Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Watercolor Paints: Understanding Opaque and Transparent

I am going to put on my teacher’s hat and talk about watercolor paints and their particular characteristics. The reason I am spending time on this topic is that I want to share information about "negative" painting, and it is necessary to understand opaque and transparent for this technique to work.

Transparent: permits light to penetrate. Allowing the white surface of the paper or underpainting to show through. These pigments are fine in texture. When multiple glazes of transparent colors are painted on top of each other (when dry) the color beneath will show through changing its appearance.


Opaque: impenetrable to light; not allowing light to pass through. These paints are relatively chalky in appearance when dry. All cadmiums are opaque.
Semi-Opaque or Semi-Transparent: These paints are “middle of the road”. These paints are generally safe for glazing techniques.
Opaque or Transparent how do you know?This information is available from manufactures and can be accessed in catalogs, art supply stores and the internet. I have spent a sizable amount of time collecting manufacture information. Not everyone has time or interest to do this research. The quickest and best way to determine if your paints are opaque or transparent is to do a simple test. With a permanent marker (Sharpie Chisel tip) draw a bold line across a piece of 2x2 inch watercolor paper. With paint the consistency of whole milk paint over the line. If the black line is obscured (chalky looking) it is opaque. On the paint swatch I write information (brand, color name, index code). I keep all my color swatches in a binder for future reference. Over the years I have built an extensive binder of color swatches. I am amazed how often I refer to this information.

I don’t want to give the impression I am against using opaque paints… I like them but I don’t keep them on my palette as a main color. When I need an opaque color I squirt out some fresh paint. I do a lot of “negative” painting built up with glazes, and glazes get “muddy” with opaque paint. Opaque are great for accent marks at the end, but not for glazing. Glazing is when you paint a transparent layer on top of a dry layer. Opaque paints will look chalky or muddy if used for glazing. If you have a tendency to get “muddy” colors chances are you have an opaque paint on your palette.Look closely at the paint swatches below. Look at the top row and notice how the paint seems to be sitting on top of the line=this means opaque.
Look at the bottom row, notice how the paint does not effect the black line=this means transparent.


I encourage you to try this with your current palette. In my next post I will show a negative painting in all of its stages.
Happy Painting!
Brenda



34 comments:

  1. I love your teacher hat! I know this stuff (mostly) but loved this clear direct reminder. Teach away anytime. I'm reading and learning! Jay

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    1. Sometimes I'm afraid I might go too far and (heaven forbid) be a bore. I am delighted to know you found it worth while. Stay turned the next post is gonna be so really good stuff!

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    2. WCnovice-'I'm fairLy new to watercolors but really enjoying it. Thanks, Brenda for the tip always ready to learn something new.

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  2. I also love your teacher hat mode. I am not familiar with the color quinophthalone yellow. Could you give the more common name, or its number, or a brand name? Thank you for all of your information.

    Carolyn

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    1. Caroline, Quinophthalone yellow is made by the Daniel Smith company in Seattle, WA. The index code is PY138. The index code refers to its color and not to be confused with the catalog order number.
      Happy Painting!

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    2. The correct spelling of the above paint is Quinacridone. It is a synthethic/staining pigment but used thin is fabulous for multiple glazes.

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    3. Quinacridone and Quinophthalone are two different paints.

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  3. Please keep that teacher hat handy --- I am always eager to learn. Now I am off to swatch my watercolors and see if they are transparent!

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    1. I love to hear that! Testing for yourself is the best learning tool!

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  4. Brenda, Thank you for that helpful info. I'm looking forward to your next post, too!

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  5. I also love the teacher mode. I have made the sample swatches also but had a question. When you put them into the notebook, do you sort them by Pigment and then number? ie PY43 then PY150 or do you sort them by name?
    Thanks

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    1. Bonita, I sort the paint swatches by color i.e. warm reds, cool reds, warm blues, cool blues... Hope that helps.

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  6. I'm new to watercolor and was so pleased to find your post with such a clear description. And thank you for the tip to make little swatches.

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    1. Nice to hear the information was helpful... Happy Painting!

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  7. I am also new in the watercolor world and this information is valuable to know and I will be starting my own binder now that I know what I am looking for or at...

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    1. Welcome to the wonderful world of watercolor!. The info on paint will help you avoid many costly mistakes. Happy Painting!

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  8. I am very new to watercolor - newly retired and finely have time to enjoy myself :) I am having so much fun! This info was just what I've been looking for! I've watched many hours of tutorials where artists talk of transparent colors, but your suggestion of creating swatches is great! I'm on my way to go make some now!

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    1. Louise, I love knowing my teaching made a difference.
      Thanks!

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  9. Thank you for this very clear explanation. I'll test all my favorite colours an might find out why my waterpainings are not as bright as I want. Thanks.

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  10. Hi I am 73 years old and just learning, you have helped me today thank you

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  11. Brenda you mention:

    "Opaque or Transparent how do you know? This information is available from manufactures and can be accessed in catalogs, art supply stores and the internet. I have spent a sizable amount of time collecting manufacture information."

    Are you able to share this info with us? Thanks so much!

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    1. It's not that simple...the information fills many binders.

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  12. I just found out that there are different kinds of watercolor and was Googling about transparent watercolors and stumbled on your post. Thank you so much for all the info! I'm starting to grow a mini collection of watercolor sets and I'm thinking of swatching them like how you do. :)

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  13. How do I know which will be chalky and which won't be? I really don't like the chalky ones so I need some help finding the other ones. :(

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    1. Diane, I showed how to know which colors are chalky/opaque. Take another look and reread the post and you'll see.

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    2. I think what Diane meant is - how to know before she buys, she does not want to buy a color and later do the black marker test and find out it is opaque

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    3. Please read further down the post. I give detailed instructions where to find information

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  14. I found this blog very helpful!! I am fairly new to watercolor myself and really enjoy what I am doing but not always happy with the painting once it is dry. I believe this would also be apart of the opaque and transparent difference, am I correct?

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  15. Thank you..I too am new to watercolor and have been trying to figure out at the store which paints are transparent..why don't they just put a T or an O on the labels and make it easy for all of us. I have spent way too much of my time doing research..thank you for blogging about this. Do you have a list now of all the transparent colors with the corresponding color number? I would very much like it if you do.
    Susan

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  16. The information should be near the paint racks in art supply stores. Look for the brochure that has the names of paint and color swatches. Manufactures also have the information in catalogs and on their websites. Here's a link to Daniel Smith watercolors: http://www.danielsmith.com/ItemList--DANIEL-SMITH-Watercolor--m-1451

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