Cherries, Oil, 11x14, $600

Cherries, Oil, 11×14, $600

A very interesting thing is happening in the art supply world.  Here at the gallery it is my responsibility to make up the orders to replenish our paints, paper, canvas etc.  This week as I was making up an order I had noted that we were out of Alizarin Crimson watercolor.  Karen, our gallery manager, had noted that we had 4 tubes of that color.  Upon checking I found that we DID have 4 tubes of ALIZARIN, but were totally out of PERMANENT Alizarin Crimson.

Let me back up and give you a bit of history concerning this incident.  Alizarin Crimson, as I have mentioned before, is the standard mixing cool red on most palettes.  Most any artist, in any medium, uses it.  Some years ago it was announced that Alizarin Crimson was a fugitive pigment.  That means that sooner or later that pigment will fade.  In the case of Alizarin it will be sooner especially if your work is near any light.  Many students have said, after I suggested that they throw away their tube of regular Alizarin, that they would just finish out that tube and buy the newer Permanent Alizarin the next time.  To which I replied that they might just go on and paint those grapes blue for probably a purple made with blue and Alizarin would only show blue before you knew it.

Now you’d think all would be well since there was a new Permanent Alizarin.  Not so.  Fans of the old color often didn’t like the newer one, felt it was browner–just not the same.  Well it wasn’t.  Alizarin Crimson is PR83, Pigment Red 83.  The new color was actually Quinacridone Red or Crimson, a different pigment entirely.  Quinacridone Red (pronounced Quin-ac-ri-done) is close to Alizarin, is Transparent, AND is PERMANENT.   I looked up the pigment number, they are almost always found on the back of the tube, on the tubes we had and sure enough it was PR83.  I had ordered it by mistake simply because I neglected to  add, even in my mind, that all important PERMANENT designation.

Paint companies have been stopped from selling Indian Yellow because  it was inhumane to withhold water from animals to give us a beautiful yellow.  I’ve no problem with that.  The Pigments now marketed as Indian Yellow may be permanent as is Ayrlide Yellow (Griffin Alkyd pigment), but it may be a less transparent and more fugitive pigment.  Companies don’t all use the same pigments for the colors they sell.  (For instance Burnt Sienna varies dramatically from company to company.)

Europe has stopped selling the Cads, Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow etc. because cadmium is poisonous.  Again, these are palette standards.  After a period of scarcity and inflated prices, those colors  are now being marketed often as Cad Yellow or Cad Red Hues.  Calling them hues indicates that different pigments are used that those actually named.  (Hues are fine to use if they suit you.  Cerulean Blue, the actual pigment, has become so expensive the hue which is just a little different color, is the more commonly accepted.)  I have not checked to see what pigments or combination thereof are in those tubes!

All those situations seem to work themselves out.  However it is painful to me for a company to market Alizarin Crimson PR83, which they know will easily fade.  Worse still if their colors don’t include a permanent version as well.

You may soon see that some knowledge of the actual pigments you are painting with is very helpful.  I have found this study to be very interesting as well.  It is difficult to find much of this information, but I believe  THE ARTIST’S GUIDE TO SELECTING COLORS by Michael Wilcox to be very good .  Wilcox has done a tremendous amount of research on color, albeit a little dated.  I know he is still working in this area and look forward to the time he updates his book.  It is available from Amazon for under $20.

Let me know if you have questions about all of this.  We’ll talk again soon.