d be more different from the paint below.

Old Holland – Mars Yellow

PY42 is synthetic yellow iron oxide and one of my favorite pigments. It’s the source of the name “yellow oxide” that I use on some sites like twitter. This paint is very similar to the one above it but slightly more intense. Of the two, I prefer this one. I was hoping they’d be more different than what they are. As it is they’re too similar to need both of these paints on one palette.

Old Holland – English Red

English red is one of the paints in this order that I was most looking forward to. I was a little disappointed that it’s not quite as strongly red or as warm as I had hoped. Even so, I was very impressed with its tinting strength. As you can see, by the third tint you’re looking at a mixture of about 1/8 red with 7/8 white, and yet the strength of the red is about equal with all that white. This is the kind of paint where a little bit really does go a long ways. Its pigment, PR101, is synthetic red iron oxide and comes in many varieties depending on certain factors in how the paint is made. Other varieties using that same pigment might be called things like “venetian red,” “indian red,” or “transparent red oxide.”

Raw and Burnt Umber with Torrit Grey

Gamblin – Raw Umber

PBr7 is one of those very versatile pigments that has many variations. In the case of umbers it’s natural iron oxide that has some manganese in it. This raw umber from Gamblin is greyer than I expected, but makes a potentially useful warm grey as some artists use it for.

Gamblin – Burnt Umber

Maybe it’s because I don’t use burnt umber very often, but I really didn’t think it’d turn out to be this grey. In real life its just slightly warmer than what this photo shows, and the paint’s masstone (what it looks like straight from the tube) is a little darker, but I’d say it was disappointing that there’s such a minor difference between the raw and burnt umbers. Burnt umber is made by taking the pigment that would be used for raw umber and applying enough heat to it to remove the water molecules. This darkens and should redden the pigment. I say it should, but in this case it didn’t really.


After working with this paint a bit and mixing it with some Liquin to thin it down for a transparent glaze I was pleased to see that it does have the redness that I was hoping for. It’s just in tints, when mixed with white, that the paint quickly greys. The difference between the raw and burnt umbers is more noticeable when mixed with Liquin and used like this.

Gamblin – Torrit Grey

Torrit Grey is unique to Gamblin. Every spring they clean out their air filtration and put all of the pigment dust into one paint. The result is a limited edition slightly greenish grey that changes each year and includes, I assume, every pigment they use. I looked over Gamblin’s website and counted 44 different pigments in all their paint, not including things like the many variations of PBr7. The reason this is greenish is because of phthalo green (pronounced “thalo”), PG7, which is famous for being very intense and overpowering other pigments in mixes. As for the paint itself, it’s actually really nice. Very opaque due to the huge variety of pigments in it.

Burnt Sienna Comparison Swatches

Old Holland – Burnt Sienna

Just like the umbers, siennas are also listed as PBr7. They just don’t have the manganese in them. When I first put some of Old Holland’s burnt sienna on the palette I was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as strong of a color as I thought it’d be based on online images. What I was hoping for was a burnt sienna that was a little redder than the one from M Graham that I already had. After comparing the two I was definitely disappointed that the paint from Old Holland was actually slightly duller. It seems like it’d be a good paint, but they look almost the same and on Dick Blick’s catalogue M Graham’s is only $6.23 (for 37ml) compared to Old Holland’s $11.75 (for 40ml). The tinting strength is about the same too. The only thing that I can tell in favor of Old Holland’s burnt sienna from my first impression making these swatches is that it’s a thicker paint, something I do like.

Swatches of Ultramarine Blue

Old Holland – Ultramarine Blue

This color was frustrating to photograph. In real life it’s much more intense in the transparency and the masstone is closer to black. Again I’m comparing Old Holland to M Graham. This time there’s more of a difference between the two brands and I’m more pleased with Old Holland. M Graham’s paint was very oily and had some separation between the oil and pigment while Old Holland’s had the same thickness as the rest of their paint that I tried today. The tinting strength was also a little stronger for Old Holland, although that may have been just me not making a perfectly 50/50 mix with the white.

Black Comparison

Gamblin – Black Spinel

This was another difficult one to photograph. Different black paints will have very subtle shifts toward warm or cool when mixed with white. PBk28 is billed by Gamblin as “the only truly neutral black in masstone and tint.” This is my first experience with this pigment. I was a little confused when I first started making the tints because it seemed to me to be slightly blueish (a little more so than this photo shows). I got out some M Graham ivory black for comparison, which was definitely a warmer grey in tints by comparison. Unfortunately I don’t have any lamp or mars black in oil paint for further comparison. It’s not at all an unpleasant grey, I actually really like it, but it just doesn’t seem to fit what I expected. It’s possible that the white I was using was the reason. I’ll have to try this again once I get some pure zinc white (PW4) because I’ve at least heard that titanium white (PW6) tends to cool down colors when mixed with them. The price is kind of high, and after looking around some more I found at least one other brand that uses PBk28 in a paint that’s cheaper, but I could easily see myself using this black as part of a minimal palette. The ivory black from M Graham was again kind of oily, but not as much this time.


I got that backwards, it’s actually zinc white that cools mixes down. I tried again with pure titanium white and it was still definitely a non-neutral cool grey.

Gamblin's Portland Grey Deep, Medium, and Light

Gamblin – Portland Grey Deep, Medium, and Light

I don’t normally use grey when painting, but I think that’s going to change. These were actually the first three of the new paints I got that I tried and I photographed them under different lighting conditions from the rest. Gamblin’s website doesn’t list PBr7 as being in them, but it’s written on the tubes and makes sense to me because normally a mix of black and white won’t be 100% neutral and if the grey is leaning a little toward the bluer side of things then a touch of brown will balance it out. These three paints are what I expect when I think of a neutral grey.

Texture of Gamblin's Portland Grey

One of the first things I noticed with Gamblin’s paint was how thick it is compared to at least some of what I normally use. I gently pressed my palette knife into one of the greys and lifted it. It’s now at least 5 hours after this photo was taken and it’s still standing up, although the thin tops have curled over. There’s no way I’d be able to get the kind of texture with M Graham’s paints that I can with this.

Conclusions from my first impressions

I was very pleased with the consistency of every paint from every brand I tried. They’re all thick and I expect will hold a brushstroke well when I want to give a painting a little texture. Some of the paints were a little duller than I hoped and weren’t all that different from the less expensive (but still good quality) paint that I already have. The Naples Yellow Italian from Williamsburg is definitely my favorite based on these color swatches, with Mars Yellow and English Red from Old Holland being second and third place. I think the Portland Greys are going to be very useful. Although Gamblin’s Burnt Umber was surprisingly greyish, it should also be useful as a warm grey. I’d try more paint from any of these three brands. As for the prices on some of them compared to other brands offering the same paints, let’s just say that artist paint is not immune to the law of diminishing return.