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Colour Terms Glossary




COLOURANTS: - Whites | Yellows | Reds | Blues | Greens | Browns | Purples | Greys | Blacks

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) was established recently to conduct tests on the durability of artists' colour pigments (equivalent to 20 years of exposure in a gallery). Their tests represent the most absolute classification in use for painting materials, and ASTM codes are employed by all manufacturers of fine art paints to identify their colours in terms of lightfastness and permanence, as follows: ASTM 1: excellent lightfastness. ASTM II: very good lighfastness. ASTM III: Not sufficiently lightfast.
4-Star or AA: Extremely permanent paint colours. 3-Star or A: Durable pigments, generally sold as permanent. 2-Star or B: Moderately durable colours. 1-Star or C: Fugitive colours.
Means having no colour or hue. Blacks, whites, grays, and most browns are achromatic.
If you stare at a single colour (eg. red) for a sustained period of time (eg. one minute), and then immediately look at a white surface, you will see an "afterimage" of the complementary colour (cyan). This is one of the after-effects of visual perception, which is generally caused by fatigue in part of the optical system.
Alkyd resins
The vehicle for the latest colours to be prepared for the painter. In 1927 a substance was made from acids and alcohols and it went under the name of Alcid, a title coined by Kienle. From this word comes the name for a range of paints introduced by Winsor and Newton in 1976.
Analogous colours
Any set of three or five colours that are closely related in hue and usually found next to each other on the colour wheel - such as blue, blue-green, and green.
The part of the liquid vehicle of a paint which binds the pigment particles together and the paint film as a whole to the ground (canvas, panel etc) to which it is applied.
Blue Wool Scale
This refers to the UK standard for pigment lightfastness (British Standard 1006), which is used by some artist paint manufacturers instead of (or in addition to) the ASTM codes.
Term referring to the cleanness or absence of a muddy tone in pigmented coatings.
Broken Colour
A technique introduced by Impressionist painters (notably Neo-Impressionists), whereby colours on the canvas are made up of small flecks and dashes of paint. As each colour remains unmixed on the surface of the painting, less light is absorbed than if they were mixed on a palette. And when seen from a distance, the colours blend and retain a vibrant luminous quality.
Casein colours
Paints produced by mixing the pigments with curd, a casein milk protein. They may be used on paper, cards, hardboard and walls, but not on a flexible support such as canvas; for the reason that the colours dry brittle they should not be applied too thickly. During the 1920S and 1930S American painters built up a considerable tradition with the manner. The dry finish resembles true tempera. It is best left unvarnished or waxed as such treatments can alter the tone values.
This is commonly known as "colourfulness". Chroma is the amount of identifiable hue in a colour. A colour without hue is achromatic or monochromatic and will appear grey. Highly chromatic colours contain maximum hue with few impurities or additives such as white, grey or black. A colour without hue is called "achromatic" or "monochromatic" and appears grey.
Renaissance term describing the art of applying colour to paintings and sculptures.
The appearance of pigmentation of objects, resulting from the light they reflect. Colours are traditionally classified as "primary" (red, blue, yellow), "secondary" - all other colours obtainable by mixing primaries. Depending on their optical effect, they are grouped into warm, cool, and neutral colours.
Any material that imparts colour to another material or mixture: includes dyestuffs and pigments.
Colour Development
The extent to which a colourant (pigment/dye) has achieved its full tinting potential.
This term is used to describe painters who excelled in the use of pigment in their canvases, or whose works are heavily dependent on the use of colour. Old Masters known for their virtuosity in the use of colour include members of the Venetian School (eg. Titian, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Tintoretto), the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens and the Classicist Nicolas Poussin. Modern colourists include Neo-Impressionists like Georges Seurat and his disciple Paul Signac; Fauvists like Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), and Georges Rouault; Post-Impressionists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh; Expressionists like Wassily Kandinsky, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Alexei von Jawlensky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Amedeo Modigliani. Later came the Colour Field School of painters, whose members included Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. Contemporary colourists include members of the the Neo-Expressionist school (notably the "Neue Wilden" [new Fauves], Transavanguardia and Figuration Libre). A celebrated colourist from Ireland is the 19th century Francophile Roderic O'Conor.
Colour Field Painting
A post-war New York-based school of painting who produced large-scale canvases containing areas of flat single hues, designed for emotional effect.
Colour permanence
Describes the durability/permanence of a pigment: that is, its resistance to fading on exposure to light. This depends chiefly on the chemical composition of the colour pigment. But some colours which are lightfast at full strength lose their resistance when strongly diluted or combined with white.
Colour value
The lightness or darkness of a colour; low value is dark; high value is bright.
Colour wheel
A circular diagram showing the relationships between primary, secondary, tertiary and complementary colours. An indispensible tool for anyone working with colour. It is from the colour wheel that colour schemes are defined. Usually it comprises three primary colours, three secondary colours, and six tertiary colours.
Colour Systems
Different colour systems (eg. RGB, CMYK, HSL) are employed for different colour conditions depending on how the colour is created. If using projected light, then RGB (Red-Green-Blue) is the governing system. When colours are mixed with paints, pigments or inks, and applied to paper, then CMY (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow) is the colour model. Because these pure pigments are expensive, the colour Black (K), is substituted for equal parts of CMY to lower ink costs, producing the CMYK system. Another major colour model is HSL (Hue-Saturation-Lightness). This system comprises several variants substituting saturation with chroma, luminance and value etc.

Complementary colours
These colours sit directly opposite each other in the colour wheel: such as blue and orange, and red and green, violet and yellow. Each primary colour - red, yellow, blue - has it's own, exclusive, complementary colour - green, purple, orange. These are made by mixing the other two primaries. When the corresponding pair of primary and complementary colours are placed side by side, they cause an optical vibration in the eye and activate each other.
Cool Colours
These commonly include colours like green, blue and violet: they are termed cool because they evoke images of cool things like the sea or a winter landscape.
Counterchange is when a painter places light shapes against dark, and vice versa. The Dutch Realist artists Rembrandt and Jan Vermeer were acknowledged masters of this colour-technique.
Earth colours
These usually include neutral colours (not included in the colour wheel) such as browns, beiges, greys, ochres and the like. They are called earth colours as they remind us of certain earthy hues found in soil or rock. Earth colours are made by mixing complementary hues.
A general painting movement, emerging in Germany and France in the early 20th century, which was associated with distorted forms and (often) vivid colours.
inert pigment used to bulk a paint or to lower the tinctorial strength of another pigment.
Eye sees colour
The human eye has two types of receptors: rods and cones. Rods recognize shades of grey; cones are sensitive to colour hues. Cones come in three types: the first recognizes red-orange light; the second, green light; the third, blue-violet light. When a single cone is stimulated, we "see" the relevant colour: so if our green cones are stimulated, we "see" green. But if both our green and red-orange cones are simultaneously triggered, we "see" yellow. Thus the eye can be fooled into perceiving the full range of visible colours through the proportionate adjustment of just three hues: red, green and blue.
Refers to a short-lived colourist painting movement which formed around artist friends in Paris around the turn of the century. The word Fauves means "wild beasts", and was coined by art-critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe the group's vividly coloured pictures.
Describes an alternative method of producing a mixture of colour. Instead of combining pigments on the palette, a thin "glaze" of colour (eg. blue)is applied over a coloured ground (eg. yellow). The resulting colour (green) is much more lively than that produced by mixing blue and yellow paint. This is because light enters the transparent film and is refracted from below.
This term refers to the Hue/Saturation/Intensity of colour variations, encompassing Hue (eg. red versus green), Saturation (eg. deep versus pale), and Intensity or Brightness. Hence terms like "fluorescent" describing moderately high brightness with strong colour saturation, and "pastel" which describes colours with high brightness but low saturation.
Commonly described as colour. This term describes the distinct characteristic of colour that separates (eg) red from yellow, from blue. Hues are dependent on the dominant wavelength of light that is emitted or reflected from an object. Normal vision can differentiate between approximately 10 million different hues. From the colour spectrum, any pure hue/colour can be combined with white, black or grey to produce a tonal family.
Language used to describe colour
Research indicates that the evolution of words used to describe colour follows a relatively standard path. Human cultures first develop words such as "dark" and "bright" to describe corresponding colour-types; then they develop the word "red". After this, there is greater variation in linguistic practice, but typically red is followed by the following: first green, then yellow, then blue. After this comes terms for black, white, red, green, blue and yellow. As languages become more sophisticated, they adopt terms to describe brown, orange, pink, purple, gray, and finally azure.
Lapis Lazuli
deep-blue semiprecious stone, used for jewellery, and from which the pigment ultramarine is extracted.
A measurement of a pigments resistance to fading during the course of long exposure to sunlight. Watercolour paints are commonly rated lightfast on a scale of I-IV. I and II ratings are the most permanent.
Also commonly called "lightness", this dimension of colour has a distinct mathematical definition. Thus the luminance or lightness of a colour ia a measurement of the intensity of light per unit area of its source. It is calculated by taking the average of a series of achromatic colours.
A thick swatch of paint: useful for painters who tend to use thick or impasto painting techniques. An excellent way to indicate inherent attributes of a paint, like opacity and gloss.
In paints, the continuous phase when the pigment is dispersed: another name for vehicle.
Refers to (say) a picture done in various tones of one colour only, especially black and white; hence monochromatic.
An instrument, usually made of glass, employed for mixing/dispersing pigments.
Munsell Notation
A type of colour classification system used to describe the colour space for any given color, invented about 1905 by artist Professor Albert Munsell. The Munsell notation for a chromatic colour is written: HV/C; which stands for: Hue Value / Chroma.
Founded by Georges Seurat, Neo-Impressionism was a style of painting based on the Divisionism colour theories of M Chevreul, as elaborated in his 1839 book De La Loi du Contraste Simultanée des Couleurs (concerning the law of the simultaneous contrast of colours). Also called pointillism, Divisionists added tiny flecks of pure colour directly to the canvas, side by side, thus allowing them to 'mix' in the viewer's eye.
Neutral colour
In colour theory, a colour which is neither warm nor cool. Such colours result from the combination of two complementary colours (such as, red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple). The term neutral
colour is also sometimes applied to colours not included in the colour wheel and not associated with a hue: such as browns, blacks, greys and whites.

Ochre (or ocher)
natural earth of silica and clay, coloured by iron oxide. It may be yellow, red, or brown and is used as a pigment. Very popular with Paleolithic artists, using in cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira.
Oil paint colours
Where pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppyseed. Famous brands of oil paint colours include: Rembrandt, Winsor and Newton, Gamblin, Old Holland, Williamsburg, Blick, and Utrecht.
A term which refers to the covering ability of a paint, known as opacity. Paints that allow no light to pass through are called opaque.
Pantone Matching System (PMS)
Internationally recognized colour coding system of pre-mixed colours, introduced in the 1960s. Each Pantone colour is identified by a specific number.
Slab of wood, metal or glass used hy the artist for mixing paint. Also: figuratively: the range of colours used by the artist. For details of historical colour palettes, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette (30,000-10,000 BCE); Egyptian Colour Palette (c.3,000-1000 BCE); Classical Antiquity Colour Palette (Ancient Greece & Rome); Renaissance Colour Palette (c.1300-1600); Eighteenth Century Colour Palette (Rococo & Neoclassical art); Nineteenth Century Colour Palette (Impressionist and other painters.)
This is the colour element in paint. Pigments can consist of a wide variety of ingredients, including minerals, natural/artificial dyestuffs, and other synthetic compounds. In addition to colour, pigments may provide paints with other properties including opacity, hardness, and durability.
Pigment Load (Pigment Volume Content: PVC)
This is the amount of pigment in a paint, as compared to the amount of binder and other ingredients.
Refers to (say) a picture painted in several colours; hence polychromatic.
Primary colours
These are red, blue, and yellow; the colours that can be mixed to produce other "secondary" colours, but cannot themselves be produced from mixtures. For example, a mixture of red and blue gives the secondary colour violet, which is the "complementary colour" of yellow; a combination of red and yellow yields orange, the complementary of blue; while mixing yellow with blue gives green, the complementary of red. Note that one of the optical phenomena concerning colour-relationship is that a hue will always appear most vibrant when accompanied by its complementary.
Primary colours, others
Primary colours seen when sunlight is separated by a prism are sometimes known as the spectral colors. These comprise red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (ROYGBIV). The primary colors for the additive colour system are usually limited to red, green, and blue-violet. The primary colors for the subtractive colour system are cyan, magenta and yellow.
The equivalent terms "saturation" and "intensity" describe the strength of a colour with respect to its value or lightness. Or to put it another way, the intensity of a colour is its degree of purity or hue-saturation. For example, the colour of a geranium is more intense (more saturated with its red/orange hue) than that of mahogany.
Secondary Colours
The colours produced by mixing primary colours: blue + yellow = green; yellow + red = orange; blue + red = purple.
A dark value of a colour (eg. dark blue), as opposed to a tint, which is a lighter hue (eg. light blue). Shades of a particular colour are made by adding black.
Tertiary Colours
The result of mixing a primary and a secondary colour (such as red and green) or two secondary colours (such as green and orange). The latter, in particular, results in muddy colours - browns, greys and blacks.
Refers to a colour hue with white added. For example, pink is a tint of red.
Tinting Strength
This is a measurement of how effective a quantity of colourant is, in altering the colour of a material.
Describes the lightness or darkness of a colour, as opposed to the actual colour (yellow, blue, red, green etc.) itself. It is used to give shape to form and depth to a picture. Different pigments require different techniques to obtain lighter/darker variants. For instance, in order to lighten the tone of ultramarine blue, the painter adds white, whereas to darken lead-tin yellow he adds a darker tint - but not black, as this makes the yellow look greenish in colour.
Tonal pattern
The tonal character or pattern of a painting can be demonstrated by taking a black & white photograph of it. For example many of Rembrandt's pictures will appear very dark (low tonal key), in contrast to those of Impressionist Claude Monet that characteristically will appear quite light (high tonal key).
A thin scrape of paint which is used to assess pigment qualities over a white background. Often used by painters to determine how washes or glazes will look in painting.
The value or brightness of a colour is based on the amount of light emanating from it. The brighter the colour, the higher its value. Thus, for example, a Prussian blue emits less light and therefore has less value than (say) a sky blue.
The liquid portion of paint, in which the pigment is dispersed. Usually consists of binder and thinner.
Warm Colours
These traditionally encompass colours like red, orange and yellow, because they appear warm and evoke images of warm things like the sun, sunshine or fire.


Bismuth white: (also termed: Bougival and pearl white) Bismuth nitrate. It had a brief use in the early 19th century, but it is fugitive, and darkens when coming into contact with other pigments that contain sulphur. Now obsolete, being replaced by zinc white.
Chalk: Calcium carbonate. One of the whitest substances known. It has no use as a pigment with oil, although when mixed with an aqueous alue medium it makes an excellent ground for tempera or oil and retains its brilliant whiteness. It is the basis for most pastels and coloured chalks.
Cremnitz white: High-quality corroded white lead made by a 19th-century method that uses litharge instead of metallic lead that is employed with the Dutch process to make flake white.
Foundation white: A cheap pigment prepared from barium and zinc salts. Main uses being for grounding and with some low-grade paints.
Tin white: Tin oxide. First mention is in a 16th-century manuscript where a recipe for its manufacture is given. It was used for illuminating with little satisfaction. Van Dyck experimented with it ground in oil, also Mytens who found that it blackened in sunlight.
Titanium white: Titanium dioxide. Its properties as a pigment were known from 1870 or earlier, but it was not marketed for artists until 1920. Advantage over flake white is that it is non-poisonous and not so liable to be affected by atmospheric pollution.
Zinc white: Zinc oxide. First made and sold in France towards the end of the 18th century. It has similar advantages to titanium white.


Aureolin: Cobalt-potassium nitrite. A strong transparent yellow discovered by NW Fischer, Breslau in 1830; first introduced as a paint pigment by Saint-Evre, Paris, 1852; introduced to England about 1860. Supersedes gamboge for water-colour, is suitable for glazing with oils.
Aurora yellow: Sulphide of cadmium. A variety of cadmium yellow introduced by Winsor and Newton in 1889.
Cadmium yellow: Sulphide of cadmium. Discovered in 1817 and introduced commercially in 1846. There is a range from pale yellow through to orange. For many artists cadmium colours have superseded the chrome colours.
Chrome yellow: Lead chromate. Originally discovered when chemists were examining a natural lead chromate, chrocoite, in the Beresof gold-mine in Siberia in 1770. Introduced as a colour in 1797. As with cadmium there is a range of yellows through to orange; the chrome, however, can react with other pigments.
Gold: 15th- and 16th-century writers mention the use of gold for water-colour painting also for illuminating letters. The grinding of gold to a powder presents difficulties as the metal is so soft. There is a mention of this being done in honey, and then the honey being washed away.
Indian yellow: An obsolete lake (colour) that was produced by heating the urine of cows that had been fed on mango leaves. It came to England in 1786 although its method of manufacture was a mystery until the late 19th century. Owing to the cows being wasted by their diet, production was stopped in 1908, and a substitute synthetic colour introduced.
Naples yellow: Lead antimoniate. Traces said to have been identified in Babylonian tiles dating back to the 5th century BCE. Cennini in Il Libro dell' Arte supposed that it was a native earth from Vesuvius. It has been made artificially from at least the 15th century. Works well ground in oil.
Orpiment: (also termed: King's yellow, auripigmentum, arsenic yellow, Chinese yellow) It occurs in early Egyptian, Syrian and Persian work, also in Chinese cave-paintings. It is a yellow sulphide of arsenic and a number of natural deposits occur in Asia and Europe. Although quite widely used artists disliked it because of its highly poisonous nature and unpleasant smell.
Saffron: A fugitive colour prepared from the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus. Its use dates from Roman times. Used by illuminators although frowned on by Hilliard as of dubious value.
Turner's yellow: (also termed: Kassler yellow, Verona yellow, Cassel yellow) Lead oxychloride. Patented in 1781 by the English colour-maker James Turner. His recipe was plagiarized by his competitors and he nearly ruined himself with lawsuits against them. Obsolete today, but gathering from the mention in writings it must have had considerable popularity in the late 18th century and the 19th.
Yellow Ochre: An opaque pigment, a clay coloured by iron oxide. One of the artist's basic colours from prehistoric times through to the present day. Ochres are mined all over the world; some of the best coming from the south of France.


Alizarin crimson: Dihydroxyanthraquinone. A derivative of anthracene, a coal-tar product. The alizarins also include red, scarlet, lake, violet and yellow. All colours are transparent, useful for glazes; but tend with oils to be slow driers. They were discovered in 1868 by two German chemists, C Graebe and C Liebermann.
Brazil wood lake: A blood-red natural dyestuff produced from the wood. It was introduced to Europe in the 16th century. The derivation of brazil, also earlier spelt brasil, is from the Old French braise, live coals. The South American country was named after this product not the colour from the country.
Cadmium red: Cadmium sulphide and cadmium selenide. Introduced by de Haen in Germany in 1907, general use in England after 1919, although Robersons were supplying it in 1912. It replaces vermilion. Both light and dark cadmium reds are clean, strong colours with considerable tinting strength.
Carmine: A warm rich red dyestuff extracted from cochineal insects found in Central America. It held an important place on the artist's palette from the 16th century until the late 19th and early 20th when it was passed over by the more reliable alizarins. An illustration of the pains some of the earlier painters were prepared to go to in preparing their colours comes in John Smith's The Art of Painting in Oyl published in 1701: "Buy at the Drugists some good Cochinele, about halfe an ounce will go a great way. Take Thirty or Forty Grains, bruise them in a Gally-Pot to fine pouder, then put to them as many Drops of the Tartar Lye as will just wet it, and make it give forth its Colour; and immediately add to it half a spoonful of Water, or more if the Colour be yet too deep, and you will have a delicate Purple Liquor or Tincture. Then take a bit of Allum, and with a Knife scrape very finely a very little of it into the Tincture, and this will take a way the Purple Colour, and make it a delicate Crimson. Strain this through a fine Cloath into a clean Gaily-Pot, and use it as soon as you can, for this is a Colour that always looks most Noble when soon made use of, for it will decay if it stands long."
Cinnibar: A native vermilion, inferior to the manufactured product. Traces of it have been found in Assyrian relics and other early cultures. Theophrastus in his History of Stones records an instance of an outcropping of cinnibar ore on high difficult Spanish cliffs, and how it was worked by shooting arrows to dislodge the ore.
Folium: A red-purple colour from vegetable origins in use in medieval times. Now superceded and replaced by alizarin.
Indian red: Ferric oxide. Originally a native earth imported from the East. First manufactured in the early 18th century. Supposedly introduced to England by the American painter Benjamin West, the term was used by early American artists to describe a colour typical of an earth used by the Indians.
Kermes: A red dye that comes from the insect Coccus ilicis which inhabits an evergreen oak growing in southern Europe and orth Africa. Used in Roman and medieval times. It was rendered more or less obsolete by cochineal and Brazil wood. The name kermes is Persian, the Old English name for it is grain.
Light red: (also termed: English red, Prussian red, colcothar, and Persian red) Ferric oxide. Calcined yellow ochre. A pigment with considerable opacity and tinting power.
Madder: One of the lake or dry pigments made from the root of the madder plant or garance, Rubia tinctorum. It is thought to be the rubia mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Traces have been found in paintings from Egyptian and Greco-Roman times. Probably brought to Italy by the Crusaders. By the 13th century the plant was being cultivated in many places in Europe, notably Holland. The colour does not appear to have been used in medieval or Renaissance painting. It had its greatest vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Minium: Red lead. The name in early times was applied by the Romans to their native vermilion and cinnibar; it was not applied to red lead until the Middle Ages. The word miniature is derived from miniate, meaning to paint with minium. Obsolete as a pigment for the artist today, its chief use is as a primer for steel work.
Realgar: Native arsenic disulphide. Small deposits have been found in all parts of the world, and traces of its use for colouring have come to light on relics from the most primitive civilizations.
Safflower: A red lake made from the dried petals of the safflower plant, Carthamus tinctorius. In use from ancient times for painting and dyeing textiles.
Terra Pozzuoli: A red earth originally produced at Pozzuoli (Puteoli), Italy. A popular red used by the Renaissance fresco-painters. It has a characteristic of setting very hard like cement.
Vermilion: (also zinnober) Mercuric sulphide. A very heavy, powerful and poisonous pigment. Used in China from an early date and introduced to Europe in the 8th century. John Smith in The Art of Painting in Oyl gives a description for making it that smacks of alchemy: "Take six Ounces of Brimstone and melt it in an Iron-Ladle, then put two Pound of Quicksilver into a Shammy Leather, or double Linnen-Cloth, squeeze it from thence into the melted Brimstone, stirring them in the mean time with a wooden Spatula, till they are well united, and when cold, beat the mass into a Powder, and sublime it in a glass Vessel, with a strong Fire, and it will arise into that red substance which we call artificial Cinaber, or Vermillion." Now superseded by cadmium red.


Azurite: Native basic copper carbonate. Dates from at least as early as the Roman times. Had a long run as an important blue for tempera and water-colour until being superseded by smalt in the 17th century.
Cerulean: Cobalt stannate. It is made by roasting cobalt and tin oxides. Late-18th-century colour-makers tried to find a successful method, but the process was eventually perfected by Hopfner, Germany, in 1805. It was introduced as an artist's colour by George Rowney, England, in 1870.
Cobalt blue: (also Thenards blue)
A compound of cobalt oxide, aluminium oxide and phosphoric acid. It was discovered by Baron Thenard, France, in 1802. Introduced for artists about 20 years later and replaced unsatisfactory colours, such as smalt.
Egyptian blue: (also termed: Alexandrian blue, Vestorian blue) The oldest manufactured colour, a mixture of copper silicates. It was used in Egypt from about 3000 BCE. It was imported into Mesopotamia, Crete and other Mediterranean lands. Vitruvius records that the process was brought from Alexandria to Pozzuoli in the 1st century BCE.
French ultramarine: An artificial ultramarine, a complex combination of alumina, silica, soda and sulphur. The process was made viable by a Frenchman, Guimet, in 1828. Economically it has replaced true ultramarine.
Frit: A vitreous blue with a low tinting power known from early Egyptian times.
Indigo: It is produced by extraction and precipitation, using the leaves of the plant Indigofera found in India. It was an important trading item with the East India Company, which had to keep a strict eye open for contamination. Today the natural colour has been replaced by a synthetic made from coal tar. Pliny the Elder writes about: 'the slime of India's rivers [indigo] and the blood of her dragons and elephants'. The Greeks and Romans would have had it in use from the 1st century CE.
Prussian blue: (also termed: Berlin blue, bronze blue, Paris blue and paste blue) Ferric ferrocyanide. It was discovered by Diesbach, Berlin, in 1704, and it is the first synthetic pigment with an established date. The process was kept secret until 1724, when it was published in England by John Woodward. Varieties of the colour are called: Antwerp blue, Brunswick blue, celestial blue. Monthier blue and soluble blue.
Smalt: A type of cobalt blue glass or frit. Manufactured in the Netherlands in the 16th century. It survived until the introduction of French ultramarine and then lost popularity owing to its weak tinting power and rather unpleasant gritty feel in working.
Ultramarine: The most expensive pigment, worth more than twice its weight in gold. It is produced by grinding the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, and then by a complicated process separating the blue from the grey gangue rock associated with it in nature. One of the best deposits is in the Kokcha Valley in Afghanistan. Its use as a pigment in Europe dates from the 12th century. It has a distinctive very slight warm blush which makes it very difficult to match with synthetic blues. Hans van Meegeren used it in his Vermeer forgeries, and the fact that Winsor and Newton had supplied him with fairly large quantities was evidence at his trial.
Ultramarine ash: A delicate blue-grey pigment with low tinting power. It is made from lapis lazuli and the grey gangue rock with which it is found in nature.
Woad: Produced from the leaves of Jsatis tinctoria which was extensively cultivated in Britain from very early times. It was replaced by the arrival of indigo. The two colours are so similar in chemical composition, that it is almost impossible to differentiate them in old paintings.


Emerald: (also termed: Schweinfurt green, Scheele's green) Copper aceta-arsenite. Discovered by Scheele, Sweden, in 1788, and first produced commercially as a pigment by Russ and Sattler in Schweinfurt in 1814 and marketed in 1816.
Hooker's green: A dark green produced from a mixture of gamboge and Prussian blue. Malachite: Native basic carbonate of copper. Used as a pigment by the earliest civilizations.
Oxide of Chromium: Known since 1809, although there is a possibility it was being used by the Sevres factory and at Limoges at an earlier date. A strong, safe tinting pigment with a cool willow-green hue.
Sap green: (also termed: Bladder green, Iris green and verd vessie) An obsolete lake produced from unripe buckthorn berries. It faded rapidly and is today replaced by a blend of chlorinated copper phthalocyanine.
Terre Verte: A native clay coloured by small amounts of iron and manganese. It was popular in Italy from earliest recorded times, especially for fresco and tempera. It is quite transparent and has a low tinting power.
Verdigris: Hydrated copper acetate. One of the earliest manufactured pigments; it was produced by the Greeks and Romans and lasted in fairly general use until the 19th century. Montpellier in France was an important centre for the making of the pigment, where according to travellers strange processes were involved. A quantity of sour red wine would be poured into an earthenware jar to a depth of about 3 in (80 mm); grape stalks previously soaked in wine, and small copper plates were placed in alternate layers on a grille above the level of the sour wine; this allowed the acid fumes from the sour wine to penetrate. After a few days the copper plates were turned. Another lapse of several days and then the plates were removed and placed in small piles then to be soaked with the same sour wine. Lastly each pile was subjected to pressure for about a week, and then the plates were separated and the accumulated verdigris was scraped off, moulded into balls with a little wine and sold.
Viridian: (also termed: Casali's green, Mittler's green, Cuignet green) Hydrated chromium hydroxide. It was first made in Paris in 1838 by Pannetier and Binet by a secret process. In 1859 the method was published by Cuignet and the colours made available to artists. It was introduced to England in 1862 by Winsor and Newton.


Asphaltum: (also termed: Bitumen) A dark brown mixture of asphalt and oil or turpentine. Sources for the asphalt include Trinidad and the Dead Sea area. It is not a true pigment. Sadly during the second half of the 18th century and the 19th many painters in oil fell a victim to the lure of this warm brown that could provide a glow to areas of the canvas. Whether asphaltum is applied as a glaze or thickly, it is always very detrimental to an oil-painting, cracking severely, coalescing into hard lumps and often bleeding into neighbouring colours.
Bistre: A yellowish-brown soot produced by charring beech wood. It was widely used for water-colour wash-drawings and monochrome work from the 14th century until the 19th. This in spite of the fact that it fades appreciably.
Mummy: (also termed: Egyptian brown) The most macabre of artist's colours. In the 16th century mummified bodies were imported to England from Egypt, generally being taken from the mass graves near the Pyramids. At first they were used for making internal medicines and then tried out as a pigment. The dry powdered mummy is a warm dark brown in colour and has a faint odour, rather pleasant, of spices and embalming materials. It was safer than asphaltum in an oil-glaze, and many artists in the 19th century liked it for watercolour. In general it should be obsolete today as the export of the mummies is forbidden, but examples of the colour can still be found.
Sepia: A semi-transparent warm brown pigment obtained from the ink sac of the cuttlefish. It was used by the Romans and its greatest popularity was between 1780 and the end of the 19th century. It was used not only for wash work but also as an ink for sketching.
Umber: A native earth similar to sienna but with a greater proportion of manganese. Burnt umber is made in a similar manner to burnt sienna. The burnt is considerably warmer than the raw which is of cool green-grey-brown tint.
Van Dyck brown: (also termed: Cassel earth, Cologne earth) A native earth composed of clay, decomposed vegetable matter, iron oxide and bitumen. In colour it has a black-brown appearance and is a bad drier in oils and it will fade in watercolour.


Archil: A dye obtained from various lichens that was then treated with an alkali to develop a violet tint.
Tyrian purple: The famous imperial purple dye of the Romans; it was also used by the Greeks. The dye was prepared from the shellfish Murex trunculis and Murex brandaris. In 1908 Friedlander found the colouring matter of this ancient dye was the same chemically as purple coal tar that had been introduced in 1904·


Davy's grey: A weak pigment made from powdered slate, that had some popularity in the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Payne's grey: Another prepared colour similar to the above. This time it is mixed from alizarin crimson, lampblack, Prussian blue and French ultramarine for water-colour. For oil it is mixed from Davy's grey, lampblack, mars red and French ultramarine. Main uses are as for neutral tint.


Black lead: An obsolete name for graphite, which was also known as plumbago, before the composition of graphite was known. The names continued up till the early part of the 19th century. Graphite itself is an allotropic form of pure carbon that is greyish black, crystalline and greasy. These characteristics limit its use as a pigment but make it ideal for pencils or drawing-sticks. Graphite was first mined in England at Borrowdale in 1664. It is mixed with clay for use in pencils, a discovery that seems to have been made simultaneously in 1795 by Nicolas Jacques Conte in France and Joseph Hardmuth in Austria.
Ivory black: The vast majority of this pigment is made by charring bones. A very fine quality is still made by charring ivory chips. Equally satisfactory in oil- or water-colour. Mixed with cadmium yellow it will produce a range of luscious, strong, bright greens.
Lampblack: Pure carbon pigment, a fluffy light powder collected from burning oils and fats. The most widely used pigment in the black group. It is not so intense or velvety as ivory black. It has been used since the earliest periods.
Vine black: (also termed: grape black, mare black and yeast black) A somewhat impure carbon pigment with a slight bluish undertone that is made by burning selected vegetable materials, such as grape vines and other such substances.