Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why We Can't Quit Alizarin Crimson

It's only been a couple of years since I started taking watercolour class so I'm not going to pretend like I know everything there is to know about it, but I do know that everyone refers to Alizarin Crimson as the "fugitive" colour. I had no idea what that meant and before taking watercolour class I never even used the colour. Since I have been using it I know that it's a wonderful mixing colour and makes painting sunsets easier than without it. It's also an overpowering colour. As my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Mayle, would say, a little dab'll do ya. It only takes a little, which makes it even more puzzling. The fugitive reputation comes from the fact that it fades, probably faster than any other pigment out there. So it really is more of a bully pigment, or the pop star of pigments. All show and no staying power. Yea, it's the pop star of pigments.
The other day my friend Deb sent me a link to an article about this very topic. http://www.justpaint.org/alizarin-crimson-now-you-see-it/  It shows a before and after and just how much it can fade. I recently switched to the M.Graham Alizarin Crimson permanent, which is not the same thing as Alizarin Crimson, but sure looks the same. I switched because they were all out of Alizarin Crimson at the store.  It costs a bit more than AC, but if it's not going to fade and works just as well I'll keep working with it.
I was just at a demo the other day and the artist said he uses Ultramarine Violet on his palette, but you could get the same results with Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson. Well, if Ultramarine Violet doesn't fade as much as Alizarin Crimson then maybe that's an option to put on your palette for your purples.  I do a majority of my work on location and therefore need to pack as little as possible, so I'm not wanting to add new paint to my own palette.
What I'm curious about now is what happens when you mix Alizarin Crimson with another colour, like blue to get your violets. This painting above, I used the permanent Alizarin Crimson with Burnt Sienna to get that brown colour of the building. For this particular painting it might be interesting to watch it fade over time, much like the paint on the actual building will, but for those looking for a more permanent solution, what is it? A lot of blogs and articles simply tell you to keep it off your palette, but then what do you replace it with? It's such a great mixing colour that now I'm not sure I can give it up. This is a tricky one. In a way you could compare it to eating healthy vs. the strict diet of cheeseburgers and nachos I tend to stick to. (I WISH!) My Grams always tells me, eat dessert first you could die tomorrow and how sad that you didn't save room for that piece of pie. Yea, so eat what you like and paint with the pigments that make you happy. EXCEPT most artists have to consider what is going to happen to their work after they eat their last piece of pie. The work will outlive the artist so there's that to keep in mind. Is it important for us to consider that or do we try to adopt a different attitude about the permanence of our work and what that Alizarin Crimson will do 100 years from now?


  1. Maybe we just have trouble transitioning to a new color? I'm SLOWLY catching on to using a quinacridone rose type substitute. Even getting to prefer it in some cases. But no two pigments will ever mix the same - how could they? At one point alizarin was new to me (all my paints were) and I learned its range. So my issue is either a slower learning curve or laziness. Rose madder replaced something and alizarin replaced rose madder. Alizarin was one of the first "synthetic organics". The alizarin substitutes are synthetic organics too...this nightmare may not be over!

  2. I used to use rose madder but with illustration work you never worry too much about permanence. It's a tough one. Wonder how well that human blood holds up the surgeon was using in that show?