Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tools Of The Trade

     Today’s blog is about a reference tool I bought from Winsor & Newton called “The Hand Painted Colour Chart”.   It’s a four-page laminated color swatch of applied paint on actual watercolor paper.  They used to have this booklet at the art supply stores, but people were stealing them, so they’ve replaced it with a cheap paper substitute.  These often give you a false rendering of what the color will look like when you apply it your work of art.   You might think the color is what you want, but it could be a transparent or granulated color and your eye doesn’t pick that up when you’re looking at a 4-color process printed chart. 
      As you get familiar with watercolor paint, you’ll begin picking up the specific characteristics of each color.  You’ll start to know that sometimes Cadmium Red can be a very sedimentary color, sometimes not; and that French Ultramarine Blue is almost always sedimentary, just like Cerulean Blue.
     You only learn the traits of these colors through repeated use; you really get to know their idiosyncrasies.  So why have a Color Specifier?  There are several reasons.
     It allows you to narrow down a color choice, at a glance (assuming you have a palette you’re comfortable with).
     Let’s take a look at a specific scenario:  you’re asked to paint a portrait of a little girl who is wearing a green dress.  The green you choose to use, say Permanent Sap Green (a pretty common color) is not the right chroma (the difference between two colors – too warm, too cool, too much yellow, etc.).
     If you run into this problem, you can open your Color Specifier and look at 12 different greens and decide which green you need to complete your painting.
     Typically, artists go to the art supply store, open up a tube of Hooker’s Green, put some on their finger or smear it on a piece of paper lying next to the display.  If this is your method, it’s really hard to decide which green is going to work best for you back at your studio.
     Even if you take your photo with you, the paint sample you look at is usually going to be a lot darker than if you had added water to it in the studio environment.  You really need a Specifier to make a good color decision.
     Another attribute of the Specifier is the inclusion of a Key to Coding section, which rates each color in regard to several different aspects.
     One is PERMANENCE.  Paint runs from Extremely Permanent to Moderately Durable, which means it’s going to eventually fade.
     This code system allows you to look at a color and tell what its properties are, relevant to permanence.  For instance, French Ultramarine Blue has a rating of A (Permanent), which is one ranking below AA (Extremely Permanent).  It will hold up very well over time.
     A color like Alizarin Crimson can be very unstable (depending on the manufacturer) and may have a rating of B (Moderately Durable), which means it is known to fade.
     With the Color Specifier, you can decide, at a glance, if this is a color you want to add to your palette, just based on its permanence.
     Another code that’s useful to know is TRANSPARENCY.    There are four different ratings that tell you the level of transparency for a specific color.  Example:  Raw Umber has a rating of G, which tells you it will granulate or separate if you use a rough or cold-press paper.  Little pieces of paint, or granules are going to settle in low spots in your paper.  It can be a nice effect, but if it’s not what you want, you need to know so that you use it in the top layers of your painting, rather than the bottom layers.
     Another feature of the Specifier that I like is that a new artist can study other artists’ palettes and form their own, from a very informed perspective.
     Typically I think a lot of students or new artists go to the art supply store and make decisions based on what they think their eye is telling them.
     Is you are diligent in your research, you’ll find that there are recurring colors that most artists have come to rely on because they’re easy to work with, they mix well with other colors on the palette, they create good grays, etc.  You’ll be able to target your palette to your subject matter and style.
     Another book you might you add to your arsenal is Albert Munsell’s “A Grammar Of Color”.  This book is actually a college study course on the attributes of color, from chroma to hue to value to where they fall on the color wheel.  It almost gives you too much in-depth information, but I have referred to it quite often.
     Harley Brown’s book, which is listed in My Favorites, actually shows you how to understand and apply the Munsell Color Wheel to your individual palette.  I’ve told you before, I highly recommend the purchase of Harley Brown’s book, and you can click on the icon in the right-handed column and purchase it directly from my blog.  (And I’ll shamelessly admit that Amazon rewards me for your purchase, as well).
      So, I highly recommend that you call Winsor & Newton (1-800-445-4278) and order this valuable tool.  You MUST call, it is not available online.  When I purchased mine 10 years ago, it was priced at $21, so I would expect it to be in that same range.  It is well worth the effort and money, and I think you will find it to be a valuable tool.  I’d be lost without mine.

Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying the blog, Mark. Lots of good tips and fun to read.

    I ordered a used copy of the Brown book and saved some bucks. I called the US distributor for Winsor-Newton, left a message saying I wanted a hand-painted color chart, and someone called back requesting my address which I provided. No mention was made of exchanging money, so hopefully I get this next week in the mail for free.

    I have not ordered the Munsell book. I choked on the price. On his web-site, he has a lot of products, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for the book, would need or want something else later, or what, so I did nothing.