Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Color Wheel in Art Books is Sometimes Wrong: Myths of Art Pigments Dispelled

Art students may be frustrated when muddy colors result from a box of pigments purchased from an art shop. Often the true primary colors are not included, and worse, the color wheel shown in some art instruction books is not correct.

Not every red, yellow and blue produces a clean violet, orange or green. In fact the mixture can be muddy and dull. The reason for this problem is simple: the true primary colors are often not displayed in certain artbooks nor are they included in a typical beginners box of art pigments.

The Color Wheel Myth

Not any blue pigment is a primary color, and often contains other pigments in small amounts. Ultramarine, for instance, is a vibrant blue, but contains a lot of red, as this blue has a violet slant. Cadmium red is a vibrant red, but actually contains a lot of yellow. The true primary colors are in fact those that resemble the pigments of printing ink, which are magenta, yellow and cyan. Art colors that resemble the pigments of printing ink would create clean secondary colors.

Useless Pigments in Art Boxes

Although the following pigments are useful, can actually be surplus to requirement when one considers that they can be achieved by the mixture of other pigments. However, the true primary colors cannot be attained by mixing two other colors.

So the non-essential pigments are:

Yellow ochre, sap green, cadmium orange, Prussian blue, raw sienna, raw umber, flesh tone, Naples yellow and others. These pigments contain various amounts of opposing pigments, which means they contain a lot of impurities.

However, the following pigments should be included in every beginner’s art set of pigments:

A large tube of titanium white (not a tube the same size as the other pigments).
Lemon yellow, permanent rose and cyan blue (or Pthalo blue). These pigments are quite close to the appearance of the fundamental hues of printing ink.

Essential secondary colors that I would include are: viridian green, French ultramarine and cadmium red. Vibrant pigments can easily be toned down by the inclusion of opposing colors (for example, blue can be toned down with a little red and yellow or an earth color). But somber colors cannot be made more ‘vibrant’ unless these bright pigments are included within the artist’s kit.

In other words, somber colors are not as vital as vibrant colors. A mixture of vibrant colors can create somber colors, but a boxful of somber pigments cannot create a vibrant color. Such restrictions upon the artist can be frustrating.

My YouTube Clip Explaining the Basics of Color Mixing

Beginners’ Art Pigments

So let’s look at the common terminology used when mixing pigments.

Primary Color: is one that cannot be made from other color mixtures. The primary colors of paint are those that resemble magenta, cyan and yellow of printing ink.
Secondary Color: is produced by mixing 2 primary colors. These are violet, green and red (not orange).
Tertiary Color: is achieved by mixing a primary and a secondary color. Mixing red with yellow will create orange. Green and yellow will produce yellowy-green.
Black is created by mixing all three primary colors in similar quantities.

Bright colors: Courtesy of Joseph Busby

Color Mixing Chart for Beginners

Understanding the basic laws of color will result in more satisfactory color mixes. Look for art boxes that contain clean, vibrant colors, not an array of earth colors and black. Pigments that resemble the fundamental colors of printing ink will produce many clean secondary colors. I find lemon yellow, permanent rose and cyan blue (pthalo blue is a darker version) quite close to the mark.

Vibrant secondary colors such as viridian green, French ultramarine and cadmium red will also come in handy.

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