I was asked recently about zirconium blue, PB71, which is called zirconium cerulean by Kremer Pigments because of its similarity to cerulean. Unlike normal cerulean it doesn’t contain cobalt, so I presume that it’s less toxic, but it does cost about the same or a little more.
In the chart above zirconium blue is in the center, surrounded by all of the watercolor ceruleans (both PB35 and PB36) that I have access to and also some cobalt teals that I thought would be similar, plus manganese blue. The tartan blue was a limited edition variety of cerulean that I don’t think is made anymore, and the pigment for manganese blue isn’t made anymore either.
Zirconium blue is basically a heavily granulating turquoise or greenish teal. Some of the ceruleans and cobalt teals granulate more than others, but zirconium blue is only matched by genuine manganese blue. It seems to be a bit weaker tinting than the other paints here. The lifting is partly affected by the medium used to make the paint, but what I made here does lift very well, as does the “cobalt blue light” (actually cerulean) seen at the center left and the cerulean grey from Blockx in the bottom left.
The medium that I used to make each of the self-made paints was an experiment. Each time I make watercolor medium it’s a little different to explore how changes in proportions affect the paint. This time I used 5.5 grams of gum arabic powder dissolved into about 12-13ml of water that was heated to 140-150°F (60-65°C). Then about 2-3ml of light colored honey and 1-2ml of glycerin was added, which is less of both of those than I normally use. After shaking it gently but thoroughly 4 drops of synthetic ox gall from QoR were added. As a preservative I dipped the end of a brush handle into a bottle of clove oil, getting just a thin coating of it on the tip, and I put that into the medium. So far the medium seems to be working well. All of the self-made paints were just made justing a palette knife to combine the pigment with medium. Update- the paint was a little dry, so I approximately doubled the amount of glycerin.
There’s a large variety of both natural and synthetic yellow ochres, and as one least expensive pigments it’s been a way for me to try different brands while also getting a useful paint. The natural version is normally called yellow ochre, and the synthetic version is Mars yellow, but paint makers can label their paints with whatever name they want. This includes using the name yellow ochre for paint made with the synthetic pigment. I’ll just call them all yellow ochre here.
Obviously most of the common yellow ochres, seen in the top half of the chart, are very similar to each other in color, so I would suggest just choosing only one or two at the most. Synthetic ones tend to have higher tinting strength, which is seen by how well the paint retains its color when mixed with white, and are also almost always more opaque. The exception would be the transparent mars yellows at the bottom.
Other aspects of the paint, such as how loose or stiff it is, may be very different even between paints that are similar in color. For example, the Old Holland paints above are the stiffest, while the M Graham and Winsor & Newton paints were much looser. Blockx was smooth and buttery, but not as stiff as Old Holland. The paints I made were loose and had no stabilizers added.
The more exotic ochres at the bottom aren’t seen as often in paint lines but have a greater variety of opacity and hue. A few of them I made myself from dry pigments. In some cases, such as the orange ochre from Rublev, those can also be bought as already made paint. I just don’t have those paints myself and my efforts to make paint shouldn’t be taken as good examples of what the already made paint would be like.
A couple of especially notable paints in this chart are the lemon ochre for its brightness and clarity and the orange ochre for how similar it already is to certain skin tones when just mixed with white. If I were to just choose two, those would be my favorites.
All of these swatches were mixed with Williamsburg titanium white. I tried to mix equal amounts but could have been a little off. The photo was taken in sunlight and white balanced in Photoshop, but may not be perfectly accurate. Some of these tubes were old and may not represent what these brands currently produce.
In this brief comparison I have a variety of unusual brown paints that each have long histories but are seldom used today.
Van Dyke brown is one whose name is commonplace even if the genuine paint is not. It’s named after Anthony Van Dyck, a famous Flemish portrait artist who made extensive use of it in the 17th century. It’s also known as Cassel earth because of the deposits of it near the town of Cassel, Germany, and carries the pigment designation NBr8 (natural brown 8) because it contains natural organic matter.
The last paint in the chart above is a modern imitation of Van Dyke brown. It’s actually a mixture of pigments – in this case burnt umber and ivory black – that only imitates the color but not the handling of the original pigment. There’s many other modern pigments and mixtures that also borrow their names from some historical pigment that’s either no longer used or is only rarely used, such as indigo, sap green, vermilion, etc. As is often the case, part of the reason to make a modern imitation is because it’ll have better lightfastness than genuine Van Dyke brown.
Although it obviously has much higher tinting strength than the other paints – the third tint is a 1:7 mixture with titanium white and is close to the 1:1 mixtures for all the others – it also loses its limited chroma very quickly when tinted to higher values. The Gilsonite and anthracite may be weaker tinting but they’re also much more chromatic at high values.
I also made an area, not shown here, of evenly spread test strips of each paint that I check each day to see how long it takes for each to dry. All of this was started nine days ago and as of the time I’m posting this only two have dried because most of these are slow drying paints. I’ll keep checking and update this when or if the others dry.
These three I made from dry pigment, using linseed oil from Rublev. Nothing else was added, and I don’t know for certain how well they’ll dry on their own. They probably could have benefitted from a little bit of umber (PBr7) being added, because that contains manganese and acts as a drier for oil paint.
Gilsonite is a bitumen-impregnated rock that’s mined in Utah, USA. Bitumen (NBk6), also called asphaltum, has had many uses since ancient times, such as waterproofing for boats and ships. Today it’s still used for things like road construction, hence the term asphalt. Another example of use is that Ford model T cars were black because they were coated in a laquer made from Gilsonite. There’s many other possible applications for it. This is the most chromatic of all the paints here, but I’m unsure of its longevity as bitumen gained a reputation in the early 19th century for causing oil paintings to crack.
Anthracite, a high purity grade of coal, was used along with lower grades of coal by some artists in the past as a black pigment. Almost three years ago I made some watercolor with it, seen here.
The tube of Williamsburg’s Van Dyke brown was given to me by Williamsburg a couple of years ago and is one of the two varieties of this pigment they offer. Only two other brands – Rublev and Vasari – make paint from genuine Van Dyke brown. It has raw umber in it, but just enough to decrease the drying time to about a week without having much impact on how the paint looks or handles. The test strip took seven days to dry.
French Cassel earth is Williamsburg’s other Van Dyke brown. My tube is their old version from before they reformulated it to also have a small raw umber addition. Both of these Williamsburg paints have a large pigment grain and produce unique results that would be impossible to produce with modern imitations. Although they may look gritty in this photo, it’s not difficult to use them.
For comparison, M Graham’s paint here is a modern paint that has been given the name Van Dyke brown. Even if modern imitations are very similar in color they may be very different in handling, as you can see in how it has more uniformity and its covering power made it comparatively difficult to smudge thinly. In this case I think it’s due in part to the smaller particle size of the pigments used here. This paint was dry the first day that I checked the swatches, only about 24 hours after making them. That’s even though this is the only paint here that’s made with walnut oil, which normally takes a little longer to dry than linseed oil.
M Graham’s paint is itself an excellent paint, but there is a large difference between its handling and that of genuine Van Dyke brown. Whether this difference is an advantage or a disadvantage depends on the situation and the painting style.
In part 1, seen here, I started trying out the Ceracolors water-soluble encaustic paint sampler set from Natural Pigments. The palette for all of the paintings in this post is the original sampler set of yellow ochre, mars red, and titanium white, plus ultramarine blue and mars black made using the fluid medium that came with the set and some dry pigment.
Previously, there was difficulty getting dark shadows using the original palette and ultramarine. That started becoming a problem again during this painting, so part way through I made the mars black paint that I’m now storing in a small glass bottle. That one palette addition was very helpful in all of these paintings.
The difficulty of mixing dark colors with this palette seems partly because this medium dries very matte, which can be great in some ways but takes a lot of the depth out of dark colors. Another factor is that different binders affect how colors look and the ultramarine dries much lighter than it would in oil paint. Lastly, high opacity paints such as mars red hinder mixing dark colors, regardless of medium.
Early on some of the placements of buildings here were off, but I decided to just continue as it is. The overall colors here are also much cooler than the original. I typically mix my colors on a painting more than on a palette, but this paint dries quickly unless the fluid medium is used and I ended up doing all my mixing on the palette. That was the main aspect of this paint that I found challenging.
I tried breaking the paint a little with dry brushing to get the effect of reflections in the water. Matching the colors in the sky was difficult using only earths, but it worked out well enough.
Getting sufficient chroma for the bright yellow greens of the sunlit grass was a challenge for this limited palette. I got close to the results I wanted by painting the sunlit grass a very light pale green mix, letting it dry, and then glazing (or more correctly, scumbling, because it’s not fully transparent) over it with a semi-transparent mix of yellow ochre, ultramarine, and fluid medium. Glazing transparent paint over a light ground produces more chromatic results than simply adding white to lighten the paint to the same degree. Because the paint dries quickly this only took a few moments to do, and because it doesn’t easily rewet once dry I didn’t need to worry about accidental mixing as I glazed. It wasn’t perfect though because the paint tends to dry opaque and hold brush strokes more than gouache, so the glaze wasn’t very smooth or transparent. It got the results needed well enough even though it’s really only barely green. A dedicated green paint or a higher chroma yellow would have been a big improvement to the palette in this landscape.
The fast drying nature of Ceracolors combined with the opacity of most of the paints in this palette made it fast and easy to paint in general shapes first and then paint details over top of that. For this last painting I made four solid shapes for the sky, background, midground, and foreground, then added the details on top. Using these outdoors for plein air painting may be a good strategy to try next.
Granted these practice paintings are small, but I’ve actually used very little paint, so this sampler set is something I can keep practicing with for a good long time. Some paints will last longer than others though. I’ve definitely used much more of the titanium white than any other paint and I should probably save the rest of the fluid medium for when I’ll need to make more of that. The mars red is the opposite. I don’t use red much anyways, and mars red is a very strong tinting paint, so only a small amount of it is needed. It’s already obvious there’ll still be a significant amount of mars red left after the other paints are all used up.
Using just the original paints the palette of the sampler set is very limited but provides plenty of paint to use and decide whether you’d want to buy more of it. Maybe using smaller tubes to allow for a larger range of colors in the set at about the same price, or even a little more, would have greatly increased the usability of the set, but as it is it’s a very good deal and very good paint.
Something useful about the caps is that they each have a little swatch of paint on top of the cap so the paints can be easily identified. Unfortunately, the caps of two of the original three tubes have cracked in such a way that the top is splitting off from the part than screws onto the tube’s threads. I’ve had many caps crack in various ways from many other brands in both oil and watercolor paint, so this is something that happens. However, this is normally a rare thing and here it’s happened to two out of three tubes in a short time, so I thought I should mention that.
I’ve really enjoyed using Ceracolors so far and I’ll keep using them. If I wasn’t on a break from buying new art supplies then I’d get some more, but what I have should last awhile. Next time I’ll paint something larger and experiment with actually applying heat to the dried paint to see how well it can be reworked once melted.
I got a boxed assortment of pigments from Kremer (here) recently and here’s a chart of all of them made into watercolor. As always I can’t guarantee color accuracy. Actually, this time I guarantee it’s not accurate, because ultramarine is hard to photograph. All of these I made just with a palette knife and my own formula of watercolor medium (gum arabic, light honey, glycerin, tiny amount of synthetic ox gall, extremely tiny amount of clove oil). It’s not meant to be a comparison of tinting strengths or how each paint behaves other than granulation. None of these swatches are just a single brush stroke, as I was trying to get the paint to granulate. The paper is 140 lb cold pressed Arches.
A1 – PB32 – Smalt, very fine
A2 – PB31 – Egyptian Blue – The first synthetic pigment, made in ancient Egypt
A3 – NA – HAN-Purple, fine – an ancient pigment used in China
A4 – PB30 – Blue Verditer – a synthetic azurite
A5 – PB29 – Lapis Lazuli, sky-blue – genuine lapis lazuli
A6 – PB1 – Indigo, genuine – smells bad when wet, but very nice blackish darks
A7 – NA – Colored glass, Lapis Blue
A8 – NA – Ploss Blue – a form of distilled verdigris
A9 – PB30 – Azurite MP, pale
A10 – NA – Sodalite
B1 – PG24 – Ultramarine Green – a rare pigment not made anymore
B2 – PB29 – Ultramarine Blue, very dark
B3 – PB29 – Ultramarine Blue, greenish extra – the most intense ultramarine blue
B4 – PB29 – Ultramarine Blue, greenish light
B5 – PB29 – Ultramarine Blue, light
B6 – PV15 – Ultramarine Violet, medium
B7 – PB27 – Prussian Blue LUX
B8 – PV16 – Manganese Violet
B9 – NA – Copper Blue
B10 – PB71 – Zirconium Cerulean Blue – similar to cerulean but more granulating and contains no cobalt
C1 – PB74 – Cobalt Blue Dark
C2 – PB28 – Cobalt Blue Dark, greenish
C3 – PB74 – Cobalt Blue, Sapporo
C4 – PB28 – Cobalt Blue Pale (matte) – looks very nice for skies near horizon
C5 – PB35 – Cobalt Blue Light
C6 – PB36 – Cobalt Blue, greenish
C7 – PB28 – Cobalt Blue Turquoise Light
C8 – PB36 – Cobalt Blue Turquoise Dark
C9 – PV14 – Cobalt Violet, dark – similar to manganese violet, but cleaner color and more granulation
C10 – PV49 – Cobalt Violet Brilliant, light
A few extra notes- Three of my favorites are the smalt (A1), ultramarine green (B1), and cobalt blue pale (C4). Though the set isn’t inexpensive, it’s a very good deal when you consider how much is in it. Dividing the price by the number of pigments, and considering that 27 of the 30 jars look like they have roughly enough pigment to make about a regular tube of watercolor paint, it’s comes out to a very low price per tube. Much less than you’d spend buying such pigments as tubed paint. Plus, most of these pigments would normally be expensive to buy a small amount of them all, so a lot is being saved by being able to try them all. Also, I think I typed the names of all of these as they appear on the bottles, but Kremer’s website gives some of them slightly different names.
Comparison of Egyptian blue made with light pressure (left) and heavy pressure (right). Using more pressure ground the particles finer and it seems like it’s the smaller particles that shifted to a greener hue immediately, which gives a very interesting effect. Both versions are a little iridescent.
Ploss blue is not listed on Kremer’s site as compatible with watercolor. Here’s a comparison between a paint swatch I made today (left) and one from a few days ago (right). It apparently yellows very quickly in watercolor, though I’m not 100% sure what it’s reacting to. Maybe something in the medium I made, like the clove oil? The verdigris I made myself didn’t yellow like this in watercolor (using the same medium, minus the synthetic ox gall, and a different batch), but it did in oil paint. It is listed as compatible with tempera though, so when I eventually try that I’ll give this a test. The color before yellowing is an exceptionally intense greenish blue.
In a forum thread we were discussing cobalt teal and I posted this photo of various cobalt blue pigments in oil paint, which I thought I’d share here too. I can’t guarantee color accuracy in the photo, but I think it’s close.
Regular cobalt blue is normally made from the pigment PB28 and it’s a good, but often expensive, middle blue. It dries fast because of the cobalt content. Compared to ultramarine it’s a little more opaque and has a little less red while being lighter in masstone. Although this particular pigment is called by the name cobalt blue, all of the above paints contain cobalt. The difference between them being which other metals are included, such as aluminum or chromium, and in what amounts.
There’s two pigments that are labeled as cobalt teal by the paint makers that offer them. One is an uncommon and very opaque teal version of the standard cobalt blue pigment, PB28, and the other is a teal version of one of the cobalt greens, PG50. They’re similar enough that if you have one you won’t need the other. I almost never see other artists talk about having teals like these on their palette, so they must not be popular. I think they can be useful for painting green hills far in the distance, and definitely tropical water, but until now I’ve also rarely used them myself.
PB36 is another pigment that comes in a large range of varieties. Although it’s not the original cerulean blue, PB36 can be so close to the original in appearance that it’s often given the name cerulean. At the other end of its range are blue turquoise and green turquoise varieties. Shown here is a green turquoise. I like the turquoise color, but again I rarely use it.
The original cerulean is PB35. It typically dries to a more matte surface. Either this or the PB36 version labeled as cerulean would be good for painting skies, especially closer to the horizon where the sky has more green, as they are both slightly greener than cobalt blue. I actually prefer the PB36 version of cerulean because the color has a little more intensity to it. The name cerulean probably comes from the Latin word for heaven or sky.
Lastly, in the right column I mixed all of these with an equal amount of nickel titanate yellow, which is a somewhat dull lemon yellow, to see how they’d behave.
Getting a good photo was hard, and even this isn’t perfect. Whenever I’ve made oil paint from this pigment it’s extremely short paint when it’s freshly made. Even without any stabilizers added the consistency of this paint is the closest there is to being like butter. I think I could even make a sculpture with it.
Genuine terre verte is very transparent and weak tinting. It’s good for glazing, for example. Some brands make an imitation terre verte by mixing pigments like phthalo green with burnt sienna, but the imitations are always far too opaque and are much stronger tinters.
Cool terre vertes, like the Nicosia green earth and the French terre verte at the top, are hard to find. Everyone seems to prefer making the warmer varieties. Sometimes I like to add a little terre verte to ultramarine to make it closer to a middle blue. 🙂