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Lesson 1 Intro

Paint, Pigment, and Color

Mistress Dairine Mor o' uHigin, OL
AKA Gael Stirler


Before you begin you need to get to know your paints. All artists should become experts in the use of their tools. For beginners I recommend Marie's tube watercolors from Jerry's Artarama. For a good student set I recommend Reeves ® Opaque Watercolors set, or Marie's Watercolor or Gouache Sets. (About $5.00 at Jerry's Artarama) They comes in 12 or 18 tube sets. In period artists mixed their dry powdered pigments with water to form a paste then scooped the paste into mussel shells and let them dry. Good quallity pan paints are just like the shells of colored paint. You can make your own by squeezing your paints into shells and adding a little honey to keep them from drying out completely. Using shells looks more authentic for demos but they are harder to store. Use a little clay or putty on a tray to keep the shells from wiggling and wrap the tray in plastic for transport.

For those who are more advanced I recommend Cotman or Windsor and Newton Watercolors or Designer Gouache. Watercolors and Gouache were both used in period but they were lumped together and called "water tempera." When mixed with egg yolk, the paint was called "egg tempera" or it was called "oil tempera" when mixed with linseed or walnut oil. Gouache means opaque watercolor and is made by adding opacifiers like chalk to the pigments. This bulks up the paint and makes it appear more evenly toned. Contrary to opinion, it isn't any more lightfast or higher quality than watercolor. To make it more opaque it also has less binder that means it can be more likely to flake or dust off the surface. You can add a little gum Arabic to counter this effect if you are concerned.

Watercolors are considered transparent paints but some of the colors are not truly transparent because the materials that make the pigment are not transparent. Gouache is considered an opaque paint but some of the colors are transparent at the pigment level because they are made from dye. I know that this is a difficult concept at first but here is a list to help you. The old-fasioned names for the colors are in parentheses. Not all of these colors were available to artists in all countries at all periods, but by the 16th century all of them were commonly used.

Transparent Pigments Opaque Pigments
Ultramarine Blue (Lapiz) Sky Blue (Cerulean)
Alizarin Crimson (Carmine) Scarlet (Vermillion)
Lemon Yellow (Gamboge) Yellow Ochre (Sienna)

Now it doesn't matter whether they are watercolor or gouache, at a molecular level the pigments are transparent or opaque no matter what is mixed with them. However, the transparent effect of the pigment is more noticeable when you use watercolors. If you are using watercolor, you may need to add a little white to your paint when you make your transparent pigment color wheel. Your paintbox should include one of each of the colors listed above plus black and white. If it has more like brown and green, hooray, but the six colors listed above are the colors that you will use most. You can mix every hue you will ever need from these colors.

Click for a larger printable color wheel

Exercise 1: Transparent Pigment Color Wheel

To get familiar with using your paints and mixing colors make a color wheel like this one with the three primary colors in the transparent list. If you are using tube paints, squeeze a dot no bigger than a chocolate chip on a white ceramic saucer or similar pallette. Whatever you are using, moisten your paints with a few drops of water at a time and mix until it is the consistancy of hand lotion. Clean you brush between colors with water and wipe clean on a paper towel.

Draw out a circle diagram like the one above on a piece of heavy paper or card stock, divide it into 12 sections, and then number them. It doesn't have to be neat or perfect since it is just an exercise.

This wheel shows the locations of the Primay, Secondary, and Terciary Colors.

Paint the Primary Colors

Using only the unmixed colors from the transparent list, paint the 1, 5, and 9 squares as in the picture above.

Paint the Secondary Colors

Mix a small amount of yellow and an equal amount of blue to make green on your pallette. Try to make it as close to a medium green as possible. Paint it in the #11 square between the blue and the yellow. Clean your brush and repeat the process for the other two Secondary Colors to make Orange for #7 and Purple for #3. I want to emphasize that this exercise to learn the behavior of your paints, not to create a perfect picture. Don't worry if your colors don't look like the ones on the screen exactly. If they are way off, you may need to buy a different brand of paint or adjust the way you are mixing them.

Paint the Terciary Colors

Mix a little blue into half of the green that is left on your pallette to make blue-green. Paint the #12 square between the blue an the green. Repeat for yellow-green in #10 and so on until you have filled in all the Terciary colors with yellow-orange, persimmon-orange, plum-red, and deep-purple.

In the next lesson you will learn how to paint the small borders and decorate them with whitework.

Exercise 2: Opaque Pigment Color Wheel

Click for larger, printable color wheel

Repeat the first exercise but use your opaque colors Cerulean, Vermillion and Yellow Ochre. You will find that these colors will give you different hues than the transparent colors did. You will not be able to get a nice purple color but the greens will probably look better than the transparent greens. Compare your two wheels. Compare the colors you have made with your paint set to colors in pictures of historic illumination. What colors were used the most? Did they use bright, vibrant colors or drab colors? Can you tell when they were using transparent pigments and when they were using opaque pigments?

Exercise 3: Find the effect of the color of paper by painting color wheels on sheets of tan parchment-like paper or non-white rag paper. Compare to the color wheels painted on white paper.

Go to Lesson 1: Small Bar Borders .
Go to back: to Index.


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© 2002-2004Gael Stirler, Inc. 1-520-721-8346
Unless otherwise noted all art is the work of Gael Stirler.
AKA Mistress Dairine mor o' hUigin, OL


This page was last updated Monday, 16-Mar-2009 15:36:13 CDT