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Understanding Paint With Chemical Pigments


Pigment and the words: think you know your paint? 

Whether you are a new painter or have been painting for a while you may not know that all paint pigments fall into two categories. Chemical or natural. Knowing this can help you as a painter - forever. It's one more point of knowledge up your sleeve. 


I am really a kid in a candy store when it comes to shopping for art supplies. I spend more time and money on these purchases than all my other shopping ! When it comes to choosing colours you may be like me. I check out the colours that seem to jump off the shelf at me and imagine what they might look like in a composition. But because I also know about natural vs. synthetic pigments I can also imagine how this pigment will behave when mixed with white. Will it stay zingy and bright or will it have a natural "greyed down" effect?  


Chemical pigments will have "chemical-ly" sounding names. Like phthalocynine blue, quinacridone reds,  and arylide yellow.  Sometimes these names are abbreviated or changed on tubes of paint but the pigment number should be listed on the tube so you can look it up on a colour chart to find out what it is. For example PV19 might be listed on the tube. This stands for Pigment Violet 19 and if you look it up on a colour chart or google it you'll find that's the number for Quinacridone Red. Some tubes will have multiple pigments listed on the tube. That's the recipe for that colour! A good thing to know if you happen to run out of that colour.


Quinacridone Red is a chemical colur and so it stays a bright pink when mixed with white - see the image below and compare it to the image of Cadmium Red, a natural pigment, in the image below. This is a property of chemical pigments. If you are trying to create a very natural effect in a portrait you might want to opt for a natural pigment like Cadmium Red instead of Quinacridone Red! Otherwise the subject might start to look a little alien-like!


In fact - for beginners choosing colours or people who want to stay within natural colour ranges you may want to avoid buying too many chemical colours as it will be a struggle to acheive the effect you are looking for.



A smear of quinacridone red paint 

A smear of cadmium red paint

List of synthetic pigments from

monoazo (arylide)
disazo (diarylide)
disazo condensation
beta naphthol
naphthol AS
metal complex
diketo-pyrrolo pyrrole

Image source [2]

Image source [3]

About the author

Artist in residence Rebecca Chaperon

Rebecca Chaperon is our Artist-in-Residence

With a compulsion to create unique visual stories, her paintings often follow the thread of a heroine's misadventures through a surreal landscape.

She's had the pleasure of teaching at Langara College and given community workshops on painting techniques with an emphasis on watercolour, oil and acrylic. She is a board member at the Grunt gallery.

View her online portfolio

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