image from webexibits.org
The post on black was the first of several I want to do on the nature of the various pigments. Tonight I want to talk about yellows.
The yellow that you will most likely have on your palette is cadmium yellow, which is a metal, cadmium sulphide, it becomes deeper with the addition of selenium. Cadmium is a heavy metal and toxic. The usual advice follows, don't smoke or eat with cadmium on your hands and don't hold brushes in your mouth. Many of our paints are toxic so there is nothing unusual about this. A number of years ago Daniel Moynihan, senator from New York tried to get a bill passed that would have made cadmium pigments illegal. It didn't fly, thankfully.
Most of the use of cadmium is in cadmium-nickel batteries. It was commonly used to color plastics and has been a problem in children's' toys imported from our comrades the Chi-coms. There is no good substitute for this permanent and stable pigment. Before cadmium was available artists used chrome yellow. That has been completely replaced by cadmium.
Cadmium yellow comes in different hues. Even though they bear the same names, the actual hues vary from one brand to another. The usual variations are cadmium yellow pale, light, cadmium yellow lemon, cadmium yellow, medium and deep. They grow warmer and redder as they go from light to deep. I usually have only cadmium yellow on my palette. If I add another it is cadmium yellow medium.
Cadmium yellow is what I think of as a pure yellow, cadmium medium seems a little orange to me and cadmium light or pale is too light to get the punch I want. A lot of landscapists like cadmium yellow lemon, but I feel that if I want a cadmium yellow that is cool, I can add my own blue. Cadmium yellow is about in that sweet spot that is not too warm and not too cool. I modify it to go either direction with other colors from my palette.There are many painters out there who use limited palettes that have three colors, cadmium yellow is almost invariably one of them.
Cadmium yellow is a relatively expensive color but I don't churn through it like I do ultramarine. I buy about a quart a year from RGH (link in my sidebar). Quality is important in cadmiums. The student grades really fall down here, avoid them, you need to buy a professional grade. Most of the available brands that are professional quality make a decent cadmium yellow. Never buy cadmium yellow hue. When it says hue on the tube that means it is a mixture of who knows what that LOOKS like cadmium yellow but is not. It will not mix right and will lack pigmenting strength. It will however, be cheap.
Another yellow that I occasionally use is Naples. Naples yellow is now difficult to find. It is made from lead and the tube should feel very heavy. Every company still seems to market a Naples yellow but most are not real. They are about the right color but they don't act the same way when you use them. Naples is a soft and subtle color that is great in skies. It is not a very powerful pigment but is great for modifying other notes. The boutique manufacturers still make it though, so does RGH. It is essential to get the real thing though, the charm of Naples is in its peculiar subtlety and the synthetic versions don't have that. It generally comes graded light, medium and deep. The deep approaches raw sienna in color, the light is very pale and the medium is about right.
Azo yellow is a common and less expensive substitute for cadmium, other than its price, which is lower than cadmium it has nothing to recommend it. It seems to me inferior to cadmium in every way. It is less toxic though. Many companies market a yellow with their brand name on it that is generally an azo mixture of some sort.