Understanding Watercolour – Part 2

Painting a bee-eater bird in watercolour

For Part 2 we will touch upon three more terms many manufacturers use for their paints; lightfastness, hue and granulation.  I will try to explain in my non-jargon way what they are all about, hope you are sitting comfortably, my rambling is about to begin!

Lightfastness or Permanence
This refers to the likelihood of a colour fading or maybe discolouring when exposed to sunlight – as simple as that!  The manufacturers notes on this are just guidelines but worth thinking about if you intend on displaying a painting in direct sunlight.  Protecting your precious work behind glass and ensuring everything used in the mounting and framing process is acid free will certainly prolong your painting’s life.  Whilst there will inevitably be some changes to the colours eventually, don’t hide your work away in a dark corner of a room simply to preserve them, put it out on display it and enjoy it.  
It is worth noting that all manufacturers have their own way of describing the lightfastness or permanency of their colours. The two examples below give you some idea on what to look for on your tube. It could be a star, dot, letter etc.

Lightfastness of watercolours

Hue
The word hue has many different meanings within the art world.  The most obvious use of the word would be to describe all the paints you have in one particular colour range – all your greens have a green hue, all your yellows have a yellow hue etc.  

Winsor and Newton yellow paint
Yellow Hues

Secondly, on a paint tube or pan it can refer to a man-made colour which can give you a constant consistency of exactly the same colour over all the batches that are made.  Hues are generally mixed from different pigments to replicate old historical and well known colours.  Maybe the pigments for the original colours are now known to be toxic (cadmiums, ceruleans) or perhaps they are no longer readily available.  To keep artists happy they remain within the manufactured ranges but have the word hue on the label.   By manufacturing the colours, the lightfastness of them can sometimes be improved and the pigments are very likely to be of, shall we say, more of an affordable price! 

Winsor and Newton professional watercolours

Thirdly the word hue is used to describe the grade of paint.  This links with last week’s blog when I talked about how much pigment was used within a paint.  In some of the cheaper brands there is more binder used, so whilst the colour stays the same it will take more working up in the palette and will be less intense on the paper.  Often these lower grade paints are not as lightfast and do not do so well over time.  I would recommend that once you can afford to move from the student / budget paints to the more professional grade ones that you do so.  I think you will notice a difference in your work and your paintings will be more likely to stand the test of time.

Have you ever noticed that some colours do have slight variations of a name, such a Gamboge and gamboges hue, now you know why.

How to keep watercolours fresh and vibrant

Granulation
I’m sure you have noticed over time that some paints can leave quite a grainy texture when they dry. This is referred to as granulation or a granulating colour. French ultramarine is a classic for this and can give you some lovely effects, especially for skies!  I find other colours such as burnt sienna and burnt umber will often do the same.
So what creates this nice surprise?  It is all to do with the pigment particles – in some colours the pigments tend to cling together, this in turn creates an uneven wash.  When you have finer ground pigments the granulation will be much less obvious and you can create those smooth washes you might be after.
Over time you will get to know your paints, and you will know the ones that are going to granulate.  Should you be using some extremely expensive hot pressed paper and you would really prefer to know in advance what is going to happen, it’s worth checking out your manufacturer’s web site for the particular colours. They all make their paints in different ways, and mix their pigments to their own ‘recipe’, so the ‘same’ colour from two different makers will not necessarily react the same on your paper…..beware!

Silhouette watercolour of elephants

Have a play with your colours on a piece of medium textured watercolour paper and see which granulate.
I would love to hear how you get on with your paint testing, what makes and colours in your collection granulate?

Watercolour paint, granulation

Until our next blog remember to keep those brushes wet and bye for now,
Paul 🙂

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