A tale of two cadmiums

Last week I was doing data entry work while Andrew got to watch a colour mixing demonstration. I was more than a little jealous to say the least. Poor Andrew then was quizzed on the presentation on the way home. Chief focus of my inquisition was the presenters ‘exposure of the shortcomings of a limited pallete.’ This got my attention because I am, at heart, a cynic. When I hear a rep from a paint company promoting the purchase of MORE colours, my sceptical nature comes into play.

Andrew explained how the guy had done a demonstration of trying to mix a bright orange. His argument was that while you could mix a ‘warm yellow’ and a ‘warm red’ together you would not get something with the brightness of a cadmium orange. After all, cadmium Orange is a different pigment. This makes sense. If I buy apple, pear and guava juice and mix them together it will not taste the same as a tropical juice that also has passionfruit therein. My question is, how different is the pigment cadmium Orange from something I can mix?

The picture to the above right are the results of my attempts to ‘match’ cadmium Orange. I will admit that the one straight from the tube is the brightest (and slightly more so in real life that in this photograph. However for me, this isn’t enough of a difference to warrant abandoning my limited pallette. I remain a fan for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s far less confusing. When you work with a limited pallette of colours (typically 6 – 12), if I want to recreate a colour I’ve previously mixed, the potential combinations are far less! Most of the time, I can reliably recreate a colour I’ve previously mixed.
  2. Better understanding of your colours. I know my 12 colours intimately. As I use each of them often, I know which are opaque, which are high staining and which glaze beautifully.
  3. Harmony in your pictures. Using a limited pallette – I think – brings a painting together far better.
  4. Fewer tubes = less storage space required.
  5. Last but not least, it’s far cheaper.
For what it’s worth, my advice before buying a new colour is to read the pigment label. If you are thinking you need say – payne’s grey – you will discover that it is usually a mix of ultramarine and carbon black. If you own both those colours, then you now have a choice. You can buy it, or you can mix it.
In some cases, I still buy a colour outside my limited pallette. Golden’s Nickel Azo Gold is an example. I adore it and use it so often that I just want to squeeze it from the bottle and go. I have also found it a difficult colour to match. In contrast, most of the turquoises on the market (which are nearly always a combination of phthalo blue and green), I don’t use often enough to warrant buying one and I find relatively easy to mix something I’m happy with.
Having said all that, I guess I’m about to find out whether people’s opinions of the above is as controversial as say, whether to use black in your paintings or not?

Posted on September 25, 2011, in Art and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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