Discover what thousands of professional artists look for when buying paint!

by Neadeen Masters on September 4, 2011

Acrylic Paints and Oil Paints – Paint Pigments and what to look for

When they first learn to paint, many art students are often so preoccupied with learning to handle the brush, create a recognizable composition and mixing color they are unaware of the importance of a pigment’s properties. One of these properties is the difference between opaque and transparent pigments. Paint colors always look great in the tube or the bottle, and they look even better on the palette! It doesn’t make any difference if it is acrylic paint, oil paint or watercolor paint, pigment properties are always the same. But there is something very important about the properties of the paint that you should know. Otherwise, the paint you buy might not give you the results you are after. These brilliant globs of color, sitting up like giant Hersey kisses are so beautiful to look at, yet they hold a hidden secret. A secret that all professional artists know and embrace to the fullest. The secret lies in the properties of the pigments.

Lemons By Sue Pruett - Traditions Online Art School Lemons By Sue Pruett – Traditions Online Art School

Buying the right paint pigment for the job!

How paint reacts to light, reflects light and allows light to pass through it, is key to making your painting method work right for you. For anyone just starting out, understanding the meaning of opacity versus transparency is one of the most important properties of paint you need to know… And choosing the right pigment for the job is the key to creating beautiful paintings that will glow or reflect light. Professional artists rely on this property to create special effects, and as a student artist, you can be ahead of the game if you know what to look for when buying your pigments.

First, let me suggest the best way to remember this difference is that the word opaque means it blocks the passage of light!! Think of heavy draperies pulled shut, blocking out the early morning light. You shut them so you can sleep in late on a Saturday morning. Heavy drapes are referred to as being opaque, because they block the passage of light. On the other side of the scale, transparent allows light to pass through…so think of sheer curtains…giving privacy…yet allowing the light to pass through.

Why should you know your paints opacity?

Artists basically work with two methods for painting. Some artists choose one over the other, some combine both methods. One is a direct method and the other is an in-direct method. This refers to the painting application and how the paint goes onto the canvas surface. Each method will demand the use of paint in unique yet different ways.

The direct method tends to call for more opaque applications. The color is applied to the canvas in such a way, (wet into wet) that the painting is completed in one sitting. The more opaque paint will provide good coverage, but will give the impression that light is reflected from the surface. This is because it tends to be applied a little heavier and the brush strokes cause light to bounce off the paint after it is dry.

The in-direct method uses a layering of color. Each layer builds on the previous layer after it has dried. The Old Dutch Masters were often fond of using this method as it conserved paint, and resulted in greater depth and translucency. Light passed through the transparent layers of paint and bounced back at the viewer. These transparent layers were applied as thin glazes of color. It is equivalent to laying down a sheet of coloured glass…the success of this glazing technique relied on the level of transparency of the pigment.

Tulip Festival By Neadeen Masters - Art Apprentice Online Art School Tulip Festival By Neadeen Masters – Art Apprentice Online Art School

There are many different uses for opaque and transparent pigments, these are just a couple…  when you go to purchase paints, always try to have a good mix of both opaque and transparent pigments in your collection. Read the labels, all fine art quality artist grade pigments will have this information posted on the label. To learn more about the properties of pigments…you may want to enroll in a great online art class that explains to you all you need to know about paint and how the properties of pigments will effect what you are wanting to paint.

Question: Have you encountered problems when transparency or opacity has been a problem?  Share with us… we would like to answer your questions.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: