Pigments & colours for oil painting artists

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rock painting - an example of the first pigments used by artists
Photo by gearyste
It began innocently enough with the decision to do an inventory of all my oil paint colours. This led to an investigation into pigment codes, the internationally standardised colour index names such as PV 14 (that one is Cobalt Violet). Then it was down the rabbit hole of information searching for drying times, lightfastness, opacity, working properties, toxicity, recommendations, conflicting information, incomplete information, current colours, discontinued colours, new colours... I resurfaced about 9 days later.

I'll summarise what I found. It won't take 9 days.

There are some great resources online if you want to find out about the colours that you use. No need to search around, I have some gems lined up. 

All of the resources here I have printed out and put into a folder of their own for my easy reference, along with the pigment charts from the paint manufacturers that I use or like, my inventory of the paints I have and would like to try, and my super dooper spreadsheet of all the most relevent info in one at-a-glance chart...

The excellent online resources

Art School At Home - a blog with an excellent overview of common pigments in each colour group. Written by an oil painter learning her way through the maze of information. Ideal as a first stop. The link is to the first post on the colour groups.

Pigments for making Artist's Paint - Paintmaking.com - the pigment section of this website is extraordinarily useful. Lots of information that is useful to a painter (oils, acrylic, watercolour, fresco). Goes into more depth, covers more pigments than Art School At Home and is still very accessible reading.

Oils and Pigments by Jan Esmann - pdf - free download made available by this artist who makes his own paints. Very useful, eyeopening, if more technically informative than most artists will need. Contains the sort of information that an oil painter would be interested in. A bit of history, working properties, working lightfastness, do's and don'ts etc.
Color Index Pigment Information Database - this website is a world unto itself. All the pigments used for colour are listed, broken into their colour groups (yellow, red etc). There are links to manufacturers of most of the colours, a little bit of history on the pigment, official lightfastness, toxicity, and general notes.

Dick Blick Art Supplies - on the page of each individual tubed colour is a tab of pigment info. This covers a lot of pigments. Very handy.

The Artist's Handbook by Pip Seymour - pdf - I didn't actually print this one out, but I did find it contained quite a bit of useful information when I was researching. A lot of what is in here is covered already in the other resources.

The super dooper bit

Rock painting - an example of the first pigments used by artists
Photo by moron noodle

There was no one place where I could find all the information I wanted, at a glance, for oil painting. So I put it together myself. It is gathered from the above resources and about a gazillion google searches for each individual pigment. Though this is as comprehensive as I could make it, I am sure you will be able to find the odd pigment here and there that has been missed. Sorry, there are a lot of pigments in use. All the most common ones are covered. This is what really took up the 9 days of investigating. 

It's a print-friendly chart, organised by colour groups, with colour index name, common paint name, oil paint drying time, opacity, useful notes and working lightfastness. Working lightfastness? Yes. Many pigments have a high lightfastness rating on their own but fade in tints or mixes. In practice this means that they fade, as a colour is usually mixed with another.

The Oil Paint Pigment Chart - everything at a glance

You may download this pdf chart right here. Oil Paint Pigment Chart. Pass it around if you please.
Hopefully it will be useful during your next paint shopping trip.

More art technique articles

This article is one in an ongoing series of technical articles for artists, all archived together and accessible from here. The topics range from details on materials, to the business of art, to specific art techniques. Please make use of this resource.


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