Home > Painting, Uncategorized > Basic Information: Easy Summer Sky & Real Cobalt Blue

Basic Information: Easy Summer Sky & Real Cobalt Blue

July 7, 2011

Blues have a wide rage of hues and some can be greenish.  So which one is the easiest color to use for the sky shown above?  I use three colors for painting a fast and easy summer sky:

  • Cobalt blue
  • Titanium White
  • Payne’s gray for shadows in clouds, used sparingly

A true cobalt blue paint can be one of the more expensive colors you can buy, if it is real.  If you ever noticed how some paints cost more, especially certain colors of fine oil paints, this is due to the ingredients formulating the color.  Cobalt was more plentiful in the past than it is today and in heavier use in various types of manufacturing. 

Unlike other elements, like titanium, which is finely powdered to provide the pigment [colorant] of the paint, thus making it white, cobalt needs an extra step that increases its cost of manufacture.  Traditionally, the element cobalt is used to color glass which is then ground up into a super fine powder then mixed with the paint binder [oils, acrylics, gouache].  If the price is lower -series 1 or series 2 tier pricing- the paint has pulled off the look of cobalt without actually using cobalt.  Oil paint manufacturers do not like to absorb the costs of manufacturing materials and particularly adhere to pricing tiers called “series”.   The higher the series number, the higher the price.

I checked Jerry’s Artarama online, and current as of today found Charvin Paris Extra Fine oil paints “Cobalt Blue Genuine” indicated as series 5 listing for one tiny 20 mL tube at $20.89 USD, 64 mL at $44.64 [sold out] and the 150 mL tube at $89.29.  (I wish I knew how strong the shade was out of the tube; fancy oil paints are not in my budget at this time.)  Between the ground glass step in manufacturing and trying to keep prices down, some varieties have the legitimate cobalt blue pigment but it is thinned or very translucent.  I have been carefully nursing a 37 mL tube of Windsor & Newton’s economy oil brand Winton cobalt blue for a few years now, which I got with a half price coupon for a large chain craft store.  I use these coupons to strategically snag high end oil paints, like series 3 or series 4 colors, including cobalt blue.  The coupons are offered by major retailers as a loss-leader to get you into the store and buy other things, thus generating profit.  I buy the discounted paint tube and leave.

To illustrate the range of colors people call “cobalt”, I took three of my drinking glasses outside with a piece of white paper.

  1. Antique – this wine  glass is over 100 years old: real cobalt.
  2. Contemporary – this cheap thing  from the dollar store isn’t even close: fake.
  3. Vintage – Circa 1970s, a bright color many like and call cobalt: fake.

The electric blue shade of fake cobalt is a color I like myself, but you can see the radical difference from the real cobalt antique glass.  The best way to know if you are getting the real cobalt from the paints is to read the label and see if cobalt is listed as a pigment.  If the paint has “cobalt” as a color name but does not list the pigments in the paint, it can be a hue or approximation of real cobalt. 

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Categories: Painting, Uncategorized
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