Build on Your Basics

January 3, 2013

Can you say with confidence you’ve got the right colour palette to realize your creative vision? Do you know using a professional grade paint can result in a cost savings? A fresh new year calls for a refresher in the fundamentals of paint!

Professional vs. Economy
Paints are generally divided into two grades: economy and professional. What separates them? In most cases, the major difference is in the pigment.

The rich colours and permanency that are the hallmarks of professional, or “artist grade”, paint can be attributed to their use of genuine and synthetic pigments of the highest quality. The best professional paints offer the most pigment possible without compromising the integrity of the binder. This results in colours with excellent permanence (lightfastness), strong mixing properties, and high tinting strength.

Pure pigments that are opaque will make a matte paint. Pure pigments that are translucent will make a semi-gloss paint. Pigments that are transparent will make a glossy paints. Professional grade paints allow the glossy, semi-gloss or matte characteristics of pigments to show through the paint when dry. This is helpful as it gives full control, whether you want colours that work well for glazing techniques or colours that have good coverage.

Often labelled as "student grade", economy grade paints have fillers and opacifiers not found in professional grade paints that help compensate for having less pigment. As a result, economy grade paints tend to dry to an equal, matte finish. This can be helpful when learning to paint, as it makes all paints perform the same way and can make it a little easier for the beginner to control the results.

Economy paints are formulated to keep the price low for the beginning artist. The most efficient way to do this is by reducing the amount of pigment you would find in a professional paint by about half, and/or using a synthetic hue instead of a genuine colour. With less pigment overall, the bulk of the paint is made up by additives such as fillers or stabilizers.

Economy paints that are formulated with a quality binder are sometimes used in conjunction with professional colour, often in an effort to keep costs low. However, mixing different grades of paints can be unpredictable due to differences in pigment load. Using professional paint can prove to be an economical choice as their opacity offers good coverage with less paint. Their high pigment volume makes them ideal to mix with painting mediums, enabling you to change the viscosity or sheen of the paint without compromising the intensity of the colour.

Hue vs. Genuine
Although used in artist grade paints, synthetic pigments are also used in economy grade paints to replace rare and expensive pigments. Synthetic pigments are sometimes referred to as hues. For example, Cobalt Blue Hue does not contain real cobalt, but is instead composed of a synthetic pigment.

Hues are intended to match as closely as possible to their genuine counterparts. The concentration of colour is not as strong with hues as it is with genuine pigments and consequently, the results you achieve with hue colours differ. Most seasoned painters will attest that no synthetic can match the colour or quality of genuine pigments.

Modern vs. Mineral
The pigments used to make paint can be broken into two distinct groups: mineral and modern. With a little understanding of the differences between the two, a basic colour palette (one that allows you to mix a wide variety of colours with some certainty of the results) can be built.

Two paintings, on created using a modern palette, the other using a palette of mineral colours.

Mineral colours are made from metals, such as cobalt, cadmium, and iron, that are mined directly from the earth. They tend to be opaque and very permanent, and can have a strong colour intensity, or “key”, straight out of the tube. However, when you mix mineral colours together, the intensity diminishes and muted colours emerge. This muting effect is particularly suited to paintings that replicate natural light and realism.

Since the early 20th century, carbon-based pigments have been manipulated in labs to produce modern colours. They are generally transparent or semi-transparent with varying degrees of permanency. Modern pigments produce very intense, high-key colour in their pure form and this intensity is maintained when you mix them with white or other colours. They pack a punch of intense, bright colour that mineral colours cannot achieve.

Whether you are painting with Acrylics, Oils, or Watercolours, you can create a significant variety of colours, including secondary colours, browns, and greys with just four tubes of the right colours in either the modern or mineral range.

To create a basic mineral colour palette, choose Cadmium Red Medium or Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Lemon or Cadmium Yellow Medium, Ultramarine Blue or Cobalt Blue, and Titanium White.

A basic modern palette can be built from Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Red or Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Blue, and Titanium White.

Red, Yellow, and Blue paints from both modern and mineral palettes, mixed to illustrate the different results yielded by each.