What is paint ?

par Terrance Depietro

Pigments métalliques

Pigments cadmiums

The most basic answer to this question, may help you to realize that the materials of an artist/painter are not mysteries. In fact, they are simply “tools” and need to be understood in order to make the best use of them.

Without going further, paint is: pigment (=color) in a substance, generally of liquid or paste form (= vehicle, binder, medium); that can be, picked up and placed on to a surface (=support i.e. a canvas, paper, board, etc.); where it will stay in the position desired and dry there by affixing itself to the support. But, as much could be said of “house” paint; so what separates or distinguishes, “Artist Paints” from house paint or children's paints or the rest?

If this appears hopelessly simplistic, then you are on your way to understanding; because there is no mystery and the process does not have to be confusing or complicated. It involves an understanding of what qualifies as a Binder and what characteristics one needs or is looking for in the pigments used in the various techniques he wishes to work. The easiest way to examine this subject, is to forget about the one “universal” ingredient, that is “Pigment” and make logical what binders determine the different techniques, i.e. watercolor, gouache, acrylic, oil, encaustic, inks, oil/dry pastel, etc. These are all techniques and the “paint” for each of them differs because the Binder is different. The one thing that remains constant is Pigment.

Pigments Vermillon, Bleu de Manganèse et Violet de Cobalt

Once you understand that and have pigments available in your studio, you are able to move from one technique (=medium) to another. This knowledge you gain, expands your ability to communicate in images because it opens the doors to all the potential techniques in which images can present themselves, without needing to duplicate, in purchase, a palette of colors for each and every technique. You simply join your pigment with the desired Binder (in the quantity you desire) and move on to that technique. Oil paint = pigment in linseed oil; watercolor = pigment in a solution of gum arabic & water; gouache uses the same binder as watercolor, except it has the characteristic of being “opaque”( or if you are out of gum arabic, replace it with another water soluble binder, such as, casein, starch, egg yolk or a less soluble binder, like acrylic). For the encaustic enthusiast, move between hot and cold techniques easily; for the print-maker, make the smallest quantity of an expensive colored ink, without buying a pound-can that will skin over before you ever touch it again.

At today's prices for “Quality” materials, there is an endless list of reasons why an artist should take the time to understand the materials; and for those who would substitute, in favor of the “bargain brands”, remember that with the lowering of quality, you arrive with paints that do not work really well, nor carry with them the characteristics you may be looking for or expect. A case in point is the industries substitution of traditional pigments, with cost effective pigments that resemble the real thing but fall short in the manner they work because the characteristics are simply different. Ask a Carpenter to work with cheap tools and he will quickly walk back to his truck; a fine artist, ough to be the same.bullet


Terrance Depietro is an american painter who showcased his work across Canada and United States for the past 20 years. He also used dry pigments while making his own painting mediums during this period.


the ploygonal realm
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