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: Leon Battista Alberti

I recently came across a mention of this statement below by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), an Italian known for everything from art to architecture to philosophy. I’m not an expert on Alberti, or anything else, but I do enjoy reading about paint and color.

“Through the mixing of colours infinite other colours are born, but there are only four true colours – as there are four elements – from which more and more other kinds of colours may be thus created. Red is the colour of fire, blue of the air, green of the water, and of the earth grey and ash.” [source]

It’s interesting that his concept of “true colors,” what today might be called “primary colors,” doesn’t include yellow, but instead has grey along with green. I’m not trying to argue his views as correct or go in depth with current, modern color science, but I thought it would be interesting to explore this historical view of color and try to understand Alberti’s point of view and how he may have come to his conclusions.

First a little terminology. What Alberti refers to as a “genus” of color is what artists today call a “hue.” What he calls a “species” seems to be what we would call either a “tint” (lighter version of the same hue) or a “shade” (darker version of the same hue).

“In shadows colours are altered. As the shadow deepens the colours empty out, and as the light increases the colours become more open and clear. For this reason the painter ought to be persuaded that white and black are not true colours but are alterations of other colours.”

So Alberti seems to have been firmly of the opinion that black and white were not colors on their own, but modifiers for other colors. Thus a light blue might have been considered a “lightened” blue or a dark blue a “darkened” blue, and may be considered different species of the same genus.

Now let’s explore each of Alberti’s true colors and what sort of pigments he would have had available to him to represent them. He obviously had a fixation on the classical elements of fire, air, water, and earth. The modern artist’s palette is filled with a huge selection of bright, strong, and reliable pigments, but much of this is the result of modern chemistry from about the past two hundred years. In Alberti’s day, the selection of greens, blues, purples, and bright yellows would have been very limited. Even the intense reds were less than reliable and limited to those made with either mercury or lead. Most if not all of the pigments I reference are still available from certain brands of paint, even if only in dry pigment form, although many have been replaced by various modern pigments that may either be cheaper, less toxic, less prone to fading/darkening over time, or any combination of those.

Red, Color of Fire

One question I quickly found myself asking was “which red?” Looking a selection of colors all referred to as “red” will show a large variety. Did he have a specific red in mind or was he thinking in terms of red as an entire category? I believe it was as a category, but still may be both. Consider than fire, which red was to represent, comes in a variety of colors, including yellows and oranges, and that most examples of fire I’ve seen include more reddish orange rather than any deep crimson red. I think it’s a possibility that Alberti viewed orange, and maybe even some yellows, as a form of red. In the context of representing fire with red this would make sense as red alone is not sufficient for painting fire, even mixed with black or white, unless your goal is a pink fire. As artists today have no problem considering both yellow-green and bluish-green to be varieties of what’s called “green,” he may have seen oranges and some yellows as varieties of red. This could, in part, explain the absence of yellow from his true colors.

So what reds did he have? The two strongest, highest chroma reds would have been minium (PR105, also known as “red lead” and where the English word “miniature” comes from due to its use in the small letters of illuminated manuscripts) and vermilion (PR106, mercuric sulfide). How they’re made may also be relevant, as while both could be found naturally the artificial production of both involved large amounts of fire. Minium is a lead oxide that can be made by heating a form of lead with oxygen to oxidize it [link]. The artificial production of it was known to Cennino Cennini (1370-1440) who said it was “manufactured by alchemy.” Vermilion is made by combining mercury with molten sulfur [link]. I’ve seen a few examples of vermilion that seem to range in color a bit, including one that leans to middle red and some that are more orangish red. Due to their production methods Alberti might have equated red with fire for more than just its color. If he did have a specific red in mind as I suggested above I believe it would have been one of these two.

The brightest yellow he had available to him in his lifetime was lead-tin yellow, which was discovered in the 13th century. Assuming that he knew how it was made, I could almost see him considering this yellow to be a type of red as well. It’s essentially a mixture of minium and tin dioxide (PW15, a white), heated to high temperatures. Thus red plus white (or lightness) plus fire equaled yellow. [link]

Ochres are earth pigments, mainly yellows and reds, that are made from clays containing either iron oxide or hydrated iron oxide. They come in a very large variety of hues and degrees of transparency, depending on the source and other factors. It’s very much worth noting that ochres can and often times are calcined (roasted, basically) to make them darker and redder. So once again a pigment plus fire equaled red. In the past artists used more transparent earth pigments than most of what we commonly have today. As many historical mines and quarries that supplied these pigments have been used up new sources of less transparent pigments and blends of earths have taken their place. In the 20th century the processes of hydrating synthetic iron oxides was invented and the paints known by names such as “transparent red oxide” or “transparent yellow oxide” were introduced. I’m going to consider these two paints to be a suitable representative for what Alberti may have had available to him. [link]

Blue, Color of Air

Blue pigments have always been of limited variety. Historically many of them were made from various crushed semi-precious stones. In my post about ultramarine, which is synthetic lapis lazuli, I discussed this briefly. It’s easy enough to say that the air, or sky, is blue, but even so at any given moment there’s more than one blue up there. Look at the horizon, and then look straight up. Now look at different times of day. It’s worth noting that the sky isn’t even always blue. I don’t mean just the reds or pinks of sunsets, but even the blackness of night. As with red, I believe Alberti was referring to blue as a category rather than to a specific color, or else which blue would he have meant?

The historical selection of blue pigments was made narrower by the fact that production methods for two of them, smalt (PB32, ground glass containing cobalt) and Egyptian blue (PB31, calcium copper silicate), were lost at certain points in history. Both were known to the ancient Egyptians, but became lost, and while smalt might have been known in Europe during the lifetime of Alberti [link] (though debatably not), Egyptian blue wasn’t recreated until the 1800s [link] after being lost at the end of the Roman period.

Azurite (PB30, natural mineral) should have been known to Alberti. The same for genuine indigo (NB1, made from a plant), although that’s possibly too purple. Lapis lazuli, also called lazurite and was the stone that natural ultramarine (PB29) was gotten from, was used extensively in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was very expensive though, and art clients had to specifically request its use.

So why consider blue as the color of air? Besides the obvious, remember that Alberti said “as the shadow deepens the colours empty out.” The sky is similar, being empty of color at night but having its blueness appear as the light of day enters it.

Green, Color of Water

This one had me confused for a while. I’ve seen greenish water before, but only lake or stream water filled with plants and algae. Surely Alberti, living in Italy, would have seen the ocean at some point? Then I noticed that he referred to green a couple of times in the context of plants but not to water itself. Was his reasoning that water produced greenness in plants, therefore in nature water was responsible for green? Possibly.

The greens he had available would have been terre verte (PG23, many varieties of green earths), verdigris (PG20, made from copper), and malachite (PG39, natural mineral). It’s interesting that each of these has some connection with water. Terre verte is a hydrosilicate (so it contains water) and is found below sea level in ancient seabeds [link]. Verdigris is made by mixing various chemicals in water [link]. Malachite can be artificially made in a similar way [link]. As with the reds that all had an actual production connection with fire, these greens are all connected with water.

As for yellow, I don’t at all think that Alberti didn’t have yellow on his palette, but rather that maybe he just didn’t consider yellow in the same terms that most artists today do.

Assuming that he had ever mixed yellow with black, which I think is reasonable to assume considering his color model of both white and black simply modifying other colors, Alberti would have seen that the result is green. He may have thus considered yellow to be a subcategory of green. As he said, black changes the “species” of a color but not it’s “genus,” so I don’t think he would have considered the resulting green from yellow and black to be anything but a dark yellow, or rather yellow to be a very light/bright green.

In keeping with the theme of green representing water, don’t green plants turn yellow when they dry up? So maybe yellow is a green that lacks water. I can’t say I’m not still a little confused on how he regarded yellow, especially considering my toughts on how he may have regarded red.

Grey, Color of Earth and Ash

Like much of what Alberti presented in his view of true colors, this confused me as well. Someone might look at this and think “but he didn’t consider black or white to be colors, so why grey?” I think I understand his viewpoint, demonstrated here.

The swatch at the middle of each row is a starting color that’s been lightened to the right and darkened to the left. Referring again to his view that black and white are not colors but only modify colors, just think of grey as being a color which can be lightened with white or darkened with black just like any other color. He doesn’t seem to have addressed the fact that grey can be produced with a mix of black and white, but this is the closest I have come to making sense of this last true color.

Considering grey to represent earth may also seem strange, until you consider two things. First, just as the previous true colors were all categories rather than a single specific hue or “genus” as Alberti refers to it, it’s possible that his view of “grey” may have included variations of greyed colors. For example many umbers, darker earth pigments that range from reddish to greenish in glazes tend to be very grey in tints, may be considered examples of greys. Second, there’s no small amount of grey granite that many mountains and cliffs expose.

All in all, I found that Alberti was too fixated on the classical elements theme, which has many glaring shortcomings, and this limited his understanding of color. Even so, I thought it was interesting to realize the possible connections between the way different pigments are made and their associated elements.

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.