Of Cheap (Yellow) Paint and its discontents. Get the good stuff.

Artwork, Professional Practices

Indian Yellow – Pigment that was originally created from the urine of cows that were fed mango leaves. (Not since 1908! No cows harmed at Gamblin!) Photo courtesy of Gamblincolors.com

The things we do for colors. Thankfully cows are no longer force fed mango leaves to create this pigment. Gone are Mummy Brown. Dragons Blood. Hartshorn. Paris Green. Smalt. Cochineal Red. Wait, that one is still in use. Ew. (Bug juice)

When in art college and grad school there was the ongoing debate and decision making -could I afford to get the quality (ie expensive) paints or just get the student grade? For the most part, if I could, I got the good stuff. I didn’t know the difference back then. Not many instructors went over the quality of pigments, they just gave you their list of suggested paints. And off to the store I went.

Later, the art geek in me started learning more about the pigments and what made up the different paints. What was the difference between a student/cheaper paint and a “professional grade” paint. (hint = more filler, less pigment in the cheaper stuff) What was the difference between a HUE vs a pure pigment, other than the price? (hint = HUE on a label means it’s a MIX of pigments to create a similar color to the expensive one.)

Knowledge is power, and I got really good at understanding the labels and the pigments that created the paints I love. And I developed more confidence by learning how to mix my own colors from some really good primary colors by Maimeri Puro, thanks to one of my classmates. Working with just the primaries (plus) is a time honored painting style that does end up being more economically saavy, though not as fun shopping. (my standard palette has at least 12 colors. Unless I am plein-airing. Then it’s 6)

My biggest peeve in color is Yellow. Yes, our basic, primary, yellow. Why would that color irk me so? Well, when it is a quality yellow, what joy it is to paint. It does exactly what I want, mixes beautifully, and does not disappear. (tip – add a *touch* of titanium white to your yellow if you are having trouble, it adds a little opacity that sometimes can help)

When I skimp and use cheaper brand yellows, wow. What a difference. It simply vanishes. It takes gobs and gobs of yellow just to create an average mix. And it is almost always, too transparent. All colors have their specific opacities, but cadmiums should NOT be transparent.

Now, I didn’t believe this for a long time after school. I used whatever grade of paint I could afford, and wondered why I was having so much trouble. But I had a revelation when I was teaching an afterschool art program for kids. Some of them proudly brought in their brand new mega art kits – the ones that have everything under the sun, packaged in a beautiful folding wooden easel.  The paints were awful. Really, really awful. The filler (what is added to the paint as well as medium) was so prevalent the colors barely mixed. And to go back to yellow – we tried mixing greens and literally could not mix greens – the yellow disappeared. If I hadn’t seen it for myself I would not have believed it.

So my two cents, if this rant has been useful – get the higher quality paint, unless you can’t afford it. In that case, choose wisely/research what you want to spend your money on – earth colors and whites are usually be less spendy. Are you willing to do the work and mix those colors? Splurge on  a set of good quality primary colors plus a tube of white. Higher quality paints will suprisingly last longer and provide a much more satisfying experience.

My favorite oil paint brands? Gamblin, Williamsburg, MGraham are my top favorites but I also use Winsor Newton (and their student grade, Winton) and Grumbacher.

Curious about oil paints, mediums, etc? Check out Gamblin Oil Paints website. Very informative and has helpful videos too. http://www.Gamblincolors.com

Have you had issues with your color mixing?

Thanks for listening! Warmly, Dana




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