I know there are painters today who continue to make their own paints; I even read articles about how to make pastels. But, aside from the environmental risks of working with powered pigments, one really needs training and experience to produce a high quality oil or watercolor paint. So, like most painters today, I purchase my paints and hope for the best.
Artist vs student quality? For me, that’s an easy one. Student quality paints are much less expensive, but they contain large quantities of fillers and additives with much less pigment than the artist quality paints. And the student versions can behave differently when you are painting with them. (Sort of like the difference between good quality watercolor paper and cheaper versions: you can’t get the result you are trying for.)
I want to use paints made in the US, and so far I have found three brands of good oil paint that are made in the US: Utrecht, Daniel Smith, and Gamblin.
Utrecht makes a good quality paint, reasonably priced, and in a good range of colors. They offer most of the Cadmium reds, oranges and yellows. The consistency of the paint is good for impasto and palette knife painting.
Daniel Smith has a broader range of colors (avoiding the cadmiums in their offerings and focusing on many of the new industrial pigments), and they offer “Primatek” paints that are made with natural minerals. They have a genuine Lapis Lazuli for example. You need to get their catalog for the full information about their colors. Their line focuses on watercolor paints (which are excellent); I like their oil colors, but I have found their oil paints do separate from the oil binder more than other brands I’ve tried.
Gamblin also offers a broad range of colors and, on line, provides much more information about the content of their pigments, relating the colors to their classical precursors. They offer a pretty full range of cadmium and cobalt pigments, as well as some of their modern equivalents. They also offer some interesting transparent earth colors, which they say are probably closer in transparency to the earth colors used in previous centuries.
I’ve made painting charts of the pigments on my palette right now, tinting each color with gradations of white and mixing each color with the others on my palette. I’ve begun to get a much better idea of the many colors I can create from a more limited palette. But I’ve also found that there are some colors that are richer and purer in the tube. Good purples can be hard to mix and it’s difficult to do without a good warm and cool version of each primary color. Here’s an example of the paint mixing charts that Richard Schmid recommends doing, outlined in his wonderful book on painting:
All this is fine, but WHAT primaries to use? That’s the question I’m asking myself right now. Since Alizarin crimson is a fugitive pigment (will turn to blue in a 100 years), should I use one of the versions of Permanent Alizarin Crimson (and which brand?) or instead use Quinacridone Red as a single pigment cool red. Should I (carefully) use a Cadmium Red as my warm red (and again which one?), or should I use one of the modern substitutes (and again there are several alternatives). The cadmium yellows are beautiful, but have to be handled carefully. Are there substitutes with similar properties? The Hansa yellows are more transparent, but might be reasonable substitutes. Should I add a Gamblin Indian yellow to my palette in addition to a warm and cool yellow? There’s no question that Ultramarine Blue is a necessity; are the Cerulean Blue Hues good enough to substitute for the expensive original? Can I use Magnesium Blue instead? Should I use Colbalt Blue, too, or substitute Phthalo Blue for a medium blue? There are so many available alternatives, even just from one manufacturer, that it’s hard to make a decision. Below, as an example, is the broad selection of red paints available from Gamblin:
I use Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna and Yellow Ochre (the latter less often), but I’m interested in the Transparent versions of the earth colors and versions of Indian Red. I use the earth colors a lot in landscape painting, both to create colorful darks and to make the muted shades of marsh and forest that the bright primary colors can’t duplicate easily.
So, I’m in the midst of color deliberations. What basic colors to put on my palette, what colors to have available for occasional use, and what brands and pigments will best provide the colors I want. What I think I must do is to put together a Utrecht palette, A Daniel Smith palette and a Gamblin palette and try some paintings with each. I think that’s the only way to see which pigments and which paints are going to work the best for my painting.
As my husband is fond of saying, “It’s never easy”. How true!