Art Treehouse Newsletter – March 2019

News About Safer Artist Materials!

The Peculiar Case of the Word HUE

HUE is one of the main properties of a color, often represented as a number on a color wheel in RGB form. Sometimes artist paint manufacturers place the word “HUE” on the front of a tube of paint. Originally this was meant to inform the purchaser that a more toxic pigment such as cadmium was replicated by using safer alternate pigments of a more recent origin. Alizarin Crimson was also replaced due to concerns about lightfastness. Strictly speaking, a HUE is a color without tint or shade (added white or black pigment), and if white or black is added, the HUE name is modified accordingly: light yellow, dark red, brilliant blue, etc.

Very often a HUE would be an excellent quality paint with high lightfastness and good working qualities. However, the quality of some HUEs was compromised due to having added fillers for cost reduction, and so the word HUE developed a reputation as “not the real thing”, in other words poor quality cheap paint. As the result of this confusion, the word HUE is now used sporadically and inconsistently by paint manufacturers.

A few examples from paints currently on the market…..

“Hansa Yellow” – is not labeled a HUE, but is simply made with the pigment PY 74. Some artists use this as a cadmium replacement.

“Turquoise” – usually a mixture of pigments such as PG7, PB15:3 and some form of white – sometimes a mineral fixed to calcium carbonate, or – unfortunately – cobalt. To call it a HUE would imply there existed a superior paint with 100% ground turquoise. Given the price of turquoise stones on the market, grinding them for use in paint would perhaps not make sense financially.

“Indigo Extra” – no indigo at all! Pure PB 15:3

“Silver” or “Gold” – usually aluminum in a mix of earth pigments.

So the bottom line is, the word HUE might still be useful to those seeking a direct replacement for a specific cadmium color. Otherwise, it is a word that is used less over time, as the range and selection of high quality pigment colors increases.

image: © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Walnut Painting Gel

Water Washed Gel is unique among the various mediums available to the oil painter. It is made from water-washed walnut oil and a form of liquified silica that is extremely clear. The cold pressed walnut oil we use yellows far less than linseed oil, and yet it dries with a very strong film. Read about it HERE.

Leonardo and Light

According to Mark Balma,  Leonard Da Vinci was an innovator in the realm of painting, as well as his many other inventions.  In the previous tradition before Leonardo, painters would start out with a toned ground or imprimatura to set the canvas tone somewhere between bright white and very dark.  An artist could then base the applied lights and darks on that middle ground.  However, Leonardo had another idea. 

Instead building white on top of a colored wash, Leonardo wanted to take advantage of the light reflecting from the white canvas itself.  This meant he needed more transparent layers in contrast to the opaque paints in common usage.  To do this, Leonardo may have learned from the musical instrument makers of his time, who coated their lutes with protective transparent layers of varnish made with spike lavender, oils and resins.  In similar fashion, Leonardo learned to make his paints more transparent so the light could pass through. 

While other painters before Leonardo might use 2 or 3 layers of color, it was common for Leonardo to use 20 layers. This allowed for highly complex rendering of lights and shadows. For the previous artists who used only oil as their medium, 2 or 3 layers was the limit due to the thickness and yellowing of the oil.

For artists today who wish to paint in a more transparent style, Leonardo’s use of walnut oil, spike lavender and a resin offers a great way to produce beautiful paintings.

image: Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi, and Mark Balma’s painting inspired by Leonardo’s technique.

For more information, visit this page about Mark Balma’s work.

2019 is Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th Anniversary.  Mark Balma’s portraits include four U.S. Presidents and two paintings in the Vatican’s permanent collection. His fresco murals can be found in the Museum of Spiritual Art, Assisi, Italy, the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis Campus, Minnesota. Watch for a BBC special to be taped in April where he will be discussing the technique of Leonardo da Vinci.



As always, there are many interesting articles about artists and techniques on the Art Treehouse web site – including Bill Martin’s Progressive Focus Method for Painting a Portrait in Oils.