Learn to paint in Acrylic paints - Step by Step
Hi all, I'm new to painting and have still been trying to work out my palatte. I know Karen recommends golden acrylics but I started with Winsor and Newton because they were cheaper and they seemed a reasonable quality. I am having trouble deciding on a redand pink. I felt that quid magenta was too strong and Nap red not quite right for Aspen leaves. I was thinking of exchanging the nap red and getting the cad red-light and/or the cad Orange, because I want to do a lot of desert landscapes and aspen trees. I was also thinking that Winsor & Newtons permanent Rose would be a more mellow color than the magenta. Does anyone has some comments for gentle or colors that can be used for me? I also have hookers green, Ultra Marine blue, cerulean blue, lemon yellow, can yellow light, white, and black
When deciding upon a colour palette, it is important to look at a number of things, not just what might work at the moment.
While you mention W&N by brand, are you talking about artists grade paint or academic/student grade? Regardless of brand, academic lines may be cheaper, but there is a non-monetary cost involved. This relates to cheaper pigments, lower pigment loads, and inconsistent quality.
It is always better to have too few tubes of paint than too many. Many of the colours I have bought over the years have been thrown out; while they sounded good at the time, their actual value was quite limited. It will be to your advantage to have fewer colours and learn how to get the widest possible range of mixtures from them as opposed to having 30-40 tubes to pick and choose from. A lot of the time the actual colour we use is almost redundant - it is the relative value that matters most.
Colours can always be muted or grayed-down, but they can never be made more pure or intense. Generally you are wiser to have bright, intense colours that provide a wide range of mixtures that can easily be toned down or mellowed out as needed. Cerulean Blue for example has a definite teal hue and is not particularly strong, so is of little value unless you prefer it for doing skies. Lemon Yellows are quite similar to Cadmium Yellow Light, but vary from one brand to another. I do not know anyone who buys their pinks - they are too easily made as tints from your red paint choices.
As you are starting out, it is FAR better for you to limit your paint colours and put the extra monies into higher quality brushes. My personal suggestion would be no more than two reds, two yellows (or one yellow and an "earth" colour), plus two blues. If you have a soft spot for fall aspens, Cad Orange may be a useful add-on, since it is more intense than any orange you will be able to mix. Titanium White would be the final tube, for a total of 8. By practicing Karen's colour charts with this type of combo, you will find an almost limitless range of colours can be achieved.
Actual colour choices are somewhat personal, and I hesitate to make specific suggestions beyond Karen's suggested palette. Cadmium colours are opaque, as are most "traditional" colours. So is Titanium White. Most of the newer colours are synthetic pigments and are much more transparent. Naphthol Red and the Quinacridones are good examples.
I choose to mix all of my greens; it saves buying more tubes, and eliminates the temptation to just grab and paint. The variety of greens in nature is far beyond what any manufacturer can offer. Black is one pigment that I have but rarely use. Not only is it sterile and empty, but pure black is seldom seen in nature, so it does not look right when it is used. A few blacks make a nice dull green when mixed with yellow. A better option in most places is a "mixed black" made from any two of the complementaries used for the painting. This can be used to tone down other colours as well, and will add more colour unity to the overall composition.
Generally one gets what one pays for, and that is true with paint just as it is with anything else. W&N may be cheaper at Michael's and other retail craft stores, but you may well discover that Golden can be had for the same price (or less!) from one of the major online artist supply companies like Blick or Jerrys Artarama.
Your "dilemma" is one that each of us has faced at some point. But like buying your first car, what is good for me may not fit your needs. It does pay to stand back a bit and think over the options, relative costs, and practical value of our choices before handing over our money. Hopefully this gives you some fodder for thought before filling up the old dresser with paint tubes. I have previously posted blogs on Karen's site sharing thoughts about different pigments, colours, and the like.
Opaque colours cover the underlying layer, while transparent colours allow more of the previous layer to show through. There is no difference in "coverage" from the perspective of how large an area a given amount of paint will cover. Transparent colours are a huge asset when layering, but opaque colours can easily be rendered more translucent with the addition of gloss polymer medium. Gesso is opaque, so adding it to a colour will not increase transparency.
I have an online meeting in a couple minutes, so will have to leave your other question regards colour choice until later.
Transparent skies. Have you ever seen a photographic print that needed custom transparent dyes to render the sky in a realistic manner? In a painting, the sky is one of several planes, most often the very background. Does it look any less real with opaque paints? I have done landscapes with painting knives yet the skies are still visually acceptable. I had a very hard time adjusting to transparent pigments, and still prefer the older, opaque mineral colours in most cases.
Modern synthetic pigments are chemicals, so they have no real mass or texture. It is like dissolving sugar in water. Mineral pigments are ground from various minerals, and basically are particulate - they are powders with a mass dependent upon how finely they have been ground. Since the particles are themselves opaque, the dried paint film will be opaque. Gesso is an acrylic emulsion with added pigment (often opaque Titanium White), plus fine silica or other minerals to provide the "tooth". It is opaque by design.
Synthetic pigments have two very distinct advantages. They can provide a very intense colour over a pure white background, and they can be layered over other colours to provide "optical mixing". As such, they are without peer for doing washes and multiple glazes. For someone just starting out with acrylics, these are not likely to be major considerations - it is far more important to get familiar with your palette and comfortable with mixing colour. Once you are in that comfort zone, it is much easier to start exploring some of the wild and wonderful things that acrylics offer. None of us learn to drive while seated in a customized NASCAR auto. First the basics, then we can upgrade and still be in control.
Coming back to skies, the more recent of my landscapes have textured skies. The background was covered with texture gel(s) and then painted, typically with Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) plus Titanium White and sometimes a bit of earth colour thrown in. The blue is transparent, but after adding white and an earth colour, it is translucent at best, plus on a textured surface. Clouds are part of the sky, and as I look out at the overcast sky I find no hint of transparency.
One early painting was of a backlighted quart beer bottle (remember those?) sitting on the bleached window sill of an abandoned farm building. The bottle looks like translucent glass and does jump out at you visually. It was done entirely with mineral pigments more than 35 years ago. There are probably close to 70 layers of glaze on that bottle, giving a total thickness that is quite apparent if one looks closely. Glazes can be made with ANY pigment, simply by diluting the paint with polymer medium gloss. Water should be used very carefully as it can weaken the dried paint film and lead to issues later on. Less is better, regardless of what decorator gurus tell you on the internet.
Mixing opaque pigments can pose issues if overdone. Due to their particulate nature, they can become "muddied" if too many are mixed together. This seldom happens if you know how to mix your selected paints to get the desired colour and value. The fewer pigments in the mix, the better off you are. Some mixed colours (eg Sap Green) already have multiple pigments right from the tube. You have to be selective and pay attention to what is in each tube colour you choose. Modern synthetic pigments do not have this issue, but one is still better off using the fewest colours required to get the hue and value you need.
There are Cadmium "substitutes", but I have not found any that provide what I am used to, so they are still in my paint box. I do use nitrile gloves while handling them, to be on the safe side. Once the paint film is dry, the cadmium is locked in place and the risk is, for all practical purposes, eliminated.
Some artist suggest a "warm" and "cool" version of your colours, but I have never seen anyone suggest both opaque and transparent. Any colour can be made transparent if required.
If you stock an orange, make sure it is single pigment and not a mixture; the latter you can make yourself. The purest orange will be something like Cadmium Orange or Vat Orange (Liquitex). It can be a nice option to have available if you need a pure orange, but for most subjects a mixed orange will be more than satisfactory. Again, the relative value is more important than the actual colour. Backlighted fall aspens can be painted with a mid value orange if the background is several values darker - our eyes and visual cortex interpret based upon prior experience, not just what we see. As painters, we have to manipulate and create our own optical illusions - otherwise we might just as well take a photo and save a lot of time.
Thank you for your excellent info Charles!