Art Unboxed

Art Unboxed Orange PO Purple PV

I don’t know if you noticed, but I’ve saved Orange and Purple as the last in my color series for a very good reason. They are probably my least favorite colors to use in painting. As a Tennessee football fan most of the Orange I have is tied to that team. Yes in bad years as well as good, we are Tennessee fans. For me Purple is the last on the spectrum, but like Orange I do have a few Purples I enjoy.

As a color I enjoy Orange, it can be bright and vibrant, but as a paint I seldom use it beyond sunrise or sunset. Typically a yellow or red are my go to in situations where Orange may be someone else’s thinking. This doesn’t mean that not using Orange or Purple is a good idea, it’s just my practice, find what works best for you.

When I use an Orange, I do have my favorites. One I’ve already mentioned, Tennessee or Citrus Orange. Another I like is Burnt Orange, it’s not only good for organic materials, it works well for architecture. I also like a light or creamy Orange, such as a sherbet or creamsicle color. Brown Orange is a very rich color as well.

A similar thing is true regarding the Purples I enjoy, they’re not the traditional color. My favorite Purple is a Gray Purple, one company calls it MoonGlow. I also enjoy a Brown Purple. If I’m going to use a true Purple, it would be something along the lines of a Violet, also known as a Dioxazine Purple.

With the exception of Moonglow in each of these articles on color, you’ll notice I have referred primarily to the colors themselves rather than certain manufacturers or pigment sources. This is important because when you first start reading about watercolors, you’ll start hearing a lot of initials. PV23 (Violet or Dioxazine Purple), PO20 (Cadmium Orange).

When you first start reading these codes it can be confusing, and for me it was a little off putting. It felt almost like a foreign language, and I didn’t understand it right away. Watercolorists pay more attention to pigment codes than Acrylic or Oil Painters.

There are two main reasons for this, one is because watercolor manufacturers use not only various color names, but combine different pigments to produce colors. One company may use a specific Blue and Red to produce a Purple, others may use a different combination to produce basically the same color.

The second reason for this is something called Lightfastness. It’s another fancy word that basically means the level of fading that happens when a color is exposed to light over time. Some Pigments are more Lightfast than others. Watercolor is more susceptible to this than oil or acrylic paints are, so knowing the pigment codes is more important. The base of the code is P for Pigment and an abbreviation for the Color.

PB – Pigment Blue
PR – Pigment Red
PY – Pigment Yellow
PG – Pigment Green
PO – Pigment Orange
PV – Pigment Violet
PBr – Pigment Brown
PBk – Pigment Black

You’ll notice I didn’t include PW for Pigment White or PM for Pigment Metal. This is because, when it comes to Pigment Codes, I think like a watercolorist. Typically Watercolorists primarily use the white of the paper to produce White. Ironically I do use an opaque White watercolor for mixing, and a White Gouache, and White Pastel Pencil to touch up finishing points. Yet I don’t think of White in the terms of a Pigment Code.

If you ask me about White paint, my mind will immediately think of Titanium White. It’s because when relating to White paint, I think like an Acrylic Artist. I do draw and paint in more than one medium, but when I see a Pigment Code, almost immediately I know the conversation is about watercolor.

I can tell you my favorite Blue, Prussian Blue is PB27. I won’t list all the numbers, but I did want to give you an introduction into both what the codes are, and why they are important. There are wonderful websites, such as Australian Artist Jane Blundell’s site. She has created an amazing Watercolor resource and database that I highly recommend.

Beyond Watercolor, knowing your colors and their combinations is important for three primary reasons. It will increase your knowledge of the options available, it will aid you in color mixing, and these two things will help to improve your painting skills. Being more familiar with color will help you to be able to adjust your colors more on your palette, as well as which colors you choose for your painting.

Whether you are a big Orange fan, a Purple enthusiast, or like me and they tend to be low on your color radar, knowing more about them will help us all to improve. The arguments between Tonalists and Colorists will continue, but both camps agree that an artist’s knowledge of color is important to an artist’s development. The most important thing is to keep learning, there is always going to be something more that we can learn to make us better, in art and in life.

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