The understanding of pigments is central to working with artist’s colors. Knowing what is in your paint helps you to know how toxic your working environment is. To that end, we list several of the most common pigments, along with a description. Sometimes, it is extremely interesting to de-mystify materials used in art. This list will grow as we add colors to the web site.
|COLOR INDEX NUMBER
|Zinc Oxide is a semi-opaque white that has been included in oil paints for close to 100 years. It was introduced as a substitute for Lead White. However, it becomes brittle when applied too thickly, and so is often combined with Titanium Dioxide.
|A very opaque brilliant white. Commonly used in toothpaste. It does not have the cracking problems of Zinc Oxide, but some artists say it is a bit “stringy” for oil painting.
|Brown Iron Oxide
Van Dyke Brown
|Different manufacturers will use Brown Iron Oxide in formulations for different colors. It is a very common pigment that has been used for thousands of years. Like all pigments, it can be contaminated, and the dust should not be inhaled,
|This pigment is used as a substitute for lead in in Naples Yellow, chrome yellow and other highly toxic yellows. Under current safety guidelines this pigment does not require any safety labeling.
|This black is made by burning tar or creosote. It is essentially the black that accumulates on the globe of a 19th century coal oil lamp. It is a highly intense black, not a significant hazard.
|Traditionally, Ivory Black was made by charring pieces of ivory. It is now made from animal bones. It is a “cool” black, having a hint of blue.
|The Napthol pigments were introduced for use as art pigments in the 1920s. The were originally designed for use as cotton dye. Naphthol red is extremely saturated and semitransparent. Naphthols are generally considered nontoxic, and were used at one point as an ingredient in lipstick.
|A synthetic form of natural ultramarine, much less expensive. Originally imported from Asia by sea, thus the name “ultramarine”. Ultramarine blue is considered a basic essentail for the artist’s palette – very lightfast and not considered toxic. Laundry “Bluing” is ultramarine.
|A pigment made from green clay. Historically important for frescos and in tempera paint. Considered very safe. Semi-transparent, so it is very good for glazes, but less useful for opaque painting.
|This pigment was designed as a replacement for Cadmium Yellow. Since WWI it has been widely used in a variety of industries, and is not considered toxic. Semi-transparent, and it mixes well with other colors. Often used to create greens.
|Ochres are some of the oldest known pigments, dating back thousands of years. They are a standard on the palette, mix well, cover well, and a very permanent.
|A very useful black. Simply made from ground charcoal, like the vine charcoal used for drawing.
Caput Mortuum Violet
|Synthetic Iron Oxide – more stable than the natural Iron Oxide. Titian used Venetian red. Not considered toxic. Opaqe – with a leaning toward violet.
|Organic synthetic oxazine, PC 23 has a very good tinting strength, especially with titanium white. It is not considered toxic. In contrast to the iron oxides, this pigment is very violet in color.
|Synthetic counterpart to the natural ochres, with stong tinting strength and excellent opacity. Manufactured since the 17th century.
|Mars Black is made from Synthetic Iron Oxide, and so is the least toxic of all blacks. It covers quite well, and is lightfast. Perhaps the most widely used of all blacks.
|Burnt umber is made from a type of earth clay which is very common in Europe. The color is olive-brown, sometimes yellowish. Poor quality burnt umber can be too gritty for use in oil painting. Not generally considered transparent, but has good lightfastness. Not considered toxic.
|This pigment is a form of Ultramarine Blue, and so is very lightfast. Interestingly, this pigment is used in the manufacture of toys – it is considered safe. It is one of the bluest of the violet pigments, but has relatively weak tinting strength.