jeanne dobie palette
Source: Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie. Watson-Guptill. © 1986 Jeanne Dobie.

12 : aureolin (? PY40), cadmium yellow (PY35), cadmium orange (PO20), cadmium red (PR108), indian red (PR101), light red (PR101), alizarin crimson (? PR83), rose madder genuine (? NR9), ultramarine blue (PB29), cobalt blue (PB28), phthalocyanine blue RS (PB15:1), viridian (PG18), phthalocyanine green YS (PG36) • Jeanne Dobie's original palette, described in her informative tutorial Making Color Sing, is an expanded version of the four color artist's primaries palette. Dobie has amplified the warm side of the palette with three saturated warm colors and two earth (iron oxide) reds; the cool side adds two dark blues and a second dark green.

Dobie describes herself as a "transparent" painter who builds color effects through layers (or "glazes") of diluted paint. Her palette therefore claims to make the most transparent and least staining paint selection — aureolin, rose madder genuine, cobalt blue, and viridian. To provide variety in paint handling attributes, she adds paints that are either staining or opaque — phthalo green (yellow shade), phthalo blue and ultramarine for darker cool colors, and the opaque cadmiums and iron oxide reds for radiant warm color and foundation tints that will not lift.

Dobie's choice of five saturated warm colors departs from the traditional split primary method of coping with saturation costs. Cadmium orange anchors the warm center of the span, with cadmium yellow to mix the orange out to a full range of yellows, and cadmium red to extends the mixtures in the other direction. Alizarin crimson anchors the extreme crimson end of the warm color range and creates relatively unsaturated purple mixtures with ultramarine blue; rose madder provides a more saturated pink that mixes brighter violets with blue.

However, note that the dullest cadmium pigments, applied as pure colors, are at yellow orange and deep red; the most saturated are cadmium scarlet and cadmium yellow medium. My preference is to choose a neutral cadmium yellow (with a hue angle around 80 to 85) and a cadmium scarlet (with a hue angle around 35 to 40), then to bridge the mixing span between them with a synthetic organic yellow orange, such as isoindolinone yellow (PY110) or nickel dioxine yellow (PY153) — both transparent and very saturated. The synthetic organic paint dilutes the opacity of the cadmiums in mixtures, and its saturation produces brighter mixtures at every hue.

In a choice that is consistent with the artists' primaries, Dobie widely separates her blues from her greens, which limits the saturation of mixed blue greens. In general Dobie prefers wide areas of subdued or grayed colors as settings for brilliant accents of pure color, and these grays can be mixed either from the red and green paints or the blue and orange/earth paints. The wide spacing among her colors means her mixed neutrals (and greens) will be highly variable, relatively easy to mix, and interesting to look at.

Dobie says she doesn't use burnt sienna because she finds it too opaque. This is a peculiar comment, as the burnt siennas made with transparent red iron oxide (PR101 rather than PBr7) are actually quite transparent; and there are few iron oxide pigments more opaque than the indian red (= venetian red) she recommends. She claims to use the red iron oxide only in dilute concentrations (as in the demonstration painting), or in tiny amounts to dull other warm paints, but its dulling effect can contrast unpleasantly with the cadmium or transparent pigments.

It's instructive to compare Dobie's original palette with the "Jeanne Dobie palette" offered as a packaged set by Daniel Smith:

the jeanne dobie extended palette

The important changes include substitution of quinacridone gold and quinacridone orange for the two iron oxide reds, the substitution of a synthetic organic red orange paint (PO43) for the cadmium orange, the convenience duplication of several colors, and the significant expansion and more even hue spacing of choices among the blue and green paints. This transforms her selection much closer to a colorist palette.

Paint Lightfastness. So that the novice painters and art collectors among you won't be misled, it's worth noting that Dobie's original palette includes three paints — aureolin (PY40), rose madder genuine (NR9), and alizarin crimson (PR83) — that have extensively documented and significant lightfastness problems. To defend her selection, Dobie cites a paint manufacturer:

"Winsor & Newton, with 160 years of pigment testing, has found that R.M.G. [rose madder genuine] used in paintings properly framed with UV protection and placed under normal conditions (not up against a window or in direct sunlight) has remained durable. The new pigments recently introduced are much stronger and extremely lightfast. As a result they have created a higher category classification which drops R.M.G. down to the next category. When I desire a delicate, glowing effect that cannot be obtained via any other pigment, I will use R.M.G. Therefore, you will need to decide for yourself when to use R.M.G. or P.R. [quinacridone rose]."

Well, it's a truism that you have to decide for yourself — but at least look at actual lightfastness test results for aureolin, rose madder genuine or alizarin crimson before you do. By quoting a paint manufacturer, Dobie implies that she has not done any lightfastness tests herself, although these tests are very easy to do.

Dobie's insinuation that rose madder is in the "next category" only because there are newer, more permanent paints to compare it to is blatantly false: it's in a lower category because it fades. The lightfastness categories used by the ASTM or the paint manufacturers are not at all designed to compare one pigment with another. They are designed to indicate the amount of time that a pigment will remain unchanged under normal conditions, that is, "not up against a window or in direct sunlight."

The "poor lightfastness, fugitive (IV)" rating given to both rose madder and alizarin crimson by the ASTM (and by everyone else who has actually tested these pigments) is not the "next category" below newer, permanent paints such as quinacridone rose (PV19) — which get a rating of "excellent lightfastness (I)." Rose madder and alizarin crimson are near the bottom of the rating scale — which means these pigments, under normal conditions, will visibly fade within ten to twenty years. What's worse, those pigments become even less lightfast when used in tints, which means those "delicate, glowing effects" Dobie claims to love will fade even faster than that. (Oh well, who said love lasts?)

It may seem puzzling that Dobie's assertions fly in the face of decades of accumulated testing results and curatorial experience, but these prejudices are actually not that uncommon among the "old master" ranks of workshop painters. Unfortunately, this perpetuates a situation in which watercolor paintings sell at depressed prices (because art collectors assume their value deteriorates with exposure), and watercolor paintings are rarely and only briefly displayed by fine galleries or museums (because curators assume they will fade). This double disparagement devalues the medium for everyone who uses it.

Dobie recently (April, 2003) edited the comments quoted above to delete some of her misleading claims about lightfastness ratings, but she still recommends rose madder genuine to her students for its "delicate, glowing effect that cannot be obtained via any other pigment," and she lists the permanent and impermanent pigments together under the happy slogan, "Enjoy using them all!" The question remains: why do workshop artists use and recommend materials that they know relegates their work to a stepchild status in the art market?

In a "palette update" at her web site, Dobie describes her palette of more lightfast Daniel Smith paints (shown above). She incorrectly states that Winsor & Newton is "the only manufacturer that makes a permanent alizarin crimson." That's Winsor & Newton's marketing name for their paint made primarily with quinacridone pyrrolidone (quinacridone carmine), a beautiful and relatively lightfast Ciba-Geigy pigment that is currently also offered as a watercolor paint by Holbein and Schmincke.