Color Theory – Pigment Properties – Do You Know them?

by Neadeen Masters on November 27, 2011

Understanding color theory is also about understanding our Paint!

Most modern day color theory classes don’t teach us about the nuances of the paint we work with. To be able to have any success with color mixing and color theory, we must also understand the properties of the paint in outr paint box. Traditional painting techniques of old, used paints that were made from pure pigments. This single feature facilitated easier mixing techniques. They allowed the artist to create effects that required transparency and luminosity for added dimension. In teaching art and color theory, it has always been easier to teach mixing for colour theory when using paint that has been designed for that purpose.

Pigment Properties - Art Apprentice Online Pigment Properties – Art Apprentice Online

Color Theory and the modern acrylic painter!

In the last 50 years, acrylic paint became very popular and it too was sold in tubes as well as bottles, some were created for the Fine Art market and others for the Crafting industry.  In both these markets there are paints that meet the different needs of those who paint with them.

Many conscientious artists today want to understand the basics of color theory, but they also wish to understand the properties of the pigments they work with. Not only for artistic merit but also for health reasons. Here are some considerations artists will think about when selecting paint for a particular job.  Always consider the use and the techniques that will be implemented.

Color Theory also includes learning about Pigments.

– Light fastness – Will the pigment fade or how will it react to light? Light fastness is rated on a scale of 1 through to 4, one means permanent, four means they will begin to fade more quickly. For example in the Traditions Line that we work with, which is an acrylic ‘Artist grade’ paint, all pigments used to create this paint line are rated number #1 with only one pigment, Dioxazine Purple PV23 being a #2. That means, they all have a very high permanent quality. No fugitive pigments are used.

– Are the pigments safe? – Are there any toxic pigments used in the paint; such as those, which are, lead based, cadmium, chromium or cobalt? – YES cobalt. For example – In the Traditions line – only safe pigments are used. Paints that bear the ‘AP’ seal of the Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI) are certified non-toxic. Any paint that is non-toxic has to meet the ASTM D-4236 standard. Traditions is one of these acrylic ‘Artist grade’ paints that are non-toxic. However some companies can receive an ASTM D-4236 label if they put on the label that the paint inside is toxic or harmful.

– What is the vehicle? – For example, linseed oil is used in many oil paints and an acrylic dispersion in others. With Traditions paints the vehicle is an acrylic resin, which dries clear – this is an important feature when artists are looking for true colour clarity and durability.  Vehicles can be controlled or altered by a paints Media.  In the case of Traditions this media is a chemical called Propylene Glycol, which can be used to control the drying time of the paint.

– Viscosity – How thick is the paint? – Is it liquid, medium or high viscosity?  

– What about the purity of the pigments? For many artists the use of pure pigment is very necessary for successful mixing –

What about opacity for good coverage as well as transparency for layering and dimensional techniques? Many artists will require their paint to perform in both these capacities. When the artist knows what pigments are used to manufacture the colour, that knowledge will provide greater success when selecting one colour over the other.  It is important to recognize that some pigments are opaque and others transparent by the nature of the pigment. These characteristics will directly affect the results when mixing color for painting and color theory exercises. Knowing the effects will greatly enhance the artist’s work.

Technology has changed in the last 30 years and so has the way paint can be manufactured. No paint company can control the outcome of the painting, but the artist does have control over the choice of media they work with for a particular effect. Certain pigments will perform very differently for certain techniques.  When an artist wants to use traditional techniques, or to create a particular ‘look’ they may find greater success when using paint that has been designed for that use. What paints will you use?

To learn more about color theory, the teachers at the Art Apprentice Online have created a wide variety of online art classes featuring many different aspects of learning color theory.

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