We’ve just wrapped up a special week as part of the Live Version of my Watercolour course. In 2020 I added a special bonus lesson to the course called Pigment Characteristics where I explain how the different properties of individual pigments that make up each watercolour paint colour have a huge impact on the ‘magic’ in your washes. This can be a technical topic, but my goal (as always) is to explain the essentials in a clear, practical and fun way.
Last night during a Live Q&A session I explained how I often do a fair amount of pigment research when I’m asked a specific question inside the classroom. In this case, the question was about two Schmincke colours (each of them had two pigments) and I showed the group how I look up the colour chart, review the properties of the paint colour, and then investigate the individual pigments – often looking up the Handprint site for more details. I can end up going down a rabbit hole at times, but it certainly helps me better understand the nature of the paint colour in question.
However, I totally understand that having an in-depth knowledge of pigments is not everyone’s cup of tea and it’s certainly not needed to create beautiful watercolour paintings. In fact, I sometimes think that pigment obsession can become a bit of a distraction. The temptation to own more and more paints becomes much stronger when you start to get into pigments. The struggle is REAL and I sure know this from experience! 🙂
The most important thing is to get to know the colours in your own palette and know how to use them to create sketches with lively washes!
By varying the amount of pigment and water as I painted these mixing strips I was able to explore the characteristics of the two colours and determine what kind of party each combo created. Understanding how granulating colours vary from staining colours and what happens when you combine them is a good way to start exploring pigment characteristics.
(Abbreviations: FU = SCH French Ultramarine, CBC = DS Cerulean Blue Chromium, IB = DS Indanthrone Blue, CobB = DS Cobalt Blue, MBH = DS Manganese Blue Hue)
And after doing the New Gamboge page I wanted to do some mixing with an opaque paint and a highly staining one. The most opaque yellow in my collection was only semi-opaque (Aquarius Cadium Yellow Deep) and my most staining was a phthalo blue (Winsor Blue – Green Shade).
And wow! Look at the crazy result when I mixed Transparent Red Oxide with the Winsor Blue.
I don’t normally see this particular type of party in my work so I had to do another swatch to explore it more.
So in essence… there is no need to learn pigment numbers off by heart (but if you want to do that… I’m cheering you on!) but I do think that understanding pigment properties (transparency, opaqueness, granulation and degree of staining) and how they will affect a wash will help you get better results in your watercolour sketches.