Zirconium Blue and Cerulean Comparison

Zirconium cerulean (PB71) watercolor in center, surrounded by similar blues on Arches 140 lb paper.

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.

Kremer’s Blue Pigment Assortment

I got a boxed assortment of pigments from Kremer 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.

Blue 30th Chart
Click here for a large chart.

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.

Egyptian Blue
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
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.

Cobalt Blue Comparison

Cobalt Blue Comparison

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.

Star Gazing Between Cypress Trees

Night Sky Watercolor 8

While I was painting these night scenes of the sky obstructed by trees I started thinking about how conditions for doing something, like watching stars, are often not ideal. Then I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 11:4 “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” This is another poetic parallelism in the Bible where, in this case, the same idea is being repeated to present both cause and effect. Another way of saying it would be that if you always wait for what you think is the perfect opportunity then you’ll miss every opportunity. So what if a few trees are in the way? Can you still at least see some stars? So what if you don’t have the best painting studio? Can you still at least make a drawing?

In the last sketch I was actually trying to paint real stars from a photo I had taken. The positions aren’t completely accurate relative to each other, but they’re all real stars. The biggest one in that painting is Vega. The first painting is on proper watercolor paper, for a change.

Last Light

Last Light

Watercolor on regular printer paper, 3.75″ x 2.75″

I was about to try sketching a portrait in watercolor, but then I noticed the light outside was very dark and blue. It was after sunset but there was enough light to see the shapes of trees and the hills behind them, so I sketched that instead with indigo watercolor.

Even regular printer paper can be used for watercolor, though it absorbs the paint quickly and can’t be worked much before it starts to tear so you have to work faster and more deliberately. At the very least, it can be a very inexpensive way to sketch out ideas or test what colors will look like next to each other or practice brushstrokes. A lot of artists, including myself, say they feel more confident when working with cheaper paper because they aren’t as worried that they’ll make a mistake and waste their materials. When using printer paper I feel like I can try anything and not worry.

Ultramarine, Lapis, Indigo, and Indanthrone Blue Charts

Blue Compare 1

A while back I had posted this chart on a forum in response to a question about what these blue paints looked like compared to each other. The color isn’t 100% accurate but it’s close enough to show how they compare. The box on the right shows color averaging from the first 1:1 mix with white for each paint for comparison.

This is a workhorse paint. It’s a very good, strong, easy to use, and useful color that’s reliable to not fade. Every brand of paint sells this and it’s always one of the least expensive from any of them. It’s hard to find a more perfect paint. Almost every paint set for students includes this. For most artists that I’ve seen, if they only have one blue on their palette, it’s usually this one. This is sometimes referred to as “synthetic ultramarine” while talking about lapis lazuli, which is natural ultramarine.

Lapis Lazuli
Natural ultramarine is the opposite of synthetic ultramarine in almost every way. It’s weak, dull, very expensive, only available from a few brands, and difficult to use in many painting styles because it’s so transparent and so easily overpowered by anything you mix into it. You can see this from how light it becomes when mixed with the same amount of white as any of the other paints on the chart were. It’s good for glazing because of its high transparency, and in watercolor it’s actually useful for its high granulating texture. Other than that I think a lot of artists tend to have high expectations for this famous paint that’s spoken of so highly in much of art history but when they actually try it themselves the paint doesn’t match the hype. There’s different grades of pigment depending on the purity and to make this from the highest purity would be extremely expensive. I think it’d be better to just use synthetic ultramarine.

Natural indigo is known to fade and I don’t think anyone makes paint with it anymore. Synthetic indigo is PB66, only used by a few brands, and I’ve read conflicting reports about its lightfastness. Almost all paints named “indigo” today are just mixes of blue and black, sometimes including other pigments such as a little violet, with each brand using their own mix. The synthetic indigo in this comparison is very slightly bluer and less grey than the mix below it (which is made from phthalo blue, lamp black, and ultramarine), but if you wanted the mix to be bluer it would be easy enough to just add a small amount of extra blue to it. Doing this would avoid any question of whether synthetic indigo is actually lightfast and you wouldn’t be confined to just the few brands that make it. If you want to use a so-called “Zorn palette” (usually yellow ochre, vermilion or light cadmium red, ivory black, and white) you could consider indigo instead of pure black to give the palette a little more flexibility. Greens would be slightly easier to mix and the cool greys would be a little more believable as “blue” when placed next to a bright red than simply mixing black with white.

Anthraquinone, Indanthrone, or Indanthrene Blue
The name depends on the brand, but I call it indanthrone. The popularity of this slightly reddish blue seems much lower than many of the others because I rarely see it on anyone’s palette. I think it’s usually somewhere in the middle of a brand’s price range and is clearly not as intensely chromatic as ultramarine. It has much more tinting strength than ultramarine though, so a smaller amount of this paint will go further in mixes, possibly offsetting the price. It also seems a little more opaque than most blue pigments. I used to use this a lot early on when I started painting and was exploring different pigments, but I haven’t used any for a long time now. Maybe that’ll change.

Ocean Cloud

Ocean Cloud

Oil on board, 5″ x 7″

A cloud billowing up from the ocean. I used cobalt blue (Blue Ridge) and titanium white (M Graham). This is still wet but I didn’t want to have to wait to scan it, so I place a coin at each corner with only a tiny bit of the board overlapping onto the coin. This kept the wet paint from touching the scanner’s glass and I only had to crop off the very edges of it with nothing really lost.

Northern Woods

Northern Woods

Watercolor on paper, Moulin du Roy 140lb cold press, 3 1/8″ x 5 3/4″

A cold winter night, with fog and stars.

Among the things that arrived from Dick Blick yesterday were many sheets of watercolor papers from brands I’ve never used before but wanted to try. Moulin du Roy is a French brand that I think I first noticed in that catalog a few months ago as something new. I got 1 or 2 sheets each of 140lb cold press, hot press, and rough. I really like this paper so far.

The watercolor paint I used is Dick Blick’s house brand of indigo (PB66). I’ve used a couple of tubes of their oil paint before, which is decent enough, but this is my first time with their watercolor. I was impressed by the strength of it, and it was very inexpensive.

Indigo paints come in 3 basic varieties. Originally there was genuine indigo, which is a fugitive pigment (it fades in sunlight easily). I think only Kremer Pigments currently makes watercolor paint with that, but there might be one other I don’t know about. This indigo used here is the synthetic version of real indigo, and this pigment is used by a few different brands of paint. I think it’s suppose to be more lightfast than natural indigo, but I really can’t guarantee anything. Lastly and most commonly the paint called “indigo” is actually just convenience mixture of various blue and black pigments, and sometimes possibly a little dioxizine violet, quinacridone violet, or some other dark color depending on the brand. I like the subtle color of this particular indigo and the strength of how dark it can be.

The Highlands

The Highlands

Oil on canvas, 8″ x 10″

A couple of days ago I found out about an artist named Arkhip Kuindzhi. He grew up poor in Ukraine in the mid 1800s, was orphaned when he was 6, worked for a living from then on, and eventually moved to Russia and learned art. I’m going to put my painting to shame by showing you guys this, but I saw this painting he made called Snow Tops and I wanted to paint something like that today. Again I wasn’t actually looking at that painting while I worked except a few glances during breaks, and it’s not meant to be an exact copy anyways. He has so many good paintings, I want to make copies or paintings similar to at least 20-28 of them.

This particular canvas is one that I had previously coated in multiple layers of Golden fiber paste mixed with white acrylic paint until the canvas texture was gone and in its place was a sort of stony texture that I like. The paints I used were cobalt blue (PB28, Winsor & Newton), azo green (PY129, M Graham), prussian blue (PB27, M Graham), king’s blue (PB28+PW6, Rembrandt), flake white hue (PW6+PW4, Winsor & Newton), and a little bit of zinc buff yellowish (PW4, Williamsburg). This was my first finished painting using that azo green (known in other brands by names like “green gold”) and I think it may become one of my favorites alongside viridian. It doesn’t show up very well in the photo but I used very thick paint that gets thicker towards the foreground.

I used to live in a place called Highlands Ranch. It sounds romantic, but by the time I moved there nothing was left of the former ranch. Instead there was only suburban sprawl with mountains very far in the distance.



Oil on canvas, 10″ x 8″

Based on Cliffs at Pourville, Rain by Monet. I wasn’t looking at his painting while I painted, or especially trying for an exact copy, so mine turned out a little different.

I don’t normally paint this thickly, but I’ve been watching some video clips of an artist named David Leffel and I’m hoping to learn some things from him so I can improve my work. I kind of like thick paint.

I had a cobalt, prussian, and cerulean blues already on my palette when I started so I was using mixtures of those with white and a little Portland Grey Light from Gamblin. Around 2/3 of the way through I decided to try a mixture of french ultramarine with my new cobalt teal (PB28) from Gamblin. I really like how that mix turned out. The reddishness, darkness, transparency, and intensity of the ultramarine was balanced by the greenishness, lightness, opacity, and relative dullness of the teal, resulting in a mellow middle blue in all regards.