Wildlife in Watercolour

The Devon Artist

Watercolour Lightfastness Hue and Granulation

Watercolour painting of a Bee-eater using handmade paints

For the second of my blog posts on understanding watercolour we will touch upon three more terms many manufacturers use for their paints.  Have you heard of watercolour lightfastness, hue and granulation?  I will try to explain in my non-jargon way what they are all about.  I 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.  However, they are worth thinking about if you intend on displaying a painting in direct sunlight.  Protecting your precious work behind glass will certainly prolong your painting’s life.  As will ensuring everything used in the mounting and framing process is acid free.  There will inevitably be some changes to the colours eventually.  But don’t hide your work away in a dark corner of a room simply to preserve it.  Put your painting on the wall 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.

Watercolour lightfastness explained
1 – Hue

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

Winsor and Newton yellow watercolour range
Yellow Hues
2 – Hue

Secondly, on a paint tube or pan it can refer to a man-made colour.  These 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.  In addition the pigments are very likely to be of, shall we say, more of an affordable price!

Winsor and Newton lightfastness explained
3 – Hue

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 cheaper brands there is more binder used.  So whilst the colour stays the same it will take more working up in the palette.  It will also 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.  In addition, 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?

Faded watercolors when paints not lightfast

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.  With these 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 it’s worth checking out your manufacturer’s website in advance!  They all make their paints in different ways, and mix their pigments to their own ‘recipe’.  Therefore, the ‘same’ colour from two different makers will not necessarily react the same on your paper…..beware!

Watercolor granulation used in a sunset painting

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.  It would be interesting to know what makes and colours in your collection granulate?

Watercolor granulation explained

I hope my ramblings have helped you to understand watercolour lightfastness and what hue and granulation mean.  Should you have missed the first blog on opacity, transparencies, pigments and series you can find it here.  Until our next blog, remember to keep those brushes wet and bye for now,
Paul 🙂

4 Responses

  1. How kind of you to impart your experience in such a clear way to those much less knowledgeable. I simply did a search on what was the difference between a watercolour paint and a watercolour paint marked as hue and came upon this wonderful explanation.
    Many thanks for your time in explaining.

  2. Thank you for the helpful information you give. Could I ask is the “series” of the watercolour paint important in its quality?

    1. Hi Donna, it certainly is important. Many paint manufacturers have more than one version, usually a less expensive student one and a more expensive professional version, so for example Winsor & Newtons Cotman and Professional series. The pro versions tend to have more pigment and less binder, plus they very often use more of the raw natural minerals used within watercolours, compared to a synthetic lab produced version.
      Keep those brushes wet,

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