Recent Changes to Williamsburg Colors


An article in our current issue of Just Paint, Beauty and the Best: Wrestling with Changes in Williamsburg, discusses results of accelerated lightfast testing for 23 colors that, until recently, were all listed as having ASTM Lightfastness ratings of ‘NA’ – or ‘Not Applicable’ – since none of them had formally been tested and submitted for approval to the ASTM Subcommittee on Artists’ Paints. We are currently planning to share these test results with the ASTM Subcommittee in early 2016, with the hope of adding these pigments to the list of ones that have been officially evaluated. In the meantime, we have chosen to replace most of the NA ratings found on our labels, color charts, and brochures with a Golden assigned one based on ASTM D4303 test procedures. At least in this way artists will have some guidance on how lightfast a color might be while we wait for the ASTM process to be completed.

It is hard to summarize such broad testing within the space of a blog, so for those wanting to delve into the details more fully we would strongly encourage you to read through the entire article at What follows are simply some of the highlights drawn from that larger piece.

The first part of the article discusses a small group of colors that, for the time being at least, will remain NA. You can see a listing of those in the table below, along with some of the reasons for this decision given in the last column:

Table 2

Next we walk readers through a large group of colors that completed their testing and ultimately will be submitted to ASTM, but in the interim are bring assigned a Golden lightfastness rating. As you will see, the vast majority of these ended up with a rating of Excellent, the equivalent of ASTM I, while even Van Dyke Brown did exceedingly well, coming in at Good, or the equivalent to ASTM II. Only three colors presented a difficult choice  – Alizarin Yellow, Indian Yellow, and Alizarin Orange. All three contain a transparent version of  PY83, a diarylide yellow that in its opaque form is among the most lightfast yellows available. However, based on the test results, this transparent version would need to be rated as Fair, or the equivalent of ASTM III, the same category as Alizarin Crimson. The difficulty we faced was deciding whether to keep these as-is or replace them with other more lightfast formulas that would draw on different pigments. In the process of searching for something, however, we quickly discovered there truly was no real substitute for the luminosity and sheer beauty these colors possessed. They are, in a very real sense, unique and offer a type of jewel-like glow that would be lost if they were not available. So, like Alizarin Crimson, we have decided to keep them as a part of the Williamsburg line, making sure artists continue to have access to them but with far better information being provided about their lightfastness.

Table 3

The final group are colors we felt could truly be made with a new combination of pigments without sacrificing what made them important and special to begin with. In all six cases the lightfastness of the colors was dramatically improved:

And as you can see in the following image, the color shifts are often subtle, with Permanent Orange probably showing the greatest change, becoming warmer and more orange in the process.

In the end, we are aware that some of these changes might cause concerns about lightfastness or how the new blends will perform on the palette and in mixtures. In the long run, however, we also feel strongly that these decisions have put the Williamsburg line and legacy onto firmer footing while providing much more information to the artist. For addition details about all the test results, please go to the full article Beauty and the Best: Wrestling with Changes in Williamsburg. And if you have any questions, large or small, leave a comment or simply email, or call 800-959-6543 / 607-847-6154.


Italian Raw Sienna – Now Where Were We?

With natural earths an announcement of a color shift is almost always a subtle, nuanced affair; a slight nudge due to a change in sourcing, or a variation one might expect from mining a natural pigment. Unfortunately, this is not one of those moments. Placed side by side, there is simply no hiding or glossing over the large jump between a current batch of Italian Raw Sienna and where it has been since at least 2010:

Williamsburg Italian Raw Sienna

So what happened? This is what we know: since 2010, when Golden acquired Williamsburg, we have been using the same lot of Italian Raw Sienna that we inherited with the rest of their inventory. Clearly marked, seemingly fine, there simply was never a reason to doubt that the color was anything but perfect . However, when we recently imported a new lot of the pigment, our quality control tests quickly noted a dramatic change in the color, which sent us on a forensic search of past history and master color swatches. As best as we can tell, at some point prior to 2010, the bags of pigment were either mislabeled or the color inadvertently shifted by the pigment supplier. Because the changes occurred sometime in the past, and were already in place when the original inventory was brought over, it simply had never been caught. Before now.

At this point, of course, there is no way to undo or correct several years worth of production. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we are able to return this color back to where it belongs and keep it there. Which means if this happens to be a color you had used for years, but simply haven’t purchased in a long while, it will seem that nothing has changed. The new tubes of Italian Raw Sienna should have the same familiar warmer tone you are used to. However, if you recently got acquainted with this color, and the darker version has nestled itself comfortably into your palette, this ‘large jump’ will be something closer to a long leap, to say the least. But even for you there is a silver lining. As it turns out, the French Raw Sienna is nearly a twin, with a remarkably similar deeper tone and feel. Reach for that and you should feel right at home. If that is not available, two other options that are close but not perfect would be Brown Ochre, which has a notably greener/yellower cast, and Yellow Ochre Burnt, which is slightly lighter and redder in tone.

It’s not Too Cold to Paint

With the recent bitterly cold temperatures this country has seen during the polar vortex a few questions have come up regarding how oil paints stand up to the cold, how paints should be stored and what issues may occur due to paints being exposed to frigid conditions. The short answer is, they do fine.
Oil paints are not affected by freezing or sub zero temperatures. The freezing point of linseed oil is -4.27F/-20.15C. While we definitely endured temperatures and wind chill factors below this threshold the effects of thawing out frozen linseed oil shows no alteration in viscosity, color, clarity or the ability to polymerize.
This automatically brings up another subject, freezing your palette in between painting sessions. This is or has been a sworn by method of many painters to keep their paints from drying out when not in use. Most freezers are set at about 0 F, which is above the freezing point for linseed oil, so technically it never really freezes. What it does is slow down the oxidation thus slowing down the drying. As always we feel the need to mention that we never endorse storing paint near food or near utensils used for eating.
Below is a link from a great article in Just Paint that was written back in 2004 by Prof. Frank N. Jones from the Coatings Research Institute at Eastern Michigan University. It explains the longevity of oil and acrylic paints and paintings and deals largely with the limitations thereof.
Just Paint:

Bohemian Rhapsody

Sometimes a change in a pigment’s supply brings with it a sense that something unique is being lost, but not always. Such is the case of our Bohemian Green Earth. This color always came as a unique blend from a particular manufacturer but over the years it had also drifted away from a warmer, mossy green into something decidedly cooler. When we learned we could no longer get this mix, and would need to match it ourselves, there was an opportunity to reexamine where the color had been and try to recapture some of that original color space. Below you can see where the color was some 15 years ago, where it has been recently, and finally our new blend that harkens back to the original.

Bohemian Green EarthThis will also bring about some changes to the label, as the pigments making up the color has gone from

PY 119 – Zinc Ferrite Brown
PY 42 – Synthetic Iron Oxide
PBk 28 – Copper Chromite Black Spinel
PW 6 – Titanium Dioxide Rutile

To the more current

PR 101 – Synthetic Red Iron Oxide
PY 42 – Synthetic Hydrated Iron Oxides
PBk 11 – Synthetic Black Iron Oxide
PW 6 – Titanium Dioxide Rutile

Because it can take awhile for a change like this to make its way out into the world, you will likely not see it in stores until early next Spring. When it does appear, we hope you will find this new blend to be a nice continuation of a color that has been a part of the Williamsburg palette for more than 15 years. And certainly always let us know what you think once you have tried it!





French Cassel Earth: Bringing it up to Speed

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.

Naples Yellow Italian – A Reluctant Change

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:

Williamsburg's Naples Yellow Italian
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.

Will Lead White Turn Black when Mixed with Cadmium Colors?

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.

Zinc Buff Yellowish to be Discontinued

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*.

Zinc Buff Yellowish compared to 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 


From the Reading Corner: Treasures of the Imperfect Past

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.

Cleaning Brushes Without Solvents

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.

Amy McKinnon

For more information about this or anything else, give us a call (800-293-9399 / 607-847-8843) or drop us an email

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