"When 80 percent of human experience is filtered through the eyes, we understand that the choice in color is critical."

Welcome to Vol. I. of our new newsletter, Arc en Ciel. We are using this platform to discuss color and its importance to artists. No secret to you, we love color. We love color so much that we surround ourselves with hundreds of hues each day at our shops and hope to share them with you. 

Color defines us. In childhood a color might be a part of your identify. As artists, the colors we choose help us tell our stories. Color is spirited, nuanced, expressive, loud, and soft. It has the ability to control. It has the ability to make you feel something. The landscape of color is constantly evolving; it describes our environment and it defines culture. 

Arc en Ciel translates from French to English as arc in the sky, or rainbow. We're going to choose a different color each volume and discuss its history, chemical properties, pop culture significance, art material composition and how to use it in vibrant ways. Think of it as a color story. What is color? What makes a color so potent & rich and such an important part of life? Celebrate color with us.

Let's Color this Town.

Pigments are the raw materials in a painting. It's quite simple: pigments are colored molecules. They are insoluble materials that impart color and have the ability to mask the surface they are applied to, changing it into what we call a work of art. 

Innovations in pigment production define the evolution of art and artists, usually this follows revolutions and industrialization, and since pigment marks surfaces with integrity and vitality we can pinpoint the starting point of Western Art. Prehistoric Cave paintings dating from 20,000 BC show the first use of pigment to create a work of art. Gathering materials from the surrounding natural environment, prehistoric era artists were able to make marks on cave walls. It sounds simple, but the way we paint today doesn't actually stray too far from the prehistoric process of mixing pigment (earth, carbons, clay) with animal fat (we usually mix raw pigment with a nice fatty alkaline oil, like refined linseed). Color is history. 

Some of our favorite uses of the color coral in Art History are in the era of the Rococo. 18th Century French art was full of flirty, frilly romanticism with the Rococo style. The French had just abandoned the more rigid Baroque era that had strictly defined rules and darker palette and were beginning to loosen up quite a bit. Artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard were painting playful scenes of women (and young men suitors not so subtly toying) with flushed cheeks, lips in hues of red, pink, and orange, and an entire palette of pastel pigments to boot. Life was good and Rococo art showed young love on the prowl. Use of color was provocative. Coral hues found a really fun home.


The first recorded use of coral as a color in English was in 1513, while first record of coral pink used as a color name was much later, in 1892. Pigments of coral exist in shades or orange, red, and pink, and they are named after those cnidarians found in nature. Coral colonies are small animals embedded in calcium carbonate shells living beneath the seawater of the ocean. It is a mistake to think of coral as plants or rocks, although coral reefs are sometimes called "sea gardens."

Carotene is the natural cause of color in pink-to-red coral. It is an orange or red plant pigment found in carrots and many other plant structures. Carotene is a carotenoid, and carotenoids are responsible for a very broad range of colors in both plants and animals. For example, tomatoes are red due to lycopene, flamingos are pink due to the presence of astaxanthin in their diet, egg yolks and corn are yellow due to xanthophylls; all of these chemical colorants are carotenoids.

Coral is fished either by divers or boats that drag nets across sea beds, collecting uprooted coral bushes. Coral is a relatively soft material, and when ground up, yields a pale pink powder that the Chinese and Japanese made into paint for certain purposes as early as the 8th century in Japan. Precious coral has also been widely used throughout history in sculpture and jewelry. Today, most coral hues found in paint consist of man-made pigments.

Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colors
Beautiful raw materials | Old World Recipes | Finest Pigments and binders

Pigment List:
PW 6 | Titanium Dioxide Rutile (white)
PW 4 | Zinc Oxide (transparent white)
PR 112 | Napthol AS-D (red - yellow red)
PY 154 | Benzimidazolone Yellow H3G (yellow)
PV 19 | Quinacridone (deep red - violet)

A rich, intense color with extremely good covering power. Like an old world rose with a slight cool, bluish glow, but with a heart of orange.

Pigment List:
PW 6 | Titanium Dioxide Rutile (white)
PW 4 | Zinc Oxide (transparent white)
PO 36 | Benzimidazolone Orange HL (orange)
PY 154 | Benzimidazolone Yellow H3G (yellow)
PV 19 | Quinacridone (deep red - violet)

One of those mysterious colors that could feel like pale, warm apricot, or in the right light, have a rosy, pink glow.

Pigment List:
PV 19 | Quinacridone

Many companies use the term “rose” for this pigment, which means that they are thinning out an intense ruby-like red. This beauty is absolutely full strength. A superb mixing color. The cleanest pinks, flesh tones, and violets can be made with it. Perfect for mixing a coral.

There's a bit of hearsay that the quinacridone structure was first discovered in 1896 (Source 1). Quinacridones range from yellowish-red to violet hues & they have excellent fastness and resistance properties. It was not until 1935, however, that a quinacridone suitable for use as a pigment synthesized. So, quinacridones are actually pretty modern.

R&F Handmade Paints
R&F’s encaustics are milled with the time-honored methods of paintmaking. They use 100% pure pharmaceutical grade (USP) beeswax, which has been filtered without the use of chemicals, Singapore-grade damar resin and a heavy pigment load. All of this results in the highest quality artist paints on the market.

PV 19 | Quinacridone Pigment (deep red - violet)
PR 108 | c.p. Cadmium Sulfo-selenide (orange)
PY 37 | c.p. Cadmium Sulfide (yellow)
PW 6 | Titanium Dioxide (white)
PW 7 |  Zinc Sulfide (transparent white)

PO 20 | c.p. Cadmium Sulfo-selenide (orange)
PY 37 | c.p. Cadmium Sulfide (yellow)
PR 101 | Iron Oxide (earthy red)
PW6 | Titanium Dioxide (white)
PW4 | Zinc Sulfide (transparent white)

Yellow cadmium sulfide was actually discovered by Friedrich Stromeyer, a German chemist, in 1817 when he observed a sample of zinc carbonate that formed an oxide that was bright yellow in color and not at all white (OOPS!). Stromeyer discovered that the color was due to a new element, which he identified and named cadmium. Cadmium was pretty scarce at the time, but it was suitable for an artists pigment. In the 1840s the yellow pigment became available to artists as cadmium began being produced industrially (Source 1). It is great mixing pigment; add a bit of white (titanium dioxide), a red or two, and quinacridone to get a perfect hue of coral. 

Colors are imbued with feeling, meaning, and cultural significance for their time and place.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, precious coral was believed to provide powers of healing and protection. Children wore talismans of precious coral around their necks to ward off disease or wounds from scorpions or arachnids. Coral was inlaid into cutlery, as it was believed to detect poison in food by changing color. In Greek Mythology, when Perseus laid down briefly Medusa's head at the Red Sea, corals were said to have been formed of her blood that had spilled onto the seaweed by the shore. Today the Greek word for coral is Gorgeia, as Medusa was one of the three Gorgons. It is also interesting to note that some species of coral are called medusa.

In Tibetan Buddhism, a similar curious belief was that coral was supposed to lighten in color and become pale if the wearer were ill or even exposed to illness, or were given poison. The coral would then darken as the wearer recovered. Coral was also associated with blood; stopping the flow of blood from a wound, strengthening blood, lending health and support to the menstruation of women. Red coral is still considered a sacred color, one of the colors of the five Buddhas and the color of monks' garments. It is believed to have protective qualities and is therefore often used to paint sacred buildings. In neighboring China, coral is a symbol of longevity, and in India it is thought to prevent hemorrhages. It is associated with curing madness, imparting wisdom, and calming storms (Source 2).

Coral’s complementary color is teal, which brings to mind retro kitchens and Cadillacs, does it not? If so, it’s likely because in the early 1950s, clear, crisp, pastel colors were the order of the day. Toward the later part of the decade, the public gravitated to a more deeply saturated mid-tone palette, coming to include aqua, turquoise, salmon and coral red. These shades became signature colors of the era and reflected a tremendous sense of optimism as Americans cast off the uncertain and harsh political climate of the late 40s and WWII, and transitioned into happier times of peace and “good vibrations” on the home front (Source 3).

Are you a 90s kid and really feeling the color of coral? This might be why: in the decade of “anti-fashion,” teenage and pre-teen girls often opted for brightly-colored neon clothing: hot pinks, greens, blues, oranges, and yellows. But by 1992 these day-glo hues were replaced by softer shades like coral, turquoise, and lilac. Comfort became de rigeur as trendsetters rejected the uncomfortable clothing trends of the previous decade (Source 4).

By Our Lovely Depo Proprietress Jules Webster
A side by side comparison of these two paintings by Jules illustrates the characteristic differences in luminosity and depth of paint when working with oil or acrylic, as well as the difference in line quality possible when working on a “rough” canvas vs. a pre-primed super smooth wooden panel manufactured by Ampersand. The painting on the left is an in-progress work Jules is completing in Debra Buchanan’s Oil Painting class, which will start again in our flagship Toledo location on Monday, November 7 at 11am, and Wednesday November 9 at 6pm.

Linseed oil is traditionally used as the binder for all oil paints, and is the binder for Canton Rose and Persian Rose Williamsburg Oil Paints, used by Jules to block in the upper left of the background. Linseed oil is wonderfully transparent and creates the illusion of greater depth of field, as light bounces through the paint and reflects back off the white Ampersand panel. Ampersand panels are manufactured to incredibly high standards, and each panel is sanded and inspected by hand to ensure the surface of each board is supreme. Buttery-rich Williamsburg Oils mixed with a touch of Deb Buchanan’s Oil Painting medium (sold in the store) makes a sensual and tactile mix that any artist would enjoy. Deb’s medium is a traditional medium comprised of one third each Linseed Oil, Dammar Varnish, and Turpentine with a touch of Japan Drier. The medium serves to extend the flow of the colors while also speeding dry time due to the tiny amount of Japan Drier included. Super-dark Courbet Green and the lovely light and “pop-y” Cinnabar Green Light Williamsburg Oil Colors were used as complement of sorts to the coral-red background to create visual interest and establish the light source for the painting as coming from the upper left.

The painting on the right in acrylic was completed in Donna Ebert’s Pop Art Floral Painting Class, to be repeated in our Bowling Green location Saturday, October 29 at 11am. This acrylic painting inspired the subsequent painting Jules is working on in the oils class with Deb, and a large number of other floral paintings on both canvas and pottery that Jules will debut before the holidays in the Toledo location. Donna’s classes are designed to be fast-paced, fun, easy, and inspiring for those with little to advanced painting skills. She uses Americana Multi-Surface Satin paints and Americana Crafter’s Acrylics on Art Advantage Value Priced Canvas with inexpensive chip and hog bristle brushes and sea wool sponges to guide her students through exercises in handling acrylics and painting in a decorative style. The background of this painting was blocked in quickly using a paper towel and a blend of red, yellow, and white Multi-Surface Satin Acrylics. Donna encourages students to work quickly and allow hints of red and yellow to show through, and not to blend the background into a solid coral color. As all acrylics are formulated with a binder that dries into a form of plastic, the background and subsequent layers retain a plastic-looking opaque sensibility that undeniably signals that an artist is working in acrylic as opposed to oils. Does this mean acrylics are inferior to oils? Not at all. They are just formulated to have different working characteristics. Artists looking to replicate the look of oils in acrylic should explore Golden Paints' vast array of gels and mediums that can be mixed with acrylics to achieve a more oil-painterly look and longer drying time for blending. Golden’s High Solid Gel in gloss can be blended with any brand of acrylic for a more oil-like feel on canvas, wood, paper or any common surface support. Want to make your canvas or paper surface smoother so your favorite shade of coral paint glides on easier? Consider re-gessoing the canvas with a smooth brush (like a foam brush that won’t leave streaks) to fill in the holes of the canvas weave. Alternatively, any type of Golden Gel in a gloss finish will fill the canvas weave and help paint to flow, and can also be used on paper to seal the surface and increase the flow of your acrylics.

Reference List

  1. Originally titled "A Colour Chemist's History of Western Art", published in Review of Progress in Coloration, Millennium Issue, Vol. 29, 1999, pp 43-64, Society of Dyers and Colourists, Bradford, UK.
  2. Wikipedia, The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art by Gerald W. R. Ward
  3. and the Pantone 20th Century in Color Book