Did You Know?

Did You Know? – MummyMummy

The most grisly material used in the preparation of artist's materials must surely be that of ground up human remains. Mummies were imported into Europe and ground into a pigment which gave a deep transparent brown. Commonly mixed with nut oil it was actually known to painters as 'mummy'.

Most artists must have been aware of the material used, particularly those who read the Compendium of colours published in 1897 which suggested that the fleshy parts of the leg are most suitable.

This grim trade did not cease until as recently as 1925 and then only because the Egyptian Government banned the export of mummified remains.

It goes to show that artists will use any material that will make up into a paint. It also goes to show that you never quite know who might be part buried in some of the earlier works of art. Extract from "The Wilcox Guide to the Finest Watercolour Paints"

Did You Know? – Rose Madder Genuine

Genuine Rose Madder

An important source of colorant at one time, the Madder plant was of vital importance to European trade. A red could be extracted from its roots and be further processed into an artists paint. 'Genuine Rose Madder' is still produced commercially and is used by countless painters world wide.

What few seem to realize is that the colour fades rapidly, destroying their careful work. Easily duplicated on the palette using light fast colorants, the genuine article should have been made obsolete decades ago as it offers a very real disservice to the artist.

One of the colorants in the root, 'Alizarin', has long been produced synthetically and is used in the paint 'Alizarin Crimson'. This is also most unreliable, fading rapidly when applied as a thin wash or when mixed with white.

Countless paintings are still being ruined by these substances despite there being reliable alternatives. But they both sell well and the bottom line is more important to most manufacturers than the life expectancy of your paintings. Extract from "The Wilcox Guide to the Finest Watercolour Paints"

Did You Know? – Gamboge


Gamboge starts life as a brown sap exuded from a gum tree native to Thailand, Sri Lanka and parts of India. The dried gum becomes a bright transparent yellow when diluted with water. As a watercolour paint it is unique in that it a colorant with its own gum.

Unfortunately it is very fugitive and will fade particularly fast when applied as a thin wash, which is when it is at its most beautiful. Despite this obvious failing Genuine Gamboge is still offered by a particular manufacturer who should know better. Imitation, or 'Hue' versions are usually more reliable, if less transparent, than the genuine article. Extract from "The Wilcox Guide to the Finest Watercolour Paints"

Did You Know? – Sap Green


Sap Green

Produced from Buckthorn berries, Sap Green was used extensively in Medieval times. Allowed to thicken until it became syrupy it was usually stored in animal bladders. It faded very quickly. 

The name has been retained for almost any concoction which will give a dull green. Unfortunately, cheap and inferior industrial pigments are invariably used, giving a paint still prone to rapid fading. Extract from "The Wilcox Guide to the Finest Watercolour Paints"

Did You Know? – Adding a touch of red 

If you are working with the complementary pair blue and orange and the mixes move too far towards green, try adding a tiny touch of any red to the mix. As red and green are a complementary pair the small amount of red will absorb the green in the mix. colour mixes can often be fine tuned this way, the complementary being added to remove unwanted traces of a colour. Extract from "Blue And Yellow Don't Make Green

Did You Know? – Not everyone's favourite colour

The Yezidi, a people who live in the Caucasus and in Armenia have an intense dislike for the colour blue. So intense is their dislike that they curse their enemies by saying 'May you die in blue garments'. Extract taken from "Colour Harmony and Contrast for the Artist"

Did You Know? – Dress code

A Michael Wilcox School of Colour Article

Colours of dress in much of Europe were at one time dictated by the authorities. The nobility and the church reserved for themselves the right to dress in colourful clothes. They mandated that peasants and serfs must dress only in black or brown. Royalty alone could wear purple. Red, gold and silver were reserved for the King's councilors, the next tier of importance.

The colours worn by knights, squires, even archers, as well as their wives, were as much a badge of rank as their insignia and uniforms. Grudging exception was made for doctors and lawyers, who, whilst not members of the nobility, were allowed to dress in coloured clothes. Extract taken from "Colour Harmony and Contrast for the Artist". 

Did You Know? – Adding depth to a painting 

Saturated (full strength) colours will advance visually in a painting. A strong red, for example, will look a lot closer than a pink. 'Warm' colours such as red, yellow and orange will seem to be closer than the 'cooler' blues and greens.

Blue, in particular will appear further away as our eyes actually change their focus slightly when we look at blue. At distance all colours become bluer, lighter and grayer. Used with knowledge, colour alone can bring great depth to a painting.

The sharpness of detail can also play a vital part. Look at your thumb at arms length. Notice how sharp it appears when contrasted with the background. By deliberately sharpening detail in the closer areas of a painting, great depth can be added with ease. Extract taken from "Colour Harmony and Contrast for the Artist". 

Did You Know? – Thought-provoking quotes

"Colour is not given to us in order that we should imitate nature. It was given to us so that we can express our own emotions",  Henri Matisse 

"Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything", Eugéne Delacroix

"When I choose a colour it is not because of any scientific theory. It comes from observation, from feeling, from the innermost nature of the experience in question", Henri Matisse

"Fine works of art never age, because they are remarked by genuine feeling", Eugéne Delacroix

"Give me mud and I will make the skin of Venus out of it, if you allow me to surround it as I please", Eugéne Delacroix

Extract taken from "Colour Harmony and Contrast for the Artist".

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