Turner’s blues and a few others

I am currently reading Anthony Bailey’s biography of JMW Turner, Standing in the Sun, (2013 paperback edition). So having just posted about Smalt Blue, I was very interested to read the following lines from Henry Syer Trimmer’s account of Turner’s studio, after Turner’s death, ” … and cobalt to be sure there was, but also several bottles of ultramarine of various depths and smalts of various intensities, of which I think he made great use.” Trimmer goes on to report, “I was told by his housekeeper [Hannah Danby] that ultramarine was employed by him sparingly, and that Smalt and cobalt were his usual blues.” ( pps 87-88).

In this case Trimmer is referring to Turner’s oil paints, rather than his watercolour paints. I am trying to find out whether Turner used the same pigments in his watercolours. It seems quite likely, as it is a matter of selecting the relevant binder for your pigment and ensuring that the particles are ground down to the correct specification that are the key. I need to do some more research!

To give you some idea of the colours Trimmer is referring to, above, I have swatched out the three blues referred to, Ultramarine, Smalt Blue and Cobalt Blue, in watercolours. In addition I have also included three other blues, Indanthrone Blue (AKA Delft Blue), Mayan Blue Genuine and Pthalo Blue (green shade) for comparison.

Most interesting of all these pigments to me is Mayan Blue which, according to Wikipedia is “a composite of organic and inorganic constituents, primarily indigo dyes derived from the leaves of añil (Indigofera suffruticosa) plants combined with palygorskite, a natural clay which, mysteriously, is not known to exist in abundant deposits in Mesoamerica.

Indanthrone Blue, PB 60, also goes by more than one name, including Delft Blue and sometimes indigo blue. I would be wary of using the latter common name as the indigo blues I have looked up on line are made from a varying range of pigments. White Nights Indigo (Nevskya Palitra) is a blend of PBk 7, PB 15 and PV 3; Windsor and Newton Indigo is a blend of PBk 6, PV 19 and PB 15.

When choosing a watercolour to add to your palette the general advice is to select a paint made from a single pigment. This will generally give better results when mixing colours. If you are selecting a multi-pigment paint you are more likely to mix a muddy colour. This is because some of the pigments may work well in the mix and others may not thereby cancelling each other out and making mud.

Some purchases in the Netherlands

Wherever I travel I like to find art materials as momentoes of my trip. As I was going to an Urban Sketchers Symposium I was well aware that an art supply goody bag would be waiting for me there. The market stalls at Symposium are also great places to find well-priced items. None the less I still managed to find some items that I knew wouldn’t be in the bag.

It turned out that I had set myself up to buy, without even really trying. Our hotel in Rotterdam, where we spent the first week of our trip, was directly across the road from two art shops!

To make it easy for myself I have made a visual record of my purchases.

First purchases handmade Khadi paper, a bone folder used in bookbinding, a new fountain pen (of course I need another one!) and some new ink to go with it. And a ring in , my windmill-shaped biscuit cutter.

By way of explanation this fountain pen has one of the biggest reservoirs on the market, which makes it very useful for lots of sketching without having to frequently refill it. This KWZ ink was purchased on the basis that it was waterproof. Unfortunately there was a mis-understanding and it turns out that the green-gold ink is not waterproof. The company makes another green which is water- resistant, but this isn’t it.

My new paints, with the exception of Potters Pink which was only a replacement. A second new ink also with some odd properties.

I seem to be attracted to the blues these days. I was intrigued by the Smalt Blue (AKA Dumont’s Blue). This is a very old form of blue pigment made by grinding glass coloured by smaltite, a cobalt salt, into a fine powder. I assume it was one of the less expensive options than ground lapis lazuli. From some of the reading I have done it has, in oil paint, tended to fade over time, but not all paintings show this fault. It has a purplish tinge which I really like. I expect it will be appearing in my ‘skies’ in the not too distant future.

Much as I am a devotee of Pyrrol Orange (it is one of those irreproducible colours), I do sometimes find it a bit pink. This Transparent Orange, above, is a synthetic pigment with an industrial automotive history, it looks like it fits the bill for a truly orange, orange. I swatched it out, below, with some of my other orange-y paints for a comparison.

As you might decipher in my notes on the page above my Platinum Classic ink (an iron gall ink), is listed as both water soluble and resistent to water. Mmmmm?? A bit of research indicates that while some of the ‘apparent’ colour of the ink may be water soluble, over time the ink gall element should not only resist water, but darken with age. I’m not sure that I will be happy with this latter development, as the solubility of the ink has resulted in some quite pleasing effects. I used it in my workshop with Ròisin Curé, where were were channelling Rembrandt’s use of sepia ink. Here is a sample.

Sepia Black ink, line and diluted ink, part of the sculpture version of the Night Watch on the Rembrantplein in Amsterdam.