A case for the superiority of transparent Pigment

A case for the superiority of transparent Pigment

Pigments range from either transparent to more opaque. 

The history of both are complex, but it is well known that “true” watercolour painting, as stated by the British School of Water-Colour, utilises only transparent pigment.

“When opaque pigment is used, the light by which the sensation of colour is excited is simply reflected from the surface of the paint, and modified or affected by the nature of that surface. When transparent pigment is used, the light first passes through the coat of paint, is then reflected from the ; surface of the material upon which that coat is spread, and finally passes back, through the paint, a second time to reach the eye”

“Thus, although in both cases the light really comes at first from the front, transparent colours may be said to derive theirs virtually from the back, and so to possess a sort of luminosity akin to that of a stained glass window”

“Oil, when dry, becomes in some degree opaque. Hence it is impossible to obtain as great transparency with oil-colours as with water-colours ; and thus certain powers of imitation are almost denied to the painter in oil which come easily within the range of the painter in water-colour.”

A history of the "Old water-colour" society by Roget, John Lewis, 1828-1908 

(Note: The light doesn't go through the particles, there is simply more space between each particle. The light is able to go around and come back, possibly refracting off the particles on its way back as well. Scientific debate aside, we can see with our eyes the luminous effect of transparent pigment.)

The original Indian Yellow, used by Turner, was more transparent than its modern pigments. It can be difficult to find a similar yellow with the same intensity as well as the same transparency. Usually we trade the loss of transparency for the gain of colour intensity.

Prussian Blue is Transparent, it was used by topographical watercolour artists for painting a luminous sky.

List of Transparent Pigments for Watercolour

Hansa Yellow Light (PY3)
Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97)
Raw Sienna (PBr 7)
- Raw Umber (PBr 7)
Burnt Sienna (PBr 7)
- Quinacridone burnt orange (PO 48)
- Quinacridone red (PR 209)
Quinacridone, Rose (PV 19)
Ultramarine Blue (PB 29)
- Prussian Blue (PB 27)


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