The particular family of natural bituminous earth that we use in our French Cassel Earth is a notoriously slow drier. How slow? We are literally talking many weeks for even a paper-thin layer to become fully touch dry. Readers might recall that we wrote about a similar issue with Van Dyke Brown, which happens to be made from the same type of pigment. Borrowing the same traditional technique we used there, we have decided to remedy this by blending a very small smidgen of Raw Umber (less than 1%) into the mix, which brings the overall drying time down to less than a week. This addition is essentially unperceivable in terms of the color or handling and allows us to avoid using high levels of cobalt-mangenese driers.
Announcing the change in a beloved color’s formulation is never enjoyable, especially when it involves such a cherished cornerstone of the Williamsburg brand as our Naples Yellow Italian. From the beginning this was made from a particularly beautiful shade of a single pigment, PBr 24, Chrome Antimony Titanate. Many painters will seek out and covet single pigment colors because of the clarity and purity they can offer, as was certainly true in this case. Unfortunately, the pigment we relied on for so many years was recently discontinued by the manufacturer and we have been unable to locate another single pigment that can remotely fill the same role. Faced with this situation, we decided to try and create a blend that can hopefully match the essential qualities that made this color sing in such a special way. After a slew of trials, we opted for a recipe based on a closely related but deeper shade of the same pigment, PBr 24, modifying it with Titanium White and then bringing in some Cadmium Yellow Deep to hold onto that warm blush of milky peach that was at its heart. You can see the two colors side by side below:
Creating a perfect twin was probably always a bit beyond reach, but we hope you find these two to be extremely close. Admittedly, the new one is a touch warmer in tints and not quite as deep in masstone, so longtime devotees will undoubtedly need to adjust a touch here and there. But hopefully, if you give this new blend enough time to settle in, it will prove its worth and worthiness as a successor to a great color with a long history.
This is a question that has come to us on several occasions, so wanted to take a moment to lay this concern to rest.
Like so many of these often-heard, historical adages, this one has survived because there is some element of truth or logic that it was originally built on. In this case, the concern has its roots in the fact that earlier production of cadmium pigments (Cadmium Sulfides and Cadmium Sulfoselenides) contained some percentage of free sulphur, which could potentially react with basic lead carbonate to form the brownish/blackish compound known as lead sulphide. Along with Cadmiums other pigments that were thought to be of concern included Vermilion (Mercuric Sulfide) and Ultramarine Blue (Sodium Sulfosilicate). In addition, of course, sulphur compounds were a major problem in air pollution during the 19th and well into the 20th centuries, so environmental exposure was yet an additional factor. Ultimately, however, discoloration was almost solely a concern with water-based media and only possibly – and to this day, still mostly anecdotally - with some oil paintings in the past. Research has simply never born out any clear evidence of lead whites in oil turning black, either from exposure to air or admixture with sulphur-bearing pigments such as the above mentioned, first generation of Cadmiums or the broadly used Ultramarine Blue. Indeed, it appears that the oil binder itself is a sufficient insulator to prevent these types of interactions. One can find a summary of this position in Painters’ Methods to Prevent Colour Changes Described in Sixteenth to Early Eighteenth Century Sources on Oil Painting Technique by Margriet van Eikema Hommes, Looking Through Paintings: The Study of Painting Techniques and Materials in Support of Art Historical Research , London, 1998. In that essay the author states:
“When mixed together in a binding medium, certain pigments can cause a chemical reaction that could discolour the paint. Pigments containing sulphur such as vermilion, ultramarine and orpiment can react with pigments consisting of either lead compounds (including lead white and lead tin yellow) or copper compounds (such as verdigris and azurite). However, laboratory tests have shown that in practice these reactions almost always occur in an aqueous binding medium and that the discolorations rarely affect oil paint. In fact, there is also very little evidence of compatibility problems in old oil paintings where less compatible pigments had been mixed. For instance, lead white (which easily reacts with sulphur) was used in combination with vermilion or ultramarine in countless paintings without causing any discoloration. Hence, it is remarkable that the historical texts contain so many warnings about intolerant mixtures….Perhaps the reason for the sources’ caution was the assumption made by the painters that the problems of mixing in an aqueous binding medium would also apply to oil painting.”
This is also echoed in the fairly authoritative entry on Lead White in Artists’ Pigments, A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics, Vol. 2, National Gallery of Art, Ashok Roy, editor, 1993. There the authors Rutherford J.Gettens, Hermann Kuhn, and W. T. Chase state:
“Lead white locked in drying oil film and protected with varnish endures for centuries without blackening; witness the white collars and cuffs in Dutch portraits. Although lead white is theoretically incompatible with sulfide pigments, and should form black lead sulfide in contact with them, no glaring examples can be cited. Flesh tones, lead white tinted with red mercuric sulfide (vermilion) especially in oil-medium, have stood for centuries without change; as similarly mixtures with ultramarine in skies and draperies. Lead white mixed with cadmium-sulfide also seems unaffected.” (p.72)
Nearly all the known cases of lead turning black appear restricted to watercolor or fresco where exposure to sulphur is much easier and more common.
If nothing else, we hope the above will calm any concerns about the use of Lead Whites with the full range of colors on one’s palette, including Cadmiums, but if you still have any further questions about any of this, simply let us know.
It is never fun to announce the loss of a pigment. Many have long histories with Williamsburg and some are even unique to us and us alone. Such was the case with our Zinc Buff Yellowish, made from a rare and special form of Zinc Oxide. We would also be lying if we didn’t share that this was also one of those pigments that was always a bit problematic, drifting a little this way and that, its color relying on the slightest variables during its production that proved to be….well, variable! That said we were committed to carrying it as long as we could. Sadly the only supplier of this pigment recently let us know that is was being discontinued, forcing us to make some hard choices. Do we simply drop the color altogether or try to make a blend to replace it? Even more importantly, can it even be replaced? The difficulty with Zinc Buff Yellowish was how to match its beautiful translucency while holding onto a warm and pale yellow tone. Get one quality, and the other would slip slightly out of reach. In the end, as is so often the case with single pigment colors, there was no way to achieve an exact match, although we were able to hold onto the translucency we felt was essential from the beginning, even while the color grow a touch cooler and ever-so-slightly deeper in the process. As a way to acknowledge these small differences, and reduce confusion, we also decided to give the resulting mixture a new name as well: Zinc Buff Yellow*.
Anyway, while available and ready to ship, Zinc Buff Yellow will probably still take a little while to make its way onto all the shelves and fully replace the remaining stock of older Zinc Buff Yellowish. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts and any concerns. And while announcing the loss of a pigment is never fun, and for some this will clearly mean adjusting your palettes, hopefully it will be to make room for a useful and new found favorite.*Pigment composition of the new Zinc Buff Yellow:
PW4 -Zinc Oxide / PY53 - Nickel Titanate / PY43 - Natural Hydrated Iron Oxide
In the course of my job I get the pleasure of treasure hunting through old historical texts on painting materials and methods. For an established paint-geek like myself, this is pure heaven, especially when uncovering an insight or finding a gem to be gleaned from all those past experiences. Every now and then, however, I come across something that is – shall we say - of a more curious nature that can certainly raise an eyebrow or two. The following is one that caught my eye the other day and thought I would share. It is an excerpt from Robert Dossie’s Handmaid of the Arts published in 1783, and found in Storm, A. “Eighteenth Century Paint Materials And The Painters Craft As Practiced In Louisbourg” 1982, (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Canada) :
“To make a drying oil to make any color that is mixed with it, dry quickly:
Add two ounces of litharge of lead to a quart of linseed oil (though some use red lead) powdered very fine, and boil it for near an hour in an earthen pan, or till the oil be grown fat, or almost of the consistence of molasses, then set it on fire with a lighted paper, keep it stirring while burning, which need not be above a minute or two, then put out the flame, and let it stand till it be thoroughly cold, and that the litharge has settled well to the bottom; then pour off the clear oil, and put it in a bladder, close tied up for use. “
Well, some things in the 18th century are really best left in the 18th century.
And I hope it goes without saying, don’t try this at home. Or anywhere else for that matter.
They take their place, lined up against the wall. Three rows of six each, like contestants trying to show off their best side. They are beautiful, seductive. Each of the colors beckon you a bit with promises of an undiscovered nook, a locked secret, a long lost friend you swap stories with over cappuccinos.
Only painters might understand how one can linger for hours looking and imagining into a color, moving it around on the palette, unfolding it, discovering how it acts, what it likes….how it smudges and glides, or how its grainy texture pulls you deeper into the Provencal landscape, with its vineyards and the endless string of French masters who staked their vision there.
From the moment people started coming by our booth at the College Art Association, where they were learning and seeing them for the first time, to the many emails and phone calls in response to the most recent Just Paint article, the 18 new colors we are introducing has been met with incredible excitement, enthusiasm, anticipation, and seemingly one burning and overriding question: when? When can we see them, buy them, order them, try them….
So here’s the scoop…..all of them will start shipping from here around May 14, but we would strongly encourage you to share your interest in these colors with your local art store, as retail orders for the new colors are being accepted now. As in today. Or tomorrow. Not sure who to contact in your area, or need more information? You can always call us at 800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843 and ask for our Customer Service folks, who will help connect you with a supplier, or one of us in tech support, who can answer any questions you might have.
If you are just now learning about the colors, definitely take a moment and read Amy McKinnon’s excellent article describing them. And if any of you haven’t done so already, sign up for our free Just Paint newsletter so you can keep up with our latest discoveries and research and what might be around the corner. It’s painless and easy – just fill out this form.
And now here is our question to you: what else would you love to see us make, find, discover, or revive? What do you keep dreaming to reach for, but then find it just isn’t there – that quirky gap you yearn to fill in your palette, that medium you hope will rock your world, that rare pigment you suspect is out there for the finding? Many of the new colors that are coming out this Spring started from just those types of conversations and comments, from those burning desires for something beautiful and something new. So we would always love to hear whatever you are thinking.
Get that idea or thought out of your head and give us a call (800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843) or send an email techsupport@WilliamsburgOils.com
And subscribe to the blog!!
More and more these days oil painters are finding they have developed sensitivities, allergies and reactions to the solvents used in oil painting. Skin contact with solvents of the strong varieties, turpentine and mineral spirits, can cause defatting of the skin, dermatitis and skin allergies while inhalation can lead to dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, loss of concentration and respiratory irritation. While there are odorless and low odor varieties of mineral spirits and turpentine, many find that prolonged exposure to even these weaker varieties can cause bouts of sneezing, headaches and general discomfort to the eyes, nose and throat. Many of these irritations have lead oil painters in many directions, some move to water based paints and some find that using lighter, thin bodied oils for thinning to be an acceptable alternative. Clean up, especially of brushes, is an important matter and figuring out my own method of cleaning without the use of solvents turned out to be easier than I had initially thought and really a welcome alternative. First, just for a moment think about your brushes. Many oil painting brushes are natural bristles and while they can be hardy and robust, the natural hair of the brush cannot take the constant washing with solvent over the years without drying, splitting and breaking until you are left with something reminiscent of a doormat and completely worthless as a painting tool.
My personal method to cleaning my brushes is one that I have used for years. First, brush out any excess paint. Do this onto a piece of scrap canvas or an old terrycloth towel. Take the canvas or cloth and wrap the brush and squeeze any excess starting at the ferrule and through to the tip. This will help get out large bits of paint hiding near the base of the brush hairs. Once the excess paint has been brushed out and squeezed out then get some safflower oil from the grocery store (this is cheaper than the variety you want to use for painting). Dip the brush in the oil and allow it to coat the bristles. Using your scrap canvas or towel, brush the oil soaked brush out to remove even more paint. Do this a few times until all traces of paint are gone. At this point your brush should be able to handle a soap and water washing without too much effort. I have found that dipping the brush in dishwashing soap and scrubbing the bristles on a surface to really get the soap to penetrate the brush prior to introducing water helps the washing process as the water will naturally be repelled without the addition of soap. Wash the brush several times in soap and water until it is clean. One other little suggestion I would like to offer is that every now and again you may find that your natural bristles are dry and lifeless and an occasional application of hair conditioner can help revive the brush. Doing this repeatedly can cause the brushes to splay and the bristles to separate so it is really recommended only when necessary and be sure to rinse will.
How do you clean your brushes without solvents? Please share.
For more information about this or anything else, give us a call (800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843) or drop us an email techsupport@WilliamsburgOils.com
It never dries. Or at least it can seem that way, if you ever worked with genuine Van Dyke Brown, a bituminous earth designated as Natural Brown 8 by the Color Index. Week after week can go by, and even the lightest touch of a finger on the thinnest of films can come away with a wet smudge of a deep dark blackish brown. It’s enough to push many a painter’s patience to the brink, and is a quality that has been bound to this pigment for as long as it has found a place on the artists’ palette, stretching back to the 17th century.
When confronted with this problem, a paintmaker only has a few options at their disposal. Certainly you can leave the paint as it is, although in many ways you are simply pushing the problem downstream and forcing artists to wrestle with the disparity of a paint that might take months to dry in a thicker application. Another possibility would be to abandon the pigment all together; to convert it to a mix of synthetic or natural earths blended with black. But to do so is to turn one’s back on a unique material that has threaded itself through so much of art history, and appeared in such a wide range of paintings forming the backdrop of our craft. Or you might try ramping up the addition of metallic driers in the hopes of coaxing the color into line. However, you soon find there is a limit to the improvements you can achieve before equally increasing the risk of cracking and surface defects. Not an option we would entertain.
In the end we went in another direction altogether, using a solution that has a long history of its own going back to at least Rembrandt’s day: namely, to leverage the powerful drying action that certain pigments are known to have – in particular the umbers. Start with a pure Van Dyke Brown and add 10% Raw Umber, and the initial film that never dried for weeks will now be locked down in a couple of days. Along the way, however, the masstone and tint are clearly impacted and its not clear if the gains are worth it. Slowly reduce that blend to a mere 2%, and the film will dry in a fairly reasonable 6-10 days with barely a perceptible change in color or handling. Reduce it even further to 1%, and the drying time starts to lengthen out again and even a paper-thin film can easily take a couple of weeks or more to set-up. Which gets you right back on that edge of a judgement call – when is long too long a time?
So it’s a balancing act, and a good lesson along the way in just how reactive and powerful a catalyst some pigments can be. If you look at the dry time chart at the end of our recent article Weighing in on the Drying of Oils (http://www.justpaint.org/jp25/jp25article3.php) you can see that a thin film of our Van Dyke Brown should dry in 5-14 days depending on conditions – approximately the same rate as our Cadmium Reds. We feel that makes sense and is in keeping with the traditional way painters dealt with this problem in the past. But if you ever have a desire or need for a Van Dyke Brown that takes longer to dry, or contains no Raw Umber whatsoever, just let us know! We regularly make custom paints for those in search of unique colors or formulations.
For more information about this or anything else, give us a call (800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843) or drop us an email techsupport@WilliamsburgOils.com
Even from the earliest days our Cinnabar Green Light was a simple blend of two pigments: Ultramarine Blue (PB 29) and Permanent Yellow Light (PY 3). Straightforward. Uncomplicated. About as easy a mix as you will ever find. But while we can control most of the variables in a recipe, a change in the pigment from our suppliers is rarely one of them. Tweak either of the underlying colors a little warmer this way, a little cooler that, and all of a sudden you might find that no possible ratio of the two pigments at your disposal will ever create a perfect match.
Recently we had to confront just this situation when a cooler version of PY 3, which had been used in Cinnabar Green Light, was completely discontinued and no alternative supplier could be found. In seeking a way forward, we took a close look at the history of the color, including a tube from 2009, just before Williamsburg joined Golden Artist Colors, and another from 1998. Having these wet samples to use in color matching was critical, as color swatches, no matter how well preserved, can change over time. Despite the limitations of photos and computer monitors, you can hopefully see how the color already existed within a range, from a bluer, higher chroma position more than a decade ago to something that was slightly lighter, yellower and less saturated in more recent times. .
While we found it impossible to match either of these poles with the new pigment, we felt we could easily achieve something in-between. Deciding to hold onto as much vibrancy as possible, we opted for the increased clarity of the older batch, but with just a touch more yellow to pull it slightly closer to its more recent incarnation. We believe the result (seen on the far right in the photo above) brings the best qualities of both versions together and hopefully represents a blend that can act as a new master standard for many more years to come.
Let us know what you think.
As always, make sure to subscribe, and if you have any questions, give us a call (800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843) or drop us an email techsupport@WilliamsburgOils.com
It’s cold out there – or at least out here, in upstate NY. And with the arrival of colder days comes concerns about lower temperatures and how these might affect paintings being stored or shipped in unheated conditions. For oils, the danger of dropping temperatures is focused mainly on the increased brittleness of paint films and the grounds they rest on. In a recent study by conservation scientists¹ on the impact of cold temperatures on various grounds, issues were raised about all the usual suspects. But while it was long known that acrylic gessoes grew stiffer and more brittle in low temperatures, the degree this affected traditional oil and more modern alkyd-based grounds might come as a surprise. At 68F/20C a traditional lead ground could only flex 1.6% before cracking, but by 50F/10C that was cut in half to .8%. As you fall even further down. to 32F/0C, that percentage was halved yet again, to just .4%, while alkyd-based grounds fared just slightly better, hovering around 1% or less. Just how little give and take does that represent? A 25” x 30” painting would only need to be keyed out or stretched a scant 1/16” to suffer a 1% strain in the corners and a .5% strain in the center of the canvas. So, for this example at least, an increased risk for cracking would exist even at the relatively mild temperature of 50F/10C. And of course, in all these cases, the older the oil painting becomes, the less flexible it will be.
So, what is a painter to do? Obviously the best solution is to keep your work in as moderate an environment as possible, and to avoid stressing or stretching any painting that might be colder than the typical, warmer room temperatures you find in a gallery or museum. If you can, try not to ship paintings during colder months, but if that becomes necessary, look for ways to dampen and minimize any flexing the canvas might undergo. And certainly by painting on panel, or mounting a canvas to panel, one greatly lessens these concerns altogether. Lastly, this is a great excuse to relocate to warmer climates – assuming you have been looking for an excuse in the first place.
Feel free to leave a comment and make sure to subscribe to get our next entry. And for more tips or advice, or just to chat about any of your questions concerning our paints, give us a call (800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843) or drop us an email techsupport@WilliamsburgOils.com.
¹Young, Christina, and Eric Hagan. 2008. Cold Temperatures Effects on Modern Paint used for Priming Flexible Supports. In Preparation for Painting: The Artist’s Choice and Its Consequences, ed. Joyce H. Townsend, Tiarna Doherty, Gunnar Heydenreich, and Jacqueline Ridge, 172-179. London: Archetype
See also “Using Oils with Acrylics“, Just Paint 24, Golden Artist Colors