Mineral and Modern Pigments: Painters’ Access to Color

Gamblin Color Chart mineral and modern colors

Gamblin’s Color Chart is Organized by ‘Mineral’ and ‘Modern’

This visual division of mineral and modern colors is unique in the art material industry, and it gives painters an insight into the makeup of pigments from which these colors are derived, as well as some practical information to help painters create their own personal color palettes.

The Mineral side of the color chart includes those colors made from inorganic pigments from earth and metals. These include earth colors such as Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre, as well as those metal-based colors such as Cadmium Yellows and Reds and Cobalt Blue, Green, and Violet. The Modern side of the color chart is comprised of colors made from modern “organic” pigments, which have a molecular structure based on carbon. These include the “tongue-twisting” color names like Quinacridone, Phthalocyanine, and Dioxazine.

These two groups of colors have unique mixing characteristics, so this organization helps painters choose an appropriate palette for their artistic intentions.

Click here to download Gamblin’s Artist’s Grade Color Chart.

Pigment History

As we look back throughout the history of art, paintings have always been a reflection of the materials that were available to artists.This organization of the Gamblin chart can be broken down a bit further by giving it some historical perspective based on the three main eras of pigment history

  1. Classical
  2. Impressionist
  3. Modern 

The Classical Palette: From Dark to Light

At the bottom of the Mineral side of the color chart is the group of earth colors that make up the heart of painters palettes during the Classical era of pigment history. This group of pigments, which has its origins in cave painting and antiquity, was central to the oil painter’s palette from the Renaissance through the Classical Era of oil painting up until the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

Classical Era Oil Paint Colors, understanding mineral and modern colors

Classical-Palette

Classical Palette Colors:

  • Naples Yellow (Hue)
  • Yellow OchreRaw Umber, Vermillion (
  • Raw Umber
  • Vermillion (Napthol Scarlet shown here)
  • Venetian Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Indian Red
  • Ultramarine Blue (lapis)
  • Terre Verte

Classical Palette in Color Space:

This limited range of muted earth colors exists close to the “neutral core” of Color Space.

Limited to this range of the color spectrum, painters depicted form by drawing large contrasts between the darkest darks and the lightest lights, creating the chiaroscuro (literally, “light/dark”) effect so characteristic of classical paintings.

The Impressionist Palette: A Perfect Storm and a Sea of Change in Color

The advancements of the Industrial Revolution of the mid-nineteenth century widened the spectrum of both color and possibilities for artists. From nineteenth century onward, pigments were no longer made specifically for artists’ use but for larger industrial coatings and printing industries. A new range of pigments were made by fusing inorganic materials, such as cadmium, cobalt, and chromium, together at very high heat. Not only did these colors brighten the urban centers of the Iron Age, but they widened painters’ access to color compared to the palettes of the Classical Era. Other inventions of the nineteenth century such as the three-roll mill and the collapsible metal paint tube gave painters the freedom to leave the confines of their studios and paint directly from nature. At the same time, photography was threatening painting’s role of reporting the visual world, and painters were revolting against the tonal traditionalists of the Parisian art academies. These factors culminated into a “perfect storm,” and the result is the oeuvre from the Impressionist movement.

Impressionist Era Oil Paint Colors

For the first time in history, painters of this period had the pigments available to capture all of the colors of the natural world, expressed in the Impressionists’ interest in pure color. The denser, tubed oil colors made from brighter and opaque pigments lent themselves to the direct painting techniques so characteristic of the Impressionists.

Impressionist Palette in Color Space:

Impressionist Palette in Color Space

Impressionist Palette Colors

  • Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Cobalt Violet
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Viridian

The Modern Palette: Another Color Revolution

The end of the nineteenth century gave birth to the field of organic chemistry with applications in the pharmaceutical, dye, and printing industries. Modern organic pigments are made in high-tech laboratories from materials which have central atoms of carbon. These colors are characterized by their greater transparency and their capacity to produce intense tints and mixtures. Color makers not only matched nature’s abundance of color but also improved upon it.

Gamblin Color Chart Modern Colors

Modern Oil Colors

Once again, developments in pigment technology widened painters’ access to color and expanded creative possibilities. Unlike pigment families on the mineral side of the color chart, which shift in value from light to dark (i.e. Cadmium Lemon to Cadmium Yellow Deep), modern organic colors shift in temperature from cool to warm, such as Phthalo Green (cool) to Phthalo Emerald (warm). This temperature bias of modern colors is conducive to creating a Spectral Palette, which incorporates a warm and cool for each of the six hue families. Thus, the colors included in the Spectral Palette occupy the most space around the perimeter of the colors wheel, giving painters the greatest color mixing potential within Color Space.

Modern Palette in Color Space:

Modern pigments in color space

Modern Palette Colors:

  • Hansa Yellow Light
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Hansa Yellow Deep
  • Permanent Orange
  • Napthol Scarlet
  • Quinacridone Red
  • Quinacridone Violet
  • Dioxazine Purple
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Manganese Blue Hue
  • Phthalo Green
  • Phthalo Emerald

The Difference Between Mineral and Modern Colors

The biggest difference in the characteristics between mineral and modern colors–and arguably of most interest to painters–is how these two groups of pigments behave differently in color mixing. Below are two different reds, the mineral Cadmium Red Medium and modern Napthol Red, each mixed with Titanium Zinc White.

Mineral and Modern pigments

As shown above, the mineral Cadmium Red Medium “greys down” and loses its intensity as it is mixed with white, compared to the modern Napthol Red, which retains its intensity in its tint. This difference will hold up for any mineral vs. any modern color. Mineral colors, in tints, shift in VALUE and CHROMA. Modern colors shift only in VALUE and retain their high CHROMA. This difference will also hold up during color-to-color mixing:

studionotes_min_mod9

Mineral colors are suitable for painters that are interested in capturing the colors of the natural world and the effects of natural light. Modern organic colors are appropriate for painters who want to make high key color mixtures. Modern colors are also more transparent, giving painters high key colors in all hue families for glazing or indirect painting techniques.

As we take a look at these three color palettes representative of the three main eras of pigment history, we can easily see how advancements in pigment technology have widened painters’ access to color.

studionotes_min_mod10

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Painters today enjoy history’s greatest access to stable, lightfast pigments. There is no reason for you as a painter to settle for a palette that doesn’t meet your artistic intentions. If you would like to receive our color chart or have any questions about choosing a palette of colors that meets your own artistic intentions, please feel free to contact us.

Gamblin Mineral Colors

  • Cadmium Chartreuse
  • Cadmium Lemon
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Orange Deep
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Cadmium Red Deep
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Manganese Violet
  • Cobalt Violet
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Prussian Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Teal
  • Viridian
  • Cobalt Green
  • Chromium Green Oxide
  • Emerald Green
  • Cadmium Green
  • Nickel Titanate Yellow
  • Naples Yellow Hue
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Transparent Earth Yellow
  • Transparent Earth Orange
  • Transparent Earth Red
  • Asphaltum
  • Caucasian Flesh Tone
  • Gold Ochre
  • Brown Pink
  • Venetian Red
  • Indian Red
  • Olive Green
  • Terre Verte
  • Raw Umber
  • Burnt Umber
  • Black Spinel
  • Mars Black
  • Ivory Black
  • Van Dyke Brown

Gamblin Modern Colors

  • Hansa Yellow Light
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Hansa Yellow Deep
  • Indian Yellow
  • Permanent Orange
  • Transparent Orange
  • Napthol Red
  • Napthol Scarlet
  • Perylene Red
  • Alizarin Permanent
  • Quinacridone Red
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Quinacridone Violet
  • Dioxazine Purple
  • Indanthrone Blue
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Cerulean Blue Hue
  • Manganese Blue Hue
  • Phthalo Turquoise
  • Phthalo Green
  • Phthalo Emerald
  • Sap Green
  • Green Gold
  • Permanent Green Light
  • Chromatic Black

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