Monday, 9 May 2011

Alizarin Crimson - Pigment Red 83 (PR83)

We know about `lightfastness' or more commonly `fading' in watercolours. This means that in so-called fugitive paints the original colour changes if exposed to sunlight. The most common effect is the colour just bleaches away. The above book cover is an example of what can happen. Obviously I don't know what the  colour is composed of but it is almost certainly a dye. Paints are not generally offered in watercolour made of or including dyes, although there are a few, Opera by Holbein is one example. The spine of the above book was originally exactly the same colour as the rest. The book has been in my north facing study in a bookcase with only the spine exposed to light, actually facing East. Despite being exposed to very little sun the colour faded in a very short time. This is a perfect example of a fugitive colour and what happens when exposed to light. This is also what happens to Alizarin Crimson PR83, a very popular colour over the years and still offered by such major paint manufacturers as Winsor & Newton, Holbein (Carmine, Rose Madder), Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Graham, Rowney and others.

 Sennelier offer at least four paints with PR83 so do Shin Han. Sennelier claim the paints that have PR83, some included in mixtures, are `moderately lightfast'.  Shin Han claim paints with PR83 are `permanent' or `absolutely permanent'. Sometimes instead of Alizarin Crimson we have names like Carmine or Rose Madder, Madder Lake etc. Holbein claim that their Carmine and Rose Madder, both PR83, are `absolutely permanent' despite what Bruce McEvoy, the ASTM (now known as ASTM International formerly American Society for Testing and Materials), Hilary Page, Michael Wilcox and others have found when testing this pigment. Rowney claim it is `normally permanent' and Winsor & Newton `moderately durable'. Daniel Smith call it like it is and list Alizarin Crimson PR83 as`fugitive'. Charles Reid has used Holbeins Carmine for years and this is pure PR83. He says that he has never had any complaints about fading. I think though he has now switched to the `Permanent' version, possibly from Winsor & Newton.

Read what Bruce McEvoy of Handprint says, having extensively tested this pigment,  with illustrations of what happens when it is exposed to light. His recommendation AVOID. If you use this pigment I urge you follow the link,  read what he says and view the examples he gives. The ASTM, the recognized authority on such things said in 1999 that PR83 was `not sufficiently lightfast to be used in paints' and `poor' to `very poor' in watercolours. If you continue to buy and use it that's a personal decision, but if you sell paintings is it ethical?

 There has been some discussion on Wetcanvas about this pigment and its suggested replacements. The consensus seemed to agree with the ASTM and Handprint findings. How do you avoid it? All the majors put pigment information on the tubes. Very small on many and a magnifying glass may be necessary (!) to read the details but it is there. You can also download pigment charts from virtually all paint manufacturers, although hard to find in some instances.  To their shame the SAA, the `Society for ALL Artists' does not give this information on the SAA range of watercolours, although I did, some time ago, finally receive a sheet giving details after I complained.

I was intending to cover the suggested replacements for Alizarin Crimson PR83 but have decided to do this in a separate piece next week. Interestingly the so-called student makes of Cotman, Van Gogh and Venezia do not offer any paints with PR83 and have switched to more lightfast alternatives.


Anonymous said...

very interesting, thanks

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