Tuesday, 17 May 2011

`Permanent' Alizarin Crimson

The impermanence or `fugitive' qualities of the popular Alizarin Crimson PR83 were discussed last week. Actually there is no such thing as a `Permanent' version because all such alternatives are not Alizarin Crimson but different pigments. They ought really to be described as `Alizarin Crimson Hue', the key word being `hue'. Those paints intended as alternatives to the Cadmiums are thus described. Handprint gives a very comprehensive treatise on pigments but my intention is to try and simplify things and not give readers a headache. Actually, although some of these alternatives are described as similar or identical in hue, none quite compare to the original. This is possibly why it remains popular and still widely available. Apart from Daniel Smith no one comes out and says it is fugitive although in the case of Winsor & Newton, Rowney and some others - not all - the star rating is lower. Who reads the small print on the tubes anyway? It is frequently so small that it is difficult to find let alone read.

Generally speaking most basic palettes start with warm and cool versions of yellow, red and blue. This isn't always so but is probably the most popular. With regard to the red Alizarin Crimson was often - but not always - selected as the cool red so this is what we are looking to replace. The basic three paint primary colours, often called `printers colours', are Primary Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. Note this is not just `yellow, red and blue'.

Winsor & Newton recommend Permanent Rose (PV19) as one of the three primary colours, adding Scarlet Lake (PR188) when increased to six. Although they list a `Permanent Alizarin Crimson' it is a mixture of an unlisted pigment, usually written as PR N/A, and PR206 otherwise known as Brown Madder. Bruce McEvoy suggests Permanent Carmine as a better bet, no PR206.

 Some of the pigments/paints mentioned in the text. The top row and the right hand vertical one don't have much variation but note the difference between the Rowney version of Perylene Maroon PR179 (Note added 27/05/11. I am in error here. The Rowney PR179 is called Perylene Maroon and is similar to the Graham hue. The paint shown Quinacridone Magenta, is PR122) and that of Graham next to it. Note also Quinacridone Red PR209 as made by Graham and Daniel Smith. Differences in manufacturing processes, and also variations in the same pigment supplied by different sources,  are the probable cause. Note also the Cotman and Venezia student quality paints. Are they weaker than the artist quality?

What `Permanent Alizarin Crimsons' are there?

Winsor & Newton. Already described, a mix of PR N/A and PR206.

Rowney. Alizarin Crimson , correctly described as a `hue' (the original fugitive version is also still listed). A mixture of PR209 and PR179.

Graham. Permanent Alizarin Crimson (PR264), also list the original.

Lukas. Alizarin Crimson (PR176).

Daniel Smith. Permanent Alizarin Crimson a three pigment mix of PR177, PV19 and PR149.

Holbein. Permanent Alizarin Crimson. PR N/A presumably similar to the W & N Permanent Carmine.

Da Vinci. Alizarin Crimson (PV19).

PV19 Quinacridone Rose/Red and Violet - there are three versions - has become one of the most popular pigments and is increasingly appearing in manufacturers ranges, both as single pigment paints and in mixtures. Confusing?

According to Bruce Mc Evoy of Handprint the problem with the reds is that in general his tests show they mostly - even the newer colours - have `marginal' lightfastness.

Many artists won't want to get too involved with this stuff and I can understand that, although personally I find it fascinating as well as informative. IF you are interested then have a look at the Handprint section on paints. Bruce recommends a mixture of Perylene Maroon (PR179) and Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) as a better bet than most of the above.


Zvonimir said...

Dear Peter

One more very nice post. Thank you for dwelling into this pigment. I also believe that's one of the last remaining bits left in our palettes to be properly sorted out.

With no doubt, we today work more on our concerns about the quality of our tools than what we work on and spend to improve artistic quality of our output. Such are times, I presume, with abundance of choice in that area.

Even the worst of today's pigments, lets paraphrase Winsor & Newton (it seems your autocorrect tool keeps adding in 'd' in Winsor; it was once the case with mine too) on their Opera Rose paint; today's worst pigment choices manufacturers are using because they have no better alternative are better than best of pigments used by past watercolourists (say JMW Turner et al).

It then puts us into better perspective to judge paints like Maimeri Venezia. Regarding Venezia and other so called 'student watercolours', I can quote myself and my experiments: there's no difference between Venezia colours in their quality compared to any other brand which does not use just too much pigment and honey as a binder; that means, except for Graham & Co and Daniel Smith.

I was comparing Venezia with Australian Art Spectrum's (AS) artists watercolours, then AS' new range called Art Prism, then with Maimeri's artists quality, some Rembrandts, and with W&N artist quality.

Venezia compares exceptionally, it stains well, flows better than most, consistency is great, and quality of tube/packaging is superb. Price too.

There is another thing to consider: a modern trend in watercolour to imitate other painting mediums, and photographic and print material.

People tend to use watercolours strongly, loading in lots of pigment to stain paper. If one's into that avenue, perhaps investing into M Graham's and DS makes sense because they are indeed highly pigmented paints and can shorten the way to achieve such results.

But if one is using watercolours in more transparent, loose impressionistic style, like that of Ted Wesson, Steve Hall, John Hoar, even Joseph Zbukvic, Venezia will do same as all other brands.

The point is not in 'are they good', but 'how we use paint', and what are our mixes like — our style.

To do plein air with M Graham's is almost impossible for me because if I dip in a brush into the pigment quickly, I can pick up loads of it I can't wash up at all! I waste pigment awfully. A thick consistency of their paint is more suitable for controlled studio environment.

But if the majority of work is done in transparent, I dare to say 'true' watercolour way, using Venezia helps enormously and produces beautiful washes.

However, if we are after imitating other painting mediums and their ability to cover paper, say oils and acrylics, and therefore we use less water and more pigment, we may as well paint in those mediums then.

I have done all my paintings so far with Venezia and a bit of M Grahams (needed and love their cobalt turquoise, which is not available in Venezia range), W&Ns, AS', Rembrandts, and I must say I love Venezia because they are so versatile, affordable, and Maimeri in that line is not using cadmiums and other more toxic stuff.

Thank you.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Zvonimir for your detailed comments. Much appreciated. I hold my hand up about W and N -I've corrected this in the most recent posts.

As for Venezia I agree with you. I also think you can put together a first rate palette from this and Cotman. The only problem are some blues and Cadmiums,Cobalts etc that aren't usually in the student ranges. Some professional artists mix up the W and N artists range and Cotman. Maimeri discuss Venezia on the website and explain the thinking behind the range. Many of the colours use the identical pigments to the artist quality. At present I don't know a source in the UK for this paint.

W and N actually include 10 extra colours in the Cotman range they sell in the USA and Canada. They includ several Cadmiums, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean and Viridian. When I tasked them as to why we didn't have the same range here I got a lot of waffle in return.

Zvonimir said...

There are few sources for Venezia in Australia, and they are becoming very popular. I believe Dick Blick in the US has them too so perhaps ordering from there makes sense for UK artists?

M Graham's are becoming very popular in Australia as well, making Venezia and M Graham's overall best and most economical paints to use, imho. With two of them one can put together a first rate palette.

DS is penetrating this ground too, but although their paints are nice indeed, they're enormously expensive compared to two above.

Zvonimir said...

You have noted an interesting thing:
"The basic three paint primary colours, often called 'printers colours', are Primary Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. Note this is not just 'yellow, red and blue'."

Unlike in print, when we use primary yellow, magenta and cyan in painting, even with addition of black, we cannot achieve all the colours achievable in print.

In print, for example, deep blue is achieved with 100% of cyan and some 50-60% of magenta, but in painting, those two will create some purplish colour.

It's the image raster, or angle and size of dot distributions using which primary printer colours are printed on paper, together with white space left, and with added black, that make an illusion of other colours.

That is not achievable in painting, of course, and thus painters need a whole range of pigments to mix different colours.

Therefore starting rather with rich yellow (not too pale, not too orange), deeper blue rather than cyan (cadmium?) and some deeper red (napthol?), is a painter's compromise to achieve better variety and depth of colours than if using printer's primaries.

Adding white and black helps to extend the tonal range too, and also some neutral would be good to dull of mixes, thus avoiding using black and white all the time. However, white ad black in watercolours add to opaqueness of our mixes.

I've never seen anyone using such a palette of colours, but I was considering it for some time, to start experimenting for plein air and using a small, portable watercolour box just for that.

What do you think Peter?

Robert P. Armas said...

Pretty interesting issue,Peter.Thanks too to Zvonimir for his insight.
It is highly recommend to chose the paints by their pigments numbers and even so,sometimes two different manufacturers make a same paint,using the same pigment,professional quality and they behave different.This is a mystery to me till today.
I tend to use paints from a sole manufacturer and buy only from another for special colors only.In this case I use mainly M.Graham and a few of Daniel Smith.
M.Graham paints are of high quality,affordable price and above all I chose them cause their content of honey makes them almost impossible to dry on the tube or the palette and I don't paint as often as I will like or will be advisable.Another thing to consider in my case is that I don't do plein air painting,all is done in my corner studio,so I have control over the ratio of pigment and water in the paint.
Interesting the mention of paints consider of student quality,beware,some highly prized painters uses them.Such is the case of the Chinese painter Guan Weixing,who render beautiful portraits using Cotman paints and Bockingford paper.He start with highly diluted washes and only uses strong pigments in highlights and necessary dark colors as in hair,etc.Worth watching a video of his technique.
Back to the original topic mentioning Permanent Alizarin Crimson,I don't have experience to add any insight of value to this topic.I have used only PR264(M.Graham)and therefore i can't add any comment.

Peter Ward said...

Zvonimir the problem we have in importing from the USA are first, carriage charges which are very high and secondly custom duties which include VAT at 20%. It just isn't cost effective. I have bought many books from the USA (No VAT on books) but carriage charges have now become prohibitive. In any event I have enough paints to last me three or four years and must resist buying more. I have a good lot of Graham and some Daniel Smith. Graham is not cheap over here and DS is eye wateringly expensive. W & N are 50% cheaper than DS and in some cases cheaper than Graham.

Regarding the primary colours yellow, red and blue a common question by those interested in the tecnical aspects is "yes but which yellow, red and blue there are so many". Paint manufacturers like Winsor & Newton and Scminke suggest which colours should be used as the basic three. Actually these two companies have the best literature of any which I have been able to accumulate but offer slightly different suggestions. Personally I'm not a restricted palette person and like having a large palette.Keep on painting (and commenting)!

Peter Ward said...

Hi Bob nice to hear from you. I have a number of Graham paints but so far have only used Quinacridone Rust (PO48) and Ultramarine Pink (PR259?a new pigment). I love them both. DS are so expensive over here and Graham are not cheap by any means. I've no doubt you can put together a very acceptable palette from the USA Cotman range (10 extra paints compared to Europe) and Maimeri Venezia.

I am interested in doing a piece on Guan Weixing and I know you were in contact with him so will e-mail you for your input when I'm ready to do it. I also intend to do a piece on `painting watercolours on a budget' - because a lot of people can't afford the expensive stuff (I'm a sucker for it!). It will be provocative and will question some of the things that are common currency.

Have a look at this artist: