Color Curriculum


By Carolyn Payzant

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 15, Issue 1


My studio and home is on a tiny island off the seacoast of New Hampshire, where most winters the snow is sparkling white and the skies cerulean blue. But alas, this winter has brought us hardy New Englanders nothing but ice – sleet – snow - and melancholy skies - the color of a pale wash of burnt umber mixed with French ultramarine blue. As I drink my coffee and gaze out over the icy water, I think, “The sky isn’t even that appealing.” It is March, and those of you south of Zone 6 are feeling the warm air of spring while catching glimpses of summer’s growth sprouting from the moist warm soil. Here in New England it is still winter; the soil is frozen and summer is still a silent fantasy. 

My mind begins to wander and I fantasize about Gulf of Maine’s warm gentle summer breezes and the effervescence of fluttering coastal grasses and wild flowers, leading me to visualize images that make summer vibrant and warm. The first color that comes to mind is orange, my favorite being Daniel Smith’s (DS) Permanent Orange PO62. This is a perfect “middle orange.”  Similar orange pigments are: Winsor & Newton’s (WN) Winsor Orange PO20; remember PO20 is cadmium orange and WN tweaks their PO20 toward a yellow bias. Most other manufactures fine-tune their PO20 toward a red bias. If you are adamant about using cadmium orange based pigment, take care when purchasing. Be aware that the complimentary color for the yellow bias PO20 is a blue violet. I would suggest M. Graham’s Dioxazine Purple PV37, and the complimentary color for the red bias is phthalo blue (GS) PB15:3. (Be sure to purchase the PB15:3 not the PB15.) 

Orange pigments are almost always semi-opaque to opaque which must be significantly diluted to achieve the transparency that most botanical artists require. Through these dilutions, orange pigments give up some of their saturated color in both wash and mixture; for that reason alone I choose DS’s Permanent Orange PO62; it is slightly more transparent than other orange pigments and straight out of the tube looks like a navel orange. A splash of Permanent Orange gives any yellow or orange biased red pigment an added radiance. When mixed with most blue biased red pigments, the red is dulled.  

Mixed with Phthalo Green (YS) PG36, Permanent Orange makes a realistic green. Most botanical artists will find the mix between Permanent Orange and Phthalo Green (BS) PG7 too vivid; but who knows, maybe there is a use for that shade of green.  

Interesting olive greens, browns and grays can be created with Permanent Orange and an assortment of blue or violet pigments. It is unbelievable how luxuriant a brown is created when Permanent Orange is mixed with M. Graham’s Dioxazine Purple PV37; like the darkest richest chocolate you ever visualized. I love the silkiness of grays created with French ultramarine blue PB29, cobalt blue PB28 and indigo PB60 (which is actually indanthrene blue).  

And finally, add a smidgen of Permanent Orange to any of the earth colors, including sepia, or might I suggest, the very darkest pigments on your palette; the richness of the orange shimmers through these mixtures creating a mysterious flickering essence which your viewer will experience but not recognize its source.