Yellow Ochre and Mars Yellow Oil Paints

Yellow Ochre and Mars Yellow Comparison Chart

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.

A similar comparison of red ochre oil paints can be found here.

Asphaltum, Van Dyke brown, Cassel earth, and Anthracite

Brown Oil Paint Comparison 1

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.

Brown Oil Paint Comparison  1 top

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.

Brown Oil Paint Comparison  1 bottom

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.

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.

Terre Verte / Green Earth

terrevertecompare1b

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. 🙂

 

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.

Ultramarine
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.

Indigo
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.

Puzzlewood

Puzzlewood

Oil on canvas, 7″ x 5″

When I started this it was to try out a new paint I had just made, but as I expanded the swatches and added more colors it began to look like a forest, so I named it after a place in England I’ve read about called Puzzlewood.

There’s a system to how I placed the swatches. Look at the far left column and go down to the 4th row, in the center. That’s orange ochre. The square to the right of it is the same paint but brushed thinly, and then to the right of that is a 50/50 mix of orange ochre with titanium white. So every color I used is a set of three swatches that includes one full strength, one thin, and one mixed with white. Above the orange ochre I mixed increasing amounts of lemon ochre and for each step I repeated that pattern of also including a thin swatch and a swatch with white. Below it I added burnt sienna dark.

Now look at the next set of three columns. The pattern is reversed so the swatches with white come first in the 4th column, then the thin swatches in the 5th, and full strength in the 6th. In the center I started with malachite. Above that it’s mixed with lemon ochre again and below it’s mixed with viridian.

The next set of three columns goes back to the first pattern. Venetian red is in the center, and it’s the paint that I had made just before starting this painting. This is actually where I started from because I didn’t plan out all of this before starting. Above it is a mix with lemon ochre again, but this time it’s different because the very top set is actually just straight lemon ochre, with none of the paint from the center mixed in. The bottom set is straight German earth. Again, I hadn’t planned out everything at this point, so the top and bottom swatches of the center column set is the only place that I actually used paint straight from the tube for either a top or bottom set.

Columns 10-12 start with viridian in the center and mix upward with more lemon ochre and down with burnt sienna dark. The last set of columns has burnt sienna dark in the center and goes up with lemon ochre and down with German earth.

Puzzlewood Guide

So here’s the list of each color I used and the brands-

1. Orange ochre – PY43, self made with pigment from Natural Pigments
2. Italian lemon ochre – PY43, Williamsburg
3. Malachite – synthetic malachite, self made with pigment from Kremer Pigments
4. Venetian red – PR102, self made with pigment from Natural Pigments
5. German earth – Natural PBk11, Williamsburg
6. Viridian – PG18, M Graham
7. Burnt sienna dark – PBr7, self made with pigment from Natural Pigments
Titanium white – PW6, Williamsburg

Red Ochre Oil Paints

PR101 and PR102 (Pigment Red 101 and 102) are among my favorite pigments for paint and they come in a large variety of colors. PR102 is a natural red iron oxide (red ochre) and PR101 is the synthetic version. Below is my collection of oil paints using either of these as a single pigment paint with nothing else added. I photographed this in direct sunlight during the afternoon. All of the paints were mixed twice with about an equal 50/50 mix with white.

PR101 PR102 samples

Old Holland Yellow Ochre Burnt
This is my only natural red ochre in oil paint. As I understand it this pigment is made by roasting natural yellow ochre pigment until it turns reddish. It could make a good alternative to burnt sienna. It’s a little lighter and brighter, and has a stronger color.

Winsor & Newton Transparent Red Ochre
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got this because the name sounds like it’d be what’s normally called Transparent Red Oxide, which is the variety of PR101 that W&N already uses in their “Burnt Sienna”, but this is really very different. I think it’s close to the same as the Yellow Ochre Burnt above it but this is a slightly cleaner and more pure color. As the name suggests, this paint is semi transparent. The tinting strength isn’t as overpowering as some of the others in this list so it’s a bit easier to work with. This is one of those paints that I wish I had gotten years ago. It might even be my favorite red ochre.

Rembrandt Burnt Sienna
Although real Burnt Sienna is made from either PBr6 or PBr7, there are a few brands of paint that use a Transparent Red Oxide version of PR101 instead, which has a much stronger color, higher transparency, and higher tinting strength than actual burnt sienna. It doesn’t show up well in the photo but this particular one is lighter in masstone than the “burnt sienna” below it from W&N.

Winsor & Newton Burnt Sienna
A nice example of Transparent Red Oxide. It has good transparency. I tend to prefer paints like this over actual burnt sienna for the greater color strength.

Blue Ridge Transparent Red Oxide
Very similar to the above paint, but not as transparent. This one also seems to have a slightly higher tinting strength, but I can’t guarantee that I got the mix with white an exact 50/50 mix on any of these.

Old Holland English Red
Now we’re getting into the slightly cooler temperature colors for red ochres. This is a very high tinting strength paint, and easily overpowers most other paints that I mix it with unless I use extremely small amounts of this. Because of that, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of this one when you consider how little of it is needed in each paint mix. This one it so similar to the venetian red below that I actually mixed up the labels on the image at first. I’m 99% sure I have it right now since I kept the tubes lined up in the same order that I placed the paint on the palette and because this paint has a thicker, more viscous consistency.

Winsor & Newton Venetian Red
There’s a little bit of variety of colors that are referred to by different brands as “venetian red” but this name is generally given to a semi-cool earth red that’s not as cool as something like an Indian Red.

Blockx Mars Violet
As far as I know this is about as cool as red ochres can get. I bought this one from Blockx because when I looked at a paint chart someone else had made of different brands of mars violet the one from Blockx looked like the coolest. On an earth palette of red and yellow ochres this could be a very useful.

A similar comparison of yellow ochre oil paints can be found here.