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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