Blog 24 : Colour matters

An exercise in pink

I painted this Greater Knapweed flower head a couple of years ago and it truly was an exercise in pink even though the flower is purple. I cut it in half because I wanted to show the inner parts as well as the flower head. It also gave me the opportunity to use a technique called ‘painting in the negative’ in the area where the seeds are produced. I found this so intricate and interesting. The flower colour, in real life, is a bright purple/pink. Lighter areas are more pink in tone and darker areas more violet/purple. The whole inflorescence is exquisitely designed and beautiful to study up close. I just loved ensuring the colour mix was just right and painting in all those lovely fine details!

I have written the colour mixes next to the painting image below and highlighted where they were used. There is no sign of Opera Rose! Quinacridone Magenta was used to make the really bright pink and some Winsor Blue Red Shade added to make the purple tones. You’ll achieve a brighter effect by making sure the highlights are very light and by using good quality white hot pressed watercolour paper. So no need to go for Opera Rose which we know fades over time. Here’s the pigment list:

Transparent Yellow – TY
Quinacridone Gold – QG
Winsor Blue (Red Shade) – WBRS
Indanthrene Blue – IB
Cobalt Blue – COB
Quinacridone Magenta – QM
Permanent Rose – PR
Burnt Sienna – BS
Perylene Violet  – PV
Winsor Violet – WV

I added a thin glaze of Winsor Violet to some areas as a warm overlay towards the end of painting to enhance the violet/purple tones within the subject and occasionally a little thin cool pale blue glaze was added too. Generally, I would use French Ultramarine as a cool overlay. In areas where the pink tones appeared very slightly warmer a pale glaze of Permanent Rose was added. The creamy yellow mix for the bottom of each floret was made with Transparent Yellow and a tiny little bit of Permanent Rose. Some of this mix was also added to the central dissected area which also had many beautiful beige and golden tones.

Comparing pink pigments

Permanent Rose (PV19) is a slightly warmer pink with a violet bias whereas Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) is cooler and has a very strong violet bias. Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (PV19) has the same index number as Permanent Rose and they are indeed very similar. Although I definitely consider Sennelier Rose Madder Lake to be a tad warmer than Permanent Rose. Pinks come in many forms but all these pigments are definitely lightfast.

Many beautiful apricots and warm pink/orange tones can be made with these pigments. Quinacridone Magenta will make the mix more vibrant than Permanent Rose. Just add a warm or cool yellow like Transparent Yellow (cooler), New Gamboge (slightly warmer) or Indian Yellow (very warm). The warmer the yellow, the warmer the mix!

Opera Rose – a much loved colour

Opera Rose is loved by many but as we learned last month it is rated as fugitive. Fading would be much more obvious with certain brands. Winsor and Newton Opera Rose and Daniel Smith Opera Pink are the most reliable for this colour across brands. They will not fade as much as other brands but they will definitely both lose the added fluorescence. Both use colour index PR122. This is the same pigment colour index as Quinacridone Magenta. I personally favour Quinacridone Magenta as my brightest pink pigment purely because it doesn’t pretend to be more vibrant than it is! 

Opera Rose and Quinacridone Magenta test for lightfastness

I did a lightfast test for Winsor and Newton Opera Rose and Quinacridone Magenta over a two year period on my studio windowsill. This is quite a shaded room except for late afternoon sunshine. Testing will show more extreme results in direct sunlight. This is an example of what would happen in less intense sunlight conditions. The test was left on the windowsill from 2017 – 2019. It was hard to get an exact photo so you will just need to take my word for it! The Winsor and Newton Opera Rose (PR122) is still bright but all the fluorescent additive has disappeared making it look less vivid in colour. It now looks more like watered down Quinacridone Magenta. The Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) has not altered.

Making a swatch for testing

The swatch test in the previous image was made in a slightly different way to the example below. I painted fresh pigment onto another piece of paper in 2019 and compared it to the 2017 version. Here is another way to do it. Paint two swatches of the pigment in full colour and a weaker tint underneath on a piece of quality white watercolour paper. Cover one side with black paper. Tape this securely top and bottom so that light cannot get underneath it. Write the date onto the swatch. Leave on a very sunny winsdowsill for at least 3-6 months or longer. This is a good exercise for any colour pigments you are unsure of or that are classed as n.r (not rated).

Watch the Winsor and Newton video ‘Masterclass on Colour Permanence’ to see how a simulated 100 year lightfast test changes these fugitive colours; Rose Madder Genuine, Alizarin Crimson and Opera Rose. Here is the link: www.winsornewton.com/uk/masterclass/permanence-in-colour/

Until next month, happy painting!

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