Creek study

After the blizzard we had last week, it was really nice (albeit a little bizarre) to have a day of sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70′s on Monday. So I took advantage of it and went over to to our local Bryan Park to do a little painting. I had some other work to do in the morning, so by the time I got there I only had about an hour and a half to paint on site:

plein air landscape painting by Jennifer Young

This is a 12×9 oil on linen panel. The rocks were more of a challenge than I expected but it was a good exercise, and I plan to return to have another go at this scene to rework the composition and do a better job with some of the values. I also saw a few other spots in the park that interested me, and with it being so near my house, I will definitely return at different times of the day.

I’m still using a pretty limited palette both in the studio and en plein air. I have been experimenting lately with my red; trying to find ONE tube that can act as a substitute for the two or three tubes of red that I commonly use (alizarin crimson, permanent rose, and sometimes cadmium red light.) What I’d like to do is try and limit the number of tubes I bring outside to lighten my load and get better/faster at mixing my colors.

Alizarin crimson works pretty well to this end, but sometimes the color doesn’t have the “punch” I’d like, expecially if I’m painting sunsets or flowers. On the other hand, it works well to mix deep purples, browns, and darker values in general. Permanent rose is great for that brighter punch, but then I’m challenged to use it for deeper values and still keep the color looking “red”. I find cad. red light the most limiting of the bunch, though it works great for some things also.

To confuse matters even more, paint colors that go by the same name vary widely between manufacturers. Windsor & Newton’s alizarin crimson is a bright, and relatively clean and versatile color, but it’s permanance rating is listed as “B”, moderately durable. Gamblin offers a “permanent alizarin”, which has been my fall back, but it is a good deal duller and darker than W&N’s, and tends to create a muddier color when tinted. So right now I am experimenting with a quinacridone red by Williamsburg Oil Paint company. This is a definte contender, though it is such a clean pure and strong color that it may require a little TOO much work to tone the mixtures down, which isn’t exactly desirable in the field when the light changes so quickly. Quinacridones are also modern pigments and tend to be a lot more expensive than some of the other reds.

Any way, I’m still experimenting, but if you’re an oil painter and have a solution or suggestion, I’d love to hear it. What red would you choose if you had to pick just one? I may stick with my old tried and true (permanent alizarin) and finish the color charts I started a long while ago to see if I can get a better handle on mixing it. But I’m open to other ideas. Artists, if you work with oils and have a suggestion, let me know, and be sure to identify the manufacturer you use as well as the color name.

4 Responses to Creek study

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    I love reading your detailed and oh so pertinent blog. I can’t believe how often you speak of just what I’m looking for in detail. In this last blog I have just been playing with reds myself while trying to complete an ATC with “Red” as the theme. The reds you speak of are what I have been playing with. Anyways…my question is do you have a way you like to go about making your color charts? I read your blog on mixing greens as well, but I sometimes lack organization and I thought you might have a tried and true way of making color charts that makes sense.



  2. Julie- Thanks so much for your comments. Basically the color charts are based on those that Richard Schmid has outlined in his “Alla Prima” book. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy, essentially you make a value scale of each of your colors and then mix each color with every other along that same value scale. I think I just made that sound very confusing. I’ll try and do a better job in an upcoming blog post. I started the charts before I moved my studio and can’t seem to get my hands on them, so it might be better to just start over anew. Right now I’m off to portrait class but I will address this further soon.

  3. I’m not sure there is a single red anymore. I tried to get along without alizarin, but it does come in handy when a cool red is needed. Even Anders Zorn used two different varieties of vermilion. As to the cad red light, that’s a good useful pigment but it dulls out when white is added. Vermilion doesn’t do that, but a true vermilion is getting harder to find and then they are real pricey. You might like Blockx Pyrrole Vermilion. It’s about the best substitute I’ve found for the bright orangish red.
    Alizarin Crimson is more of a problem. Alizarin (PR83) is a beautiful color but less than permanent. Virgil Elliott has put together a comparison of potential substitutes here along with some permanence tests. So there you have permanent crimson (PR177) which doesn’t seem to be all that permanent, but it is the closest in hue to true alizarin and a very attractive color. Quinacridone Red (PR19) seems to hold up the best, but it’s not as dark or cool as a true Alizarin especially in the Williamsburg brand. Virgil used a Quinacridone Rose from M Graham in his test. Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) isn’t quite as good for permanence but close and closer to a true Alizarin at least in the Williamsburg label that I usually use. There’s another potential substitute that he didn’t mention. That would be Perylene Crimson (PR179). I haven’t tried it yet but it looks to be a pretty fair match, maybe a touch warmer. Personally I think this is the one to try. To me it looks to be the closest match other than the PR177, but if it is anything like the other Perylene pigments it is as permanent as you can hope for. Yes, it is a bit pricey, but these are strong pigments, a little goes a long way.

  4. Whoa, thanks David! What a great link, and I appreciate your thorough input into the discussion. What I’m unclear about from the test you’ve linked to above is what brands were used for each color. Were they all M Graham or do you know? As you know, each manufacturer seems to have its own take on the colors, regardless of whether they posess the same name and number. I’m now experimenting with a Quin. Red made by Gamblin. It’s a tinge deeper and not as “electric” looking as the Williamsburg brand, so it’s suiting me better right now. I’m able to mix some beautiful roses and reds with it, though you are right, it doesn’t go as far as Alizarin on the deep, dark colors. I do have a Williamsburg Perleyne Crimson that I found in my “oops” bin of paints, but after a quick swab of it mixed with white it is too brownish to have the versatility I’m looking for.

    In the end, I believe you are right. Probably I am asking the impossible to want just one red. And really, it’s no issue in the studio–just a bit moreso en plein air when I’m looking to pare down my gear. On the other hand, it could be argued that any red mixture could be “persuaded” to read warmer or cooler by the way you key the rest of the painting. It’s all about color relationships, isn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>