Color Curriculum

Choosing the Right Transparency 

By Carolyn Payzant

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 14, Issue 2


I don’t know about the rest of you, but frequently, I have a difficulty keeping my glazes from turning to mud. The more I try to manipulate the glaze the muddier it becomes.  

Since February, when I had a large vitreous detachment in my eye, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to investigate my painting problem. Hopefully my research will help you.  

1st glaze –lay down transparent staining pigments or Quinacridones and let this wash become completely bone dry. While this wash is wet you can add as many colors as you like, lift color, make any adjustments or corrections but once dry -- it is permanent!  

2nd glaze – lay down as many delicate glazes of transparent staining pigments or Quinacridones as you wish, making sure that they are bone dry between each glaze. These dried glazes will be permanent! Take care not to saturate the underneath glazes as it is really easy to darken or dull your subject.  

Note: Keep in mind that the staining pigments will stain any preceding glaze.  

3rd glaze – I never thought I would find a good reason for using granulating pigments in a botanical painting – but I have. If you are painting a branch or autumn leaf lay thin glazes of different granulating pigments and watch your subject create beautiful texture with the underlying glazes shimmering through.  

4th glaze – Now is the time for the transparent non-staining pigments. Because they do not stain they do not change the luminosity of the previous glazes ---but you can adjust the temperature of your subject without disturbing that luminosity with these non-staining pigments.  

5th glaze – I was never keen on opaque or semi-opaque pigments but they are great for detail. I have tried to detail with transparent pigments to find they dissolve into the underlying glazes – never to be seen again.  

As I mentioned, because of my eyes, I am incapable of doing fine botanical work at this time. But so far this method has worked for me on practice paper. Please let me know how it works for you at:  

For further inf, read see Transparent Watercolor Wheel by Jim Kosvanec. Keep in mind that this book was written in 1994 and manufacturerers have changed the composition of some of their non-lightfast pigments. An example is Winsor and Newton’s Permanent Rose. It is now made of Quinacridone PV19, making it completely lightfast, semitransparent and heavily staining.  

Next issue, I’ll have a chart for rating transparencies of the paints we commonly use.