Pigment Tests: #1

Ron Hazell’s book recommended a pretty simple pigment test, which I have created here. I used the majority of the pigments I own, but did not use Lapis Lazuli Genuine, Titanium White, or Neutral Tint. The idea is to draw one big black vertical line with a marker, then paint horizontal lines of each pigment over the black line. Once it’s dry, mask off part, then try to wash the pigment away.

If the pigment is visible over the black line, then it’s not completely a transparent pigment. If the pigment doesn’t wash off easily, then it’s a staining pigment.

Before I tried lifting pigment for the staining test, I cut off the right edge and stuck it in my copy of “the Poems of Shakespeare.” In a year or two or ten, I’ll pull that out and compare them to this paper to see how much light has affected each pigment.

When I was done, I assigned points to each pigment based on its transparency, and staining. My values do not match the values that Daniel Smith assigns, but since these values are all subjective to some degree anyway, I’m alright with that.

The goal here is to help me identify which pigments will be most prone to making mud. I run into it a lot when I am painting, and this exercise helped me understand why.

If I put down an initial wash, and use a non-staining pigment in that wash, later when I add a secondary wash on top, I’ll free up pigment from the primary wash, which will settle with the pigment I used on the secondary wash. If the secondary is also non-staining, then both will come up when I go to lay down the third wash. So, by understanding which pigments are staining, I can better plan which pigments I will use on a primary wash. Non-staining pigments are fine to use on glazes if I’m not going to be layering on top of them very much, but if I know I’m going to go over an area again, I should definitely favor a staining pigment over a non-staining pigment for the early washes.

I also see that later glazing with non-transparent pigments can cause mud. These non-transparent pigments do not blend with the pigments beneath, instead, they sit on top of the pigment beneath, and try to boss it away. Instead of settling down together and letting light mingle around in the layers, bouncing around between the particles of pigment and bouncing back into the viewer’s eye, it slams into the non-transparent pigment and slaps back into the viewer’s eye. This effect is appropriate in some cases, but non-transparent pigments need to be used judiciously, otherwise the entire composition will feel like it’s all being bossy and slapping your eyes everywhere you look.

So, if a pigment is transparent and staining, I am calling it a “wash safe” pigment. If a pigment is non-staining, then I’m calling it a “glazing” pigment. And if a pigment is non-transparent, I’m calling it “bossy.” Wash safe pigments can be used pretty much whenever (though be careful putting them on top of glazing pigments). Glazing pigments should not be used in early washes unless I’m certain I won’t need to come back to the area. Glazing pigments should be used on an area, and then mayyyyyyyybe another layer gently placed on top. But that would be it. Bossy pigments should be used sparingly, to draw the eye to areas that may otherwise be lost.

At least, that’s the idea for now. I’ll see how it plays out.

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