|“Red paint drives me nuts! How to lighten without chalkiness?”
This was a comment from one of our students on the online campus this month.It’s a common problem and one that challenged me for a long time before I started to understand the issue.
The problem is that when you add white to red pigments in order to lighten them to give the feeling of light, they lose saturation. But red is a warm color and sunlight is a warm color, and so the saturation should be increased in the sun, not decreased. As a result when you lighten the red, it often looks pasty and destroys the feeling of sunlight in your painting. The old masters of the Renaissance could not solve this problem because of the limitations of their pigments. Just look at the red robes of Renaissance figures in the light. They are all pasty. You will also see this problem in lot in much professional work. The solution is a little tricky and relies on some of the ideas you will learn in later parts of the VAA curriculum: hue changes on a form and optical color mixing.
Step One: You need a variety of reds and analogous pigments on your palette and need to experiment with them so you fully understand what happens when you add white to them. In particular you will need:
- a saturated warm red such as cadmium red light or naphol red (PR112)
- a high saturation orange such as cadmium orange, or a cadmium yellow orange to lighten the red in the sunlight
- a quinacridone based pigment (PV19) that retains saturation when you add white, to give you more options for lightening your reds
- not essential, but really useful if you are painting sunsets when this problem becomes particularly acute, use a slightly fluorescent peach pink pigment. I have recently discoverd such a pigment sold in China by a company called Maries. Its saturation at a very light value is even greater than white added to a quinacridone pigment and so it is wonderful for painting the setting sun.
Step Two: You need a thorough knowledge of hue changes on a form. The key is for the passages of your painting in sunlight to use the warmest red in its purest state as possible (very little other colors added). Then you lighten it with a higher value analogous color, such as cadmium orange or cadmium yellow orange and use just a minimal amount of white.
There is more to this discussion because the shadow color you use is also important.