Saturday, August 14, 2010


I wanted to begin the post tonight by drawing your attention to an excellent series of posts being written over on the Underpaintings blog by Mathew Innis. He has been writing about Ebauche which is the formal system of underpainting popular with 19th century artists. It is illustrated with examples from that era as well as our own. The link I have provided is to the first in the series. The internet is so cool. Information like this was nearly unavailable in my student days. I am not someone who works in this manner, but it is good to know about, maybe you might. It is a very logical way to build a picture in the studio, and of particular use to figure painters.

Ocher is my second yellow, I actually use gold ocher from RGH. It is like yellow ocher but has golden yellow color as it's name implies. It is made with a synthetic iron oxide. The real ochers are often muddy looing and I like the clear strong synthetic versions better.That is the only ocher on my palette,(well technically you could call burnt sienna an ocher) but here are many varieties of ochers. This is mankind's oldest pigment, and the earliest paintings were executed in ochers on the walls of caves. Naturally occurring clay bearing oxides of iron is the source for this pigment and it can vary widely in color from, a pale yellow through red to brown. There are even some blueish ochers.

Yellow ocher ( that's probably what you use, so I will use that example) is a dependable, permanent and semi-transparent pigment. It is not "clean" like a cadmium but has a wonderful brownish tone and covers very well. When I look at old paintings it is obvious that ochers were used extensively. I have worked using only yellow ocher, ivory black and sienna. It is a basic workhorse color that I use routinely. Many painters today have only three colors and don't use earth colors, but I like the look they give in a painting and would part with them only reluctantly. If I could have only one yellow though, it would be Cadmium yellow.

Iron oxide yellow can be made in a more highly colored version in the lab. This is mars yellow. I believe that many yellow ochers are enhanced with Mars yellow today. That doesn't seem to me to be a drawback. I have experimented some with mars colors and while they are not currently on my palette, I like them, they are sort of an ocher on steroids. They too are permanent and reliable colors. Yellow ocher and indeed all ochers vary widely from one manufacturer to another, and some are very strong and others quite gray and seem dirty next to the more powerful gold ocher I use.

Because it is an inexpensive pigment and absolutely reliable if you must paint on a tight budget, ocher is a color you should include on your palette. It is also handy if you are trying to obtain an old master look. It is useful in skies as its slightly reddish color provides warmth. Ocher is also good for painting rocks and foliage in sunlight. It mixes with various blues, or viridian to form less assertive greens than the cadmiums.

Red ocher or mars red are nice colors too, I sometimes add mars red to my palette, it is a little like Indian red but cleaner. Those red Venetian buildings in Sargents paintings look like mars red to me. I have never used a blue ocher, or even seen one. I suspect it might be useful to a portrait painter, but I can't imagine it having any usefulness to me outside.

Last night I recommended RGH Naples yellow, and I realized today that I haven't bought it in a while and I should make sure it is still authentic, although they are good about that kind of thing, which is one of the reasons I like their paint. I will get back to you on that, but if you want to order it, call them and ask.


Deborah Paris said...

I've been enjoying Mathew's series immensely. Very interesting stuff. And about naples yellow- I use it ALOT- for skies mostly but the one I use (Gamblin) is a hue. If RGH is the real deal, I definitely want to give it a try.

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Great post as always, Stape! Just wanted to say, I looked up the pigment list on RGH's website, they list their Naples yellow as Pbr29- not real Naples yellow (which has gotten really expensive lately I hear). If the pigment's anything like the one in the Winsor Newton Naples that I have, it's still a great paint though.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I am still blown away by all your research and knowledge on materials (not to mention art history and painting technique). You are like a grad level course for painters. Thank you, Thank you! I get so much out of your posts.
Might I add, Vasari makes a Genuine Naples Yellow Light that David Leffel uses. It is a yummy butter color. (yes, I can understand how Van Gogh might have eaten some of his paints)
BTW I scored a Gruppe Brushwork book at the Library sale for $2 also one on 19th century American painters. It pays to be a nerd sometimes.

Gregory Becker said...

Matthew is a great researcher.
As far as yellows go I am starting tolike the cool lemon yellow. I still think that Cad yellow is the best but lemon yellow almost appears green right out of the tube.
This sounds like a wierd reason to like it but I like the way it looks on the palette next to my other colors.

Bob Carter said...

My pallette is a modification of Gruppe’s (nice score on Brushstrokes, Derinda – my favorite of his books). Gruppe eschewed earth pigments (except in his early years) almost as a point of pride, so I had a prejudice against yellow ocher for some time. I overcame that under the influence of my mentor Bill Maloney, who showed me the advantages of brushing in the initial drawing with yellow ochre, rather than charcoal or graphite. Being a non-staining pigment, it can be wiped out with a spirit-dampened rag when corrections are needed, and it’s less likely to show through than graphite in light passages. Nowadays, with yellow ochre sitting there, I use it a lot for its own color and as a way of muddying my cadmium yellows, when needed. Being a Cape Cod painter, I often have to make sand, and yellow ochre is a good starting point. I used to mix it with cadmium yellow, ultramarine, and permanent madder deep (ala Kevin MacPherson), but getting the proportions right is tricky. Besides, its much faster to poke at the yellow ochre.

Stape, on yesterday’s post I knew I was being lured to the surface, but like a dumb trout I couldn’t resist the bait. :-)

Jan Blencowe said...

I could never do without my earth pigments. Pigments that come from the land to paint the landscape. makes perfect sense to me!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will get back to you on that. It does appear to be lead, but it might be a different kind, not lead antimony. We know for sure that Vasari still makes one.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I like all of their paints. They may be making a lead based hue though. I will find out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

All that I am posting on materials is very basic, I am not an expert on paint chem. I know what works for me and have used a lot of it. I think you can become a materials geek. IT IS NOT IN THE PAINT!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Good looking paint can actually make a painting look better too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You remain the blogs resident scientific expert and will be consulted again. Rather like flying the bat-flag, I can post something alchemical and you will rise leviathan-like to the the surface.

Thanks so much for the technical information you brought. I know nothing about chemistry, I got thrown out of that class in high school. But as soon as the moles showed up I knew it was over for me anyway.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What about Mars colors, only for use on the red planet? Is Prussian blue only for ............well you know.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Oh, I found another real Naples yellow. Dick Blick handles Michael Harding colors. They make several versions of real Naples

Debra Norton said...

I use Michael Harding's genuine naples yellow dark. I tried WN, Old Holland, and Rembrandt before I came across Michael Harding's. I used WN for several years until I came across a stiff tube so I tried the Hardings and I really like it.

I started out using all WN paint because that's what the school store sold, and have slowly branched out as I've found a need for something else. I'm still using WN yellow ochre and completely satisfied with it.

A question for you Stape, one you may have answered before, but I'm finding my viridian and permanent alizirin crimson drying out on my palette more quickly than I like. I try to keep to small "blobs" but even then I ususally end up scraping and throwing it away. How does the RGH brand do with these colors?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think their viridian is less likely to do that. I use quinacridone not alizirin and recommend you do too. Permanent alizerin is quinacridone or permanent rose.