Pigment Spotlight- The non-granulating French Ultramarine aberration

When I heard that there was a new, Non-granulating French Ultramarine, my heart missed a beat. It definitely didn’t feel right.

I had that feeling you get when a long trusted and beloved friend does something so bad you didn’t even know they were capable of it.

My favourite blue had stopped behaving like it should and my understanding of pigments was being tested.

It reminded me of the story of the fox and the scorpion. A fox is about to swim across a river, when a scorpion asks: “Please can you help me? I need to get to the other side of the river but I can’t swim. Will you carry me on your back?” The fox is not too keen on the idea of carrying a lethal creature on his back. “How do I know you won’t sting and kill me?” “Well, it would be very stupid of me. If I sting you while you swim across the river, you will drown and I will die with you.” The argument seems irrefutable, so the fox agrees to help the scorpion. As they reach the middle of the river, the scorpion stings the fox. With his last breath, the fox asks: “Why did you do this? In a few seconds I shall be dead and you will die with me!” The scorpion answers simply: “I am so sorry, I couldn’t help myself, it is my nature…”

French Ultramarine granulates; it is its nature.

With some trepidation, I started my research into the so-called non-granulating French Ultramarine. Within a few minutes I was relieved.

Non-granulating French Ultramarine is NOT French Ultramarine at all. It is a mixture of Phthalo Blue (a very good non-granulating blue) and Dioxazine Violet, a controversial violet that has not performed well in lightfastness tests when used in watercolours.

The pigment French Ultramarine PB29 doesn’t even appear in the formulation. It couldn’t, because it would make it granulate! Granulation is its property, its quality, its raison de vivre. You can’t take that away from it. Like the scorpion who can’t help stinging the fox, French Ultramarine can’t help granulating. The extent of the granulation varies depending on the technique used, the paper’s texture and which other paints are mixed with it, but it never disappears. As French Ultramarine was invented as a substitute for the celestial Lapis Lazuli pigment- which itself granulates enthusiastically- it doesn’t really make sense to want the annihilation of the granulation process anyway.

Because PB29 is not part of this paint at all, it absolutely shouldn’t be called French Ultramarine. This is, at best, misleading. At worst, a dishonest market strategy to sell a new paint. It could be called French Ultramarine Hue, which is what manufacturers do when a paint is the colour of a particular pigment but doesn’t actually contain any of it. Even better, it should have a completely new name, without highjacking the fame and success of the long trusted – and bestselling- French Ultramarine.

I also object to the fact that this is a mix of two pigments, which is a step backwards compared to a single-pigment paint, especially as one of the two is unreliable.

If you want a non-granulating violet-biased blue, Phthalo Blue Red Shade (or Winsor Blue Red Shade for Winsor & Newton) is the best one. It is pure, not granulating at all, intense and lightfast. You can add a touch of Permanent Rose if you need your blue to be more on the violet side.

Don’t fall for the Non-granulating Non-French Ultramarine deception. It’s a chimera. Enjoy the liveliness of a beautiful, pure, genuine, granulating, PB29 true French Ultramarine.

Ratings:

Useful range of colours                   0/5

Sufficient lightfastness ratings      1/5

Level of saturation                           2/5

Irreplaceability                                 0/5

Total: 3/20

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Pigment spotlight – The Perylene family

The Perylene family is relatively new to the exclusive pigment neighbourhood. The first Perylene was discovered in 1912 but didn’t move in until the 1950’s. Even then, it was not widely seen and only became part of the artist community in the 1980’s. Even today, their position is not as prominent as other families, such as the Cadmiums or Quinacridones. I suppose this is because of their shyness. They are beautiful, but not as heavily dense as the Cadmium (also considerably less dodgy) and not as showy as the Quinacridones.

  • Perylene Green (PBk31)

I thought we might as well get rid of this one from the start. Perylene “green” is not a green but a black pigment with a green hue. Like most black pigments it is obtained by combustion, in this case burning a derivative of perylenetetracarboxylic, i.e. another Perylene. This is a bit of a mouthful and just means that like most blacks, it is made by burning some substance. As a result, the pigment is rather dusty and in my opinion not ideal for watercolour, even less for botanical painting. Shadows painted with Perylene Green will look flat and dirty, which doesn’t help with the difficult task of rendering the bright colours of fresh blooms.

  • Perylene Scarlet (PR149)

Only Daniel Smith currently offers Perylene Scarlet. It is not part of my palette because its lightfastness is not as good as the other Perylenes’. It doesn’t seem to me like an irreplaceable colour and therefore not worth taking the risk of using a potentially fading paint.

perylene strips blog

  • Perylene Red (PR178)

A dullish red with pink undertones, this is a good pigment that I do not use often. This is probably because I am not attracted to red flowers, unless they have the deep crimson velvety texture of the most dramatic, heavily scented roses. However, I do use Perylene Red for fruit. Stripes on apples, blush on pears, leathery pomegranate skins, or any fruit for which a more common red would be too bright.

I use Daler-Rowney Perylene Red. Daniel Smith also offers a good version in their range.

  • Perylene Maroon (PR179)

This red maroon is even duller than Perylene red, but again, being a reliable pigment, it does have its uses. I don’t think that I would plant any flowers of that colour in my garden. However, I find it useful for the same kind of circumstances as Perylene Red, when the markings on the fruit are less pink red and more brick red. I also use it quite a lot for foliage, especially in autumn. I am actually looking at some rose foliage right now that has this exact red shade in the young shoots.

In my palette I have the Daler-Rowney version. It is also offered by Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith.

windfall

  • Perylene Violet (PV29)

A rich purple maroon, perfect for hellebores, orchids and all black flowers like tulips and violas, it is also excellent to render the deep velvety texture of the dark roses mentioned above, such as ‘Deep secret’ and ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’.

Rose 'Souvenir du Dr Jamain' - A bit high maintenance for my kind of gardening but it makes me so happy that I give it the extra attention it requires. I also love the mysterious name... who was Dr Jamain?

Rose ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’ – A bit high maintenance for my kind of gardening but it makes me so happy that I give it the extra attention it requires. I also love the mysterious name… who was Dr Jamain?

Perylene Violet is the most versatile paint in my palette. I do not understand how watercolourists can live without it. It might even be difficult to find one of my paintings in which I haven’t used it. I can hear the chuckles of those amongst you who have been to my classes and who know that I use it in almost everything. It has even been suggested by the cheekiest that I pick my subjects specifically to allow me to use Perylene Violet. But I’m not sure… sitting in the garden now I can see it in so many plants: the foliages of a rose and a serious-looking Penstemon, a few Aquilegia blooms, a lingering dark red rose, some self-seeded all-invading cheeky-beyond-measure Erigeron, the stems of the ‘Zorro’ Hydrangea, the whole of the imposing Malus ‘Royalty’, the spectacular bark of the Prunus ‘Serrula’, the wood of the quince tree, the stalks of the honeysuckles and the Cyclamen, the tiny barely-existing-yet apples on the Malus ‘Blue Moon’ and of course ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’, just about to open fully… the list goes on but I wouldn’t want you to nod off…

As for my favourite version, I like the more saturated Winsor & Newton version than the slightly duller Daniel Smith paint. This might not be important for bark, stems and foliage, but when painting a flower it is important to use the most saturated colour available. It is always easier to dull down a bright colour than to brighten up a dull one.

Verdict on the Perylene family (measured in watercolour splashes):

This is a difficult one because the family is definitely split in two factions who are not on speaking terms. The Perylene Black and Perylene Scarlet I would forget about. The black is banned from my palette and the scarlet not reputable enough. So I will actually forget about them and pass a verdict on the remaining three, Perylene Red, Maroon and Violet.

Useful range of colours                   5/5

Sufficient lightfastness ratings      5/5

Level of saturation                           3/5

Irreplaceability                                 5/5

 

Total: 18/20 watercolour splashes

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