Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Primary Colours?

This post has been prompted by reading the Winsor & Newton Literature for their artist watercolours when I did the recent piece on them. This is an excellent leaflet that folds out and has much of interest, not just solely to do with the brand.   
Before getting into things let me point out that the Handprint site demolishes much of the perceived wisdom promulgated by some- and others - of todays artists, those who write books and articles. It tends to be quite simplistic. Look up Color Theory on Handprint however. You may well find it impossible to take it in it's entirety and  much of it indigestible, but it's all there with the forensic approach that typifies Bruce McEvoys work. While he no longer updates the site this information remains current. Obviously there will be those who disagree  but I'm not one to argue. Essentially he says that much of current colour theory is a misconception and explains in great detail why. I'll leave it at that.

I thought I read somewhere on Handprint that 'originally' there were four primaries which included green but I haven't been able to find the relevant quote

What I thought I would do is cover what some of the leading makers say in relation to their own ranges. We know  as a starting point that the three primary colours are said to be red, yellow and blue
but as McEvoy says which ones, as there are many to choose from. What are usually described as primary colours are actually the so-called printers colours Yellow, Cyan and Magenta. McEvoy claims that the technically ideal primary set would actually be Cobalt Violet (PV49), Cobalt Teal Blue (PG50) and Bismuth Yellow(PY184). Why are they not used? McEvoy says because of the nature of these particular pigments they would clog up the printers - and he gives other reasons - so they are not used. In other words the whole thing is a compromise as so often happens.

Winsor & Newton recommend Winsor Lemon (PY175), Winsor Blue (Red Shade PB15) and Permanent Rose (PV19). To add to this and create the `split' 'palette recommended by Handprint are added Winsor Yellow (PY154), French Ultramarine (PB29) while  Winsor Blue (Green Shade PB15:3) replaces the Red shade and finally Scarlet Lake (PR188). This last is interesting as most makers don't offer this pigment.  This gives you both warm and cool versions of each colour. I must confess when I'm painting I don't suddenly exclaim ' oh dear I've put a warm colour down when it should be cool or vice versa' but maybe I do it automatically - I wish!

Next we'll look at Schminke. The reason is that their literature is also very good - possible the best overall so the information can be gleaned from it. The suggested paints are Lemon Yellow (PY3), Cadmium Red Light (PO20), and Ultramarine Finest (PB29). Quite different to W & N. Added to this to give warm and cool versions are Cadmium Yellow Light (PY35), Permanent Carmine (PV19) and Prussian Blue (PB27). However if you look at the list of paints they also say Magenta (PV42) is the basic colour magenta in colour theory and also Hello Cerulean (PB15:3). in regard to Cyan. They do say in each instance 'close to' the basic colour tone. I might add the initial information comes from that given for their standard 12 colour paints box so it might be a little misleading.

Maimeri.  They list Primary Yellow (PY97), Magenta (PV19) and finally Cyan (PB15:3) as the initial three. I'm not sure about the next three but possibley Ultramarine Blue (PB29), Cadmium Yellow Light (PY35) and Cadmium Red Light (PR108). If you won't use Cadmiums then there is a problem. I might e-mail Maimeri and ask them what they recommend. I've actually done this so await a reply. My e-mail was bounced back saying it had been identified as 'spam'. That's one way of avoiding the question.

Dale Rowney. The choices seem to  be either Lemon Yellow (PY3) or Bismuth Yellow (PY184),  Phthalo Blue (Red Shade PB15) and Permanent Rose (PV19). To make six add Cadmium Yellow Light (PY35), Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) and Ultramarine Blue (PB29) or replace the Red shade of PB15 with the Green shade.

Holbein. Most of their yellows are mixtures so I can't determine which one would be the primary. They do several Cadmiums including 'yellow pale' and 'yellow light' but their Lemon Yellow includes white. Red is equally difficult perhaps Permanent Alazarin Crimson? Blue isn't a lot clearer Manganese Blue Nova (PB15) or Ultramarine Blue (PB29) our even Marine Blue (PB16).

Graham. Yellow would be either Hansa Yellow (PY3) or Bismuth Yellow (PY184). Red Quinacridone Rose or Violet (PV19) and blue Phthalocyanine Blue Red Shade (PB15:0). Additional colours could be Cadmium Yellow Light (PY35), Permanent Alazarin Crimson (PR264) and Ultramarine Blue (PB29) with Phthalocyanine Blue green shade (PB15:3) replacing the red shade. Prussian Blue (PB27) would be an alternative.

Lukas, Lemon Yellow (PY3), Magenta (PR122) or Genuine Rose (PV19). and Cyan (PB15:3). To make six Cadmium Yellow Light (PY35), Alazarin Crimson (PR176) and either Ultramarine Blue Light or Deep, Prussian Blue (PB27) or even Turquoise (PB16).

Sennelier. Lemon Yellow (PY3), Carmine (PV19) and Phthalocyanine Blue (PB15:3). Add PrimaryYellow (PY74) or Cadmium Yellow Light (PY35), Scarlet Laquer (PR188) and either Ultramarine Blue Light (PB29) or Prussian Blue(PB27).

Blockx. Primary Yellow (PY154) or Blockx Yellow (PY3), Magenta (PV19), Primary Blue (PB15:3). The next three might be Cadmium Yellow Pale (PY35), Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) or Crimson Lake (PR264) and either Ultramarine Blue Light or Deep PB29) or Prussian Blue (PB27)'

That will have to do. I was intending to include Daniel Smith but with no clear guidance on the literature and with such a huge range I've decided not to risk it.

Another complication is that there are different colours within a single pigment number, examples being PV19 that has rose, red, and violet shades. Ultramarine blue has also many variations as a recent post based on  research  from Zvonimir illustrated.

This has proved more difficult than I anticipated because no-one other than Winsor & Newton give really clear guidance. Some of my assumptions may be incorrect so are open to correction. Please feel free to comment. These 6 colours are just the start as most artists will have at least 12 and often far more. What other colours to add? In a restricted number I imagine two or three or more  earth colours are a must plus a green. It's all a matter of personal preference as there are so many fantastic colours out there. If you favour a particular subject like flowers then you have to expand the number further. You could do worse than consult Handprint on 'palettes'. This has all (and more) information on how to put together your palette of paints and what to choose and why.


Oscar Solis said...

Good post, as always. I use the MaimeriBlu primary colors and like them fine. Not tried any other primary colors from other watercolor paint manufacturers. I will say that, in my case, price was the deciding factor. You get a lot of paint for what you pay.

I have created entire paintings with just those three colors and have recommended to persons interested in painting, but on on a tight budget, that they just use primary paints. You will learn a lot. The funny thing is that those three paints are all one really needs (but I have to confess that I have a dependency on Indigo Blue as well as a chinese paint that is like mineral green as well as Chinese White. Life wouldn't be the same without them).

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for commenting Oscar. Afar as colours go we all have our favourites but you are right in that often - certainly in my case - we have too many.

Don Wood said...

I have just Looked up Colour Theory on Handprint and am totally baffled. I just bought or rather was given a WN set of 24 half pan colours and haven't thought about primary colours. Being brand new to painting I am just enjoying messing around but reading Handprint has terrified me that I am doing it wrong. I just wanted some paints to use as a therapeutic release (I have MS) it appears I am out of my depth but I am enjoying myself. I love reading your Blog though and am finding it very useful and informative. Don

Peter Ward said...

Don't get too worried by Handprint Don. He did go to extremes, much of it only of interest to people with a scientific bent. That's not me but there is a lot of usual information on the Handprint site but you need to be selective.