Cadmium red

I have only recently added cadmium red to my palette, previously using Windsor red as my warm red. My recent rose is the first painting where I have experimented with it.

The cadmium pigments were part of the range of pigments that came into use during the 19th century, as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The Impressionists and other artists loved their richness. Monet used the cadmium colours, and I presume that he used cadmium red in this vibrant work.

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Claude Monet Autumn Effect at Argenteuil [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Windsor and Newton is the leading paint brand, and on their website they describe cadmium red as:

…… a very strong, warm and opaque red and in the early part of the 20th century became a natural replacement for the distinctive but toxic vermilion.

The article goes on to say, with a safety message further down:

The production of modern, high performance cadmium red is an expensive and lengthy process requiring only the purest raw materials to produce the best possible colour.

Transforming the cadmium metal into a usable pigment means it undergoes several carefully controlled chemical reactions and procedures using various ingredients including mineral acids, sodium sulphide flakes, water, and selenium. Towards the end of the process heating takes place to create the pigment and it is in this heating process that the quality and hue of the final pigment begins to form. The emerging pigment is then ground down into tiny particles – these grinding processes affect the way the pigment interacts with light. Fine particles have a good diffused reflection and produce a colour that is very strong and vibrant.

Safety

Cadmium itself is a heavy metal and is toxic but cadmium pigments are not classified as dangerous for use in line with EC classification. The level of soluble cadmium in the pigments is so low that no hazard warnings are needed and they pose no greater risk after swallowing or breathing in than other pigment types. Cadmium pigments are restricted for certain applications but this restriction does not apply to artists’ colours.

The part about the EU is interesting, as apparently the use of cadmiums in paints are under review, and may be withdrawn.

I did a colour chart of sorts to work out my tonal values. (Note to self: more attention to the colours in the ext rose!)

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First wash on the lips of the petals, with my version of a colour chart. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

The finished first wash.

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(Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

The final work (which has just been put into my Etsy shop)

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The finished painting (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

So, what did I find?

  • It was a much softer colour than I anticipated. However, I was using it as a wash, and colour in a wash dries lighter. As well, I was careful not to overdo the intensity and controlled the amount of pigment I was using. Another factor could be that it was brand of paint, Holbein, that was new to me. The same labelled paint can be quite different across brands. This was Cadmium Red Light which could be another factor.
  • I loved the softness of the rose, but it lacked oomph. The cad red wasn’t able to give me that, so I added a glaze of quinacridone magenta in parts. You can see it most clearly in the central shadow, just above the leaves. Also, it was difficult to get an intense dark.
  • I was pleased that red washes helped to cut back the intensity of the yellow that you can see in the middle photo. The glow is still there, but not quite the eerie alien glow it was before. That tells me that it is possible to fix up mistakes in watercolour!
  • I was delighted at how well the paint mixed on the paper. usually I make up a mixture of the paint I am going to use, and I did do this for the green. However I wanted to experiment with dropping in French ultramarine to darken the red. Often, on the damp paper I washed in the red, dropped in some French ultramarine and then more red over the top. I think it worked well. It allowed the watercolour to do its magic.
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Letting watercolour work its magic! (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

Yellow will be my next rose colour. I do very little work in yellow, which has a reputation as being a very difficult colour to paint. So, more learning ahead!

Almost Just Joey ~ Workshop Day 3

Last days of a class that you have enjoyed is often tinged of regret. This last day of the workshop was no different, and I was determined to make the most of my time.

Just to recap, on Day 1 Helen Burrows worked us through tone, grey scale and mixing neutral tints, while Day 2 was about colour bias and other colour theory. There was a rose painting thrown in.

Day 3 was the time to tie it all together.

I chose a Just Joey rose. It was open and flouncy, with lots of beautiful curves and folds. There were strong highlights and delicious glowing depths. Just what a rose should be. By the way, whenever possible botanic artists work from the real thing, not photos. Therefore it helps to have a good supply, or paint things that don’t change much, like feathers and knobs of garlic! It also means that, before we start, we try to get as much information about our specimen as possible. Line drawings, tonal maps, colour swatches all help.

First step was the line drawing. This was much easier than the bud I attempted on Day 2. I am not sure why. More understanding of the shape? My eye was “in”? A fluke? Probably the last!

While I was drawing I was taking mental notes about the colours and the hues (which I think are tones with colour). I was also looking for the little details that make the drawing real ~ which line goes under, which go over, what happens at the end the curl of the petal and so on.

Then to the colour mixing and creating hue scales. A hue scale is like a colour swatch from the paint store. It helps to understand the range of that colour (hue), from the darkest of pure pigment to the lightest of washes.

I have admitted before that colour doesn’t always come easily to me. Part of my problem is that I am lazy, believing that close enough will be good enough. So while I did some hue scales, I could have done more. Consequently the colour I ended up using with was not accurate. So my painting of the beautiful Just Joey rose is also not accurate. To defend myself a little, I was conscious of time passing…..and the exercise was to see highlights and shadows.

My hue scales (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
My hue scales (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Hmmm. Could do better. The pencil letters are the paints that I mixed in order to get the colours ~ Quinacrodome Red, Quinacrodome Gold and Windsor Yellow Deep,  If I don’t record them, I easily forget.

On to the painting? Not quite yet. Next step is to create a tonal map/drawing of the rose. It is easy to skip this step, but I like it. Not only because I love seeing tone, but because it gives me vital information about the plant I am drawing. Then, when it goes to the compost, I have can still paint with reasonable accuracy. However, I have always done these as separate drawings. Helen’s suggestion was to do it on tracing paper, over the top of the line drawing. This is a great idea. The tonal work matches the line drawing

Tonal map (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Tonal map, created on tracing paper (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Now on to the painting. Following those beautiful curves. Making the depths of the rose glow. Finding the nuances of tone. Understanding that on the rose there are 2 different sorts of shadows. There are the cast shadows, those made by another petal blocking the light. On my rose they were soft blue grey. Then there is the darker tone created by the light shining through the petals. These were the areas that glowed. And remembering not to get caught up in the detail of each area too soon. This was to be a first wash.

Line drawing with the paint, in progress. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
Line drawing with the paint, in progress. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

I only had time that day to get it to the stage shown above. Time was up, for both the workshop and the specimen! I was confident that I had enough information to be able to finish it at home. Not altogether the case, however. I wasn’t sure what was happening with the petals at the top left. I knew that the light was strongest on them, so I hoped that I would only need to suggest shape and hue. If the painting reads well (ie convinces us that this really is a rose) then our brains fill in the rest.

The next photo shows the tonal drawing, done on tracing paper, over the top of the work in progress. You can see how the tonal drawing helps to determine where the darks should be.

Line, washes and tone. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
Line, washes and tone. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

And finally, the finished painting!

The finished rose -- almost Just Joey! (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
The finished rose — almost Just Joey! (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

I am very please with the painting, especially as an early attempt at a rose. (It is available for sale in my Etsy shop. Either follow this link, or click on the photo.) Maybe now I am enough of a Grown Up Painter to do more roses!

Colour bias and hue ~ Day 2

I left the workshop on Tuesday feeling satisfied. I had battled with my painting, and to honest, it won. However I learnt a great deal and was looking forward to two more days of sitting and painting. The only problem was that Helen had mentioned roses for Day 2.

During day 1 of the workshop Helen Burrows took us through tone and grey scales. Day 2 was to be hue and colour bias.

As I mentioned before, I can see tone fairly easily. However, colour confuses me. I was a long time into my artistic learning before I was confident to use colour. While I can mix a colour reasonably accurately, my use of colour always seemed a bit hit and miss. Now I understand that my problem was that I had missed out on a basic concept — the colour wheel.

A colour wheel explains bias in colour. There are 3 primary colours ~ red, blue and yellow. Everyone knows that! But the primary colours that we have in our paint tubes are not pure. They have a bias towards the secondary colours of green, orange and purple. This is why, at times we wonder whether a yellow is yellow or green, or why a blue can also look purplish. It is important to know the bias of your paints. You can make your painting sing by using the right colours, by thinking about 3 “rules”. When you don’t take bias into account you end up with an uninteresting mix as the colours compete, often neutralising each other.

I have create a very rough colour wheel, using coloured pencils but it will help illustrate the rules.

Colour wheel
Colour wheel

Rule 1: Family is always welcome. They are the other colours/hues around it. However, you need to bear in mind the bias of the colour. For example, is your blue a green blue or has it a bias to purple? If to the green, then the hues of your colour will be somewhere in the greeny blues. It is to those hues that you will look to mix your paint.

Rule 2: Next door neighbours are friends So a colour only a little away from the one you want will work harmoniously. Blue/green. Yellow/orange etc.

Rule 3: Opposites attract. These are the colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. Purple/yellow. Blue/orange. Green/red. They are the ones that can add zing and depth to your work. Think about a blue room with accents of terracotta (orange). Interestingly (well, to me, anyway!) to make a colour darker you add its complimentary colour. Want a darker green? Add red.

So, Helen took us through colour bias and wheels and hues. I came away with a much stronger understanding. Yay! Then to our roses. Maybe not so Yay!

Roses are complex. Their shapes are complex; their colours and hues are complex. They are for Grown Up Painters. But Helen wasn’t letting me get away with that mind set! And I wasn’t letting me get away with any more tantrums. So with my colours mixed and my hue scales done (sort of), I settled down to draw and then paint the rose bud. This is what I ended up with 🙂 . I think it looks like a flouncy fish….but I am happy with what I learnt.

My "rose bud"!! (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
My “rose bud”!! (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

The original drawing was not accurate. That meant that I got lost in the drawing, not sure at times of where the lights, darks and mid~tones were. Lesson 1~make your original drawing as accurate as possible.

I could see the highlights and darks, and managed to get most of those down in the washes. Lesson 2~be very careful of your highlights. Unlike oils and acrylics, where you add white paint to make a highlight, watercolour relies on the white of the paper. Many a cry of anguish has been heard from a watercolour painter who has mistakenly painted over her white paper!

I think I was getting the mid-tones. Lesson 3~remember that the mid-tone in paint is the middle section of hue scale.

And lastly I did my usual trick of getting carried away in one area, one petal, putting in all the lovely detail. Lesson 4~remember to work over the whole, to compare tone and hue to the overall. Detail comes later.

So it wasn’t a perfect rose ~ or even a perfect fish! But I had fun. I played, and learnt so much through playing.

[If you are interested in finding out more Windsor and Newton have a really interesting article here. It will give you more detailed information. Maybe more accurate too!]