Couldn’t help myself: FW acrylic inks vs. watercolors, probably Part 1

I’ve waited quite a while to write this post.  Between wanting to fit in a visual comparison of the FW acrylic inks versus artist-quality tube watercolors (I’ve given up on the image editing, for now:  my digital photography skills are not as honed as my drawing skills), having come down with a cold over the holidays, and it being…well, the holidays, I haven’t gotten around to it until now.

I had intended to do a test to see if I could get the FW acrylic inks to bleed like watercolors, but unfortunately, I haven’t had the energy.  What I have been doing is swatching out watercolors over black fineliner to see how transparent they are.  Although while I was in the process of painting, it became difficult with some colors (like Cobalt Blue) to see the lines, after things were dry the transparency of (all) the paints was much more apparent, and with all of the ones I have (save heavy applications of Lamp Black), black ink underdrawings should be visible.

I should note for newcomers here that I’m not using any cadmium colors, which are known for their relative opacity, even in watercolor lines which otherwise tend towards transparency (note that intentionally opaque watercolor is called gouache and isn’t what I’m talking about now); I tend to shy away from cadmium pigments for health reasons.  There are other pigment families which also require caution in use, one of them being the cobalt salts; though I’m less wary of these (whether that’s deserved or not).

There are three cobalt pigments that I have used:  Viridian (a bluish, granulating green), Cobalt Blue (a sky-blue type color), and Aureolin (a cool yellow which leans green, and is said to darken over time).  There is at least one more, Cobalt Violet, which I’m curious about but haven’t tried yet…though I certainly shouldn’t go around collecting toxic materials for the hell of it.  In any case, all of the ones I’ve listed have seemed a bit…desaturated? to me.  I’ve been using Winsor & Newton, and almost scrapped Cobalt Blue from my palette because it’s so weak in mixes when trying to make green.

However!  There are uses for these pigments which don’t appear on the surface.  For example, Viridian mixed with Permanent Rose Red (a violet-leaning, delicate red) makes a really, really nice violet-grey.  (At least, I’m pretty sure that was Viridian I used, and not Viridian Hue — which is Phthalocyanine Green.)  Don’t ask me how.  It would be hard to explain.  😉  I might have been up for it if I hadn’t read parts of Blue & Yellow Don’t Make Green, by Michael Wilcox but I did, so…I can’t unsee it.  😉  The book I mention is on color theory and the physical aspects of pigments’ light absorption properties in relation to what colors we see them to be; I have the 2009 version, which is, of course, very dated by now (at least some of the paints tested in the book have changed formulation since 2009).

The short of it is:  it’s hard to explain how green plus red equals violet under traditional color theory, except that the green leans blue and the red leans violet…then the yellow in the green would mute out violet, and the red mixed with blue leans violet…but then there’s still green…AAHhhh…okay.

It’s…it’s just hard to think about, and I’m no longer sure that the color wheel is even a viable system, at this point.  For instance, is green GREEN, or is green blue plus yellow?  In the prismatic spectrum, there are pure greens…so where does the notion of green being “blue plus yellow” come from?  The point is that many yellow pigments eat blue light and many blue pigments eat yellow light, but they both reflect green, so green is the dominant frequency of the light that is left over and reflected.  It’s not the only color, though, as is visible when chlorophyll decays in maple leaves and you get spectacular yellows and reds reflected which were there all along, but dominated by the green light.

It’s because of this that I wonder whether any grouping of colors turning to “mud,” (dull, nondescript color) can be reoriented in some useful direction with the addition of one or more of the right colors.  After all, “mud” is basically…just a neutral, yeah?  That means it should have a lot of different colors in it being reflected all at once, with few dominant.  Take out what you don’t want, add what you do:  it would seem to be possible, at least?

I have been using a split-primary system (a modified color wheel which at least gives some direction)…but at some point randomness helps to find those gorgeous colors that you can’t get without mixing some colors not traditionally combined.  Mixing several steps further than the point at which a more cautious person (or brain-voice) would have told you to stop, can also be really fun (for example, mixing black is, generally speaking, a blast).  For me, at least.  I still don’t understand how my brain perceives color, but I think that it is in some way my thinking/language-oriented mind doesn’t know how to comprehend…like seeing what is not there rather than what is.

In any case (that was a long tangent), what I can say is that the watercolor paints I have, in comparison to the FW acrylic inks, display much more randomness when it comes to where on the image the pigment dries.  I’m not entirely sure if this is simply a quality of high flow with the watercolors, or has something to do with acrylic resin’s famed quick-drying ability.  (Those who have painted in both acrylic and oil paints tell me that acrylic dries very quickly in relation to …well, maybe anything would dry quickly in relation to oil…but I wouldn’t know firsthand.)

I have also noted that although the acrylic inks appeared more saturated than I remembered my paints being when I first used them, in one of my photos, the watercolors are clearly denser.  I’m not sure if this is an artifact of the camera, lighting, LCD display, or what.  I can get back to you on it, though.

By far, though, the biggest difference between the FW acrylic inks and the watercolors I have (mostly Winsor & Newton, with a few exceptions), is the fact that the watercolors move, after they’re laid down.  Particularly, Grumbacher Vermilion Deep (it isn’t actually technically mercuric sulfide, don’t worry), and W&N Viridian, Sap Green, French Ultramarine, and Burnt Umber…all show a tendency to highlight the texture of the paper (unless I wasn’t paying attention, this is a rather heavy Canson Montval cold-press).

Vermilion Deep, Viridian, and French Ultramarine, I would say, are all definitely granulating (or “flocculating?” hm, new word); that is, the pigment particles seem to cluster together as the paints are drying, which gives the area a distinctive texture — which, I’ve gotta say, is probably nicer in a Fine Art context.  If I were creating something to be reproduced, like a comic page, though, I might want to use the FW acrylic inks, just because they give a lot more of a reliable (though less exciting) outcome.  😛

And please, PLEASE remember to wash your brush frequently when using the FW inks!  I got a little happy and acrylic resin dried around the end of my ferrule on the first day of painting with these!  (I’m just lucky I didn’t use the one with real hair…)

Up next; unless I forget about this post entirely:  working wet-into-wet with both the watercolors and the FW acrylic inks!

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paintedstone

Haru ("Codey") is a second-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

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