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Old 05-17-2010, 01:52 PM
gunzorro's Avatar
gunzorro gunzorro is offline
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Natural Pigments' Rublev Oil Paints

George O’Hanlon, owner of Natural Pigments has been an outstanding technical recourse on this and other forums for many years. There is no dispute about his knowledge of painting and painting materials, including his years on the ASTM committee, along with the likes of Virgil Elliott.

Like all the readers here, I owe George a debt of gratitude for all his contributions to our understanding of oil paints and other materials.

Despite that debt, I am progressing here with a review of the products produced by Natural Pigments, and hope this is regarded as the same type review I would give any maker, where I owed them thanks or not.

George did not contribute directly to this comparison, either with technical advice or providing product samples.

I’ve been curious for quite a while about the Rublev brand paints offered by Natural Pigments. These paints are all based on natural pigments, as the name suggests. The result is a limited selection of mostly earth colors, along with some semi-precious stone varieties, but an incomplete chromatic spectrum, especially with regard to intense chroma.

The brand is purported to more or less duplicate the qualities of the handmade paints of the Old Masters.

My previous experience with NP had been limited to a selection of about ten dry pigments that I attempted to make into paints. I’ve published those results, which didn’t go well; due to the extremely large particle and agglomeration sizes making for very gritty “paint”. I sold those dry pigments on eBay a few years ago and developed a subdued interest in the Rublev paints. I expected the paints would be rough, gritty and pasty.

I never suspected the paints might be oil-rich. Oil-rich, as in oily.

In fairness, I haven’t tried the whole line, and this introduction is limited to 14 varieties, some being the most likely introductions to the line, with earth color prominently featured.

I received the samples from a friend who was interested to see what I would make of the line, having been familiarized with my reviews on brands, such as the Blue Ridge, Studio Products and Richeson paints I’ve done over the last year or so.

Since I’d had the poor experience with pigments, I wasn’t excited to spend more money researching the paint line, so waited until a generous patron came along. I had made a couple email/web requests for product samples from Natural Pigments, but got no response.

Samples – My Policy
I like to think I am doing a service not only to paint buyers (artists) by offering independent “user” comparisons and testing, but also provide a service to paint makers, beyond simply publicizing their brands.

I make no secret of the fact that I have acted as an unpaid (so far, at least!) R&D consultant to some makers. I am always happy to provide them with my impressions – especially if there are matters that need looking into from a quality control or user’s point of view.

I have a “no bushwhack” policy, which means I won’t be asking for samples only to humiliate the maker with a bad review. When I find anything sub-par that would result in an overall unfavorable review, I contact the maker first, and give them a chance to correct the problem, or explain what happened in their own terms. Sometimes, I will simply not publish the results, giving the maker the opportunity to improve the line.

I am a little less courteous when the maker is not personally involved in the evaluation process, such as when I pay for the paints out of my own pocket, or have samples donated by another independent party.

Ultimately, I am more interested in seeing companies stay in business and continue to supply artists with the highest quality paints.

But I can assure the readers, that I am above being bought off by paint samples, and I have no motive to “extort” paints samples with the promise of a good review! So far, I’ve putting in far more of my time mixing, photographing, and then writing, than any of the samples are worth! I’d practically have to get a complete catalog collection to make it even-steven – when that happens, and Old Holland sends me one of everything, you’ll be the first to know!

Most of you are aware of my personal paint collection, purchased with my own funds – a collection so large, I won’t be able to use it in my lifetime. I am solely interested in the highest quality paints at the best possible prices, and a truckload of low quality paints wouldn’t give me incentive to give a good review or tarnish my “snobby” reputation.

The Paint
NP makes a point in advertising that no additives are used in the paints – no wax, no stabilizers, no stearates, no driers – just pigment and oil, and the oil is linseed.

For the comparisons here, I’ve tried to provide only “pigment + oil” paints by other manufactuers to see how well Rublev stacks up against the competition from other brands, especially premium brands like Blockx, Harding, Williamsburg and others.

The first set of paints was initially five samples: Orange Ochre, genuine Vermilion, Cyprus Raw Umber, Italian Green Umber and genuine Lapis Lazuli. I received these five several months ago and have been holding off the review until I could get more samples to expand and corroborate my results.

Orange Ochre – Right away I was shocked and surprised by how oily this paint was – it was more like house paint than artist paint once the oil separation had been drained off and the remaining oil mixed in. The color is nice, but the paint is unusable for my painting needs. Compared against Maimeri’s new Natural Earth Classico paint (no additives) and Blockx Gold Ochre. The NP paint can be seen as “soupy” with excessive oil – notice the wrinkling within the dried sample. The Classico is thick and pasty, without being gritty. The Blockx is the strongest tinter and the smoothest of these paints – just the right consistency and pigment load. Also -- you can see the intense seepage of the oil, migrating into the paper palette through it's protective (nearly impermeable) layer. That's a lot of oil!

Vermilion – The NP Vermilion is nice, but quite pasty and with more of a matte finish. The Harding, and especially Blockx, have better finish and smoother handling. Blockx has slightly stronger tinting power.

Cyprus Raw Umber – A nice color with fairly good consistency. But notice the wrinkling forming deep within the dried sample. The Blue Ridge Raw Umber Select is a different color (more neutral), but completely absent any wrinkling in the dried result. The Harding Raw Umber is almost an exact color match to the NP, but has less wrinkling – very slight beginnings of texture forming.

Italian Green Umber – Soupy consistency, accompanied by wrinkling – weak tinting strength. The Williamsburg Turkey Umber (with phthalo PG7 added) has severe wrinkling (not restricted to NP!), and is not really a color match for the nearly neutral NP paint. Italian paint maker, Zecchi, has an interesting version of Raw Umber – slightly loose consistency, but not soupy like NP, and obviously not a color match.

Lapis Lazuli – NP Lapis is very pasty and somewhat gritty, as shown in the smear section of this comparison. It has slightly higher chroma than the Blockx sample, but the Blockx has much finer size and smoother consistency – spreading is flawless. For added comparison, Blue Ridge’s Smalt is quite vibrant in chroma from the tube, but with soupy consistency and weak tinting, but it could be beautiful as a final glaze color over green earth or pale brown earth tints. Modern offerings from Rembrandt’s Cobalt Blue Deep and Maimeri’s Puro Ultramarine Blue Deep (quite soupy too!).

After working with these samples and their range of either super-oily, or dry/pasty, I was curious to see if these were anomalies or if the brand made these extreme pendulum swings of quality and consistency.

The Next Batch
The second batch arrived a month or so after these first five colors. This set consisted of nine colors:
Lemon Ochre
Roman Black Earth
Ercolano Red
Italian Dark Ochre
Venetian Red
Red Sartoreus
French Red Ochre
Italian Burnt Sienna
Italian Yellow Earth

Because of the consistency irregularities in the first batch, I decided to add a “smear” (or palette knife mixing of the paint, followed by drawing across the sheet) to show oiliness/stiffness, tinting strength, transparency/opacity and finish.

Lemon Ochre – As you can see, the paint is super-soupy, with paint running off the palette knife like syrup. Wrinkling within the thick section of the dried sample. The first pile of 50/50 mix with white is soupy, and normal paint handling does not take place until the second or third pile. Keep these characteristics in mind, as you will be seeing more of them in later colors. Moderate to poor tinting strength.

Roman Black Earth – Gooey and tar-like handling. Beautiful color and nearly neutral, but awful to work with until diluted into medium or looser paints.

Ercolano Red – Like the Lemon Ochre, extremely soupy and dripping off the knife – even more so (see the two extra drips next to the first tint pile). The color is beautiful, slightly orange compared to the Venetian Red with nice tinting strength. Again, the first tint pile is quite loose and doesn’t thicken until the second and third.

Italian Dark Ochre – Very soupy and runny, with wrinkling. Most of these paints are far too oily and fluid. Moderate to poor tinting strength.

Venetian Red – A firmer paint, but still, unacceptable with the consistency of a slurry. Excellent color and good tinting strength.

Red Sartoreus – Semi-opaque and slightly firmer consistency than the Venetian Red. Slightly looser than “normal” commercially made paint brands. Moderate tinter with good finish.

French Red Ochre – another “slurry” type paint consistency, too thin, but useable. Good tinting strength.

Italian Yellow Earth – Between the soup and the slurry consistencies. Slightly rougher finish than the Lemon Ochre, but a little better tinter (although still weak when mixed with white).

To continue the comparison, I lined up other two choices from other brands for each of the NP paints that might most closely match NP’s characteristics or pigment choice. I followed exactly the same procedure as the previous sheet – hoping to confirm or negate the overall unfavorable impression I received from the excessively oily paints (most of which were drained off before placing on the palette for mixing!).

For the Lemon Ochre, I used Maimeri’s new Classico Natural Earth, Roman Yellow Earth, which is a back-to-basics paint of simply milled pigment and oil binder. The second paint is Williamsburg’s Lemon Ochre. All three pigments look exactly the same in their results, but the NP is the only one that is excessively oily and runny. The other two are firm and smooth for the Classico, and near perfect for the Williamsburg (see the points raised on the “break” at the end of the smear stroke, showing peaking/slumping).

Italian Yellow Earth “slurry-type” was placed against Classico Verona Yellow Earth and Mussini Natural Yellow Raw Ochre. The NP and Classico are almost exact color matches, but the Classico has better consistency and spreading. The Mussini is slightly gritty (see streaks) and pasty, but has the best tinting strength of the three.

Venetian Red, again NP is a loose slurry, whereas Classico is firm and somewhat pasty – see the difference in the first tint pile of each. These are almost exact red color and mixing duplicates, but as with all these NP/Classico match-ups, the Classico is around ½ the price for a firmer product. The Blockx is a favorite of mine for consistency and color, being slightly more orange than the other two.

Italian Burnt Sienna is one of NP’s best offerings in the whole 14 paints reviewed. Slightly loose consistency, but having good tinting strength in a semi-transparent color. Zecchi is far too transparent for anything but glazing and has very poor tinting strength. Puro is transparent with better tinting, but for this color, NP is the winner.

Again, the Italian Dark Ochre is extremely soupy and drippy with obvious deep wrinkling – far too much oil. Also, it is a poor tinter, especially compared to the others candidates. Both Classico and Blue Ridge blow it out of the water in consistency, color and tinting strength.

As I mentioned above, the NP Roman Black Earth is nearly a tar-like substance (even used roof patching products?). If you can get past the gummy consistency, it is a nice color, but why not try something like the Williamsburg German Earth, which looks almost identical and has a better consistency and mixing quality. Even Williamsburg’s less powerful Slate Black (made from slate) is a good choice and easy to use.

Ercolano Red is still excessively running, as seen by the huge pool that ran off the palette knife on the “upswing”. The color is very opaque and quite nice regardless of the consistency, but there is no reason not to go to a smoother choice of natural paint by Williamsburg Pompeii Red or Blockx Light Red – all natural pigments + oil, with a much wider brand selection than Rublev/NP paints.

French Red Ochre has that loose slurry-like quality, less runny than the Ercolano Red, with similar good opacity and covering power. The NP paint is closer in color to the previous reds (more orangey) than the two samples I included here, Zecchi’s Pozzuoli Red and Williamsburg Red Ochre (the most opaque of the lot).

I got curious what it would take to make the thicker Classico behave like the runny/soupy Rublev paints, so I set out to add a 50/50 combination of Daniel Smith Stand Oil and Graham’s Walnut Alkyd. Stand was chosen over standard linseed in an attempt to duplicate the tremendous pooling and slumping of the NP samples.

I added one drop at a time to all samples, thoroughly mixing and setting, before adding another drop of oil. I ended with three drops, which increased the volume of the paint by about 30% (to 3/8” to ½” of paint from tube). In other words, I ended up with about 1/3 more “paint” than I started with – and as you can see, the over results are still less soupy than the Rublev samples.

Natural Pigments paints come in 50ml tubes – slightly larger than normal. Classico come even larger – 60ml, and if the same color can be gotten from Classico, it is a considerable savings.
NP Lemon Ochre $12.95
Classico Roman Yellow Earth $5.99
Williamsburg Lemon Ochre $12.57 (40ml)
NP Venetian Red $12.95
Classico Venetian $5.99
Blockx Venetian Red $11.58 (35ml)

NP is running about the same or slightly less than premium paints such as Williamsburg, Blockx and OH. You will have to decide if Rublev is in the same quality category as these others.

I ran into trouble initially when I developed my three-tiered quality scale for oil paints: Student, Artist, Premium. I was contacted regarding why I had left NP off the list altogether. I told the questioner that (at that time) I had no experience with the brand, other than unfavorable results mixing the dry pigment compared to premium brands such as Blockx, Sennelier, Schmincke, and Maimeri. As a sort of olive branch, I put NP in its own category of “Historic”. Now that I have experience with many of NP’s earth colors, I can come up with a position. But as far as the historic, or even eccentric, older types of toxic or semi-precious pigments, I still have little experience, other than the Vermilion and Lapis shown here.

For the overview of the earth colors in this review, NP gets a lower than average rating, despite obvious intent to produce an honest and unique product. Stacked up against the many premium paint makers putting out natural earths without additives (Vasari, Old Holland, Studio Products, and many others in addition to those included in this comparison), Natural Pigments lands in the middle to lower band of the Artist Grade, mostly due to its poor consistency (soupy), moderate to poor tinting (nearly Student Grade pigment load), shallowness of brand depth (very few types of paint), and finish (dull matte or wrinkly). I have to chock up most of these failings to lack of proper equipment, lack of paint making experience and (obviously) intentional ignoring of modern paint manufacturing processes and pigments.

With regard to the premium types of paints tested – the Vermilion was good, but not equal to Blockx or Harding in consistency (the same applies to a much wider range of genuine vermilions I have on hand – NP is the thickest, driest consistency with pasty spreading. The Lapis has good color, but again is extremely pasty in consistency, compared to Blockx which is ultra-smooth. I give NP “A” for putting out these premium products, but personally prefer other brands.

Again, I find Natural Pigments rather defies classification for both good and bad reasons. The Lapis and Vermilion put the brand in the lower end of the Premium category. The earths terrible consistency and handling put the brand in the bottom of the Artist Grade. Since there are more earths than “precious”, I’ll average the brand into the middle of the Artist Grade, which is sure to make fans extremely unhappy. Sorry. I appreciate the positive desire to produce historic paint, but I’m dismayed by the poor execution in the samples I’ve tried.

This topic reopens the debate on the virtues of modern production methods and pigments vs. ancient methods and painting materials.

Nostalgia aside, there is no easy going back to the approach of historic (archaic) painting.
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Old 05-21-2010, 03:36 PM
gunzorro's Avatar
gunzorro gunzorro is offline
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Re: Natural Pigments' Rublev Oil Paints

NP Rublev Consistency Update

Since a lot of the discussion has concentrated on attributes I call consistency, handling and finish, I thought an update would be in order.

Grittiness -- 0
Although this subject has been cited by others, I haven’t found any evidence of excessive grittiness in the NP paints. Although I had fears of encountering this because of my past experience with NP dry pigments, I found the particle size acceptable in all samples, especially since we are considering natural earth pigments – these NP paints are not unusual compared to other commercially prepared earth paints with regard to grittiness.

Stiff, pasty – 2
The Lapis and Vermilion where quite pasty compared to other brands of genuine pigments – very useable, but pasty with a matte finish.

Gooey, sticky – 1
Roman Earth
Similar to soft tar

Normal – 1
Cypress Raw Umber

Loose – 2
Italian Green Umber, Burnt Sienna
Acceptable consistency, but quite soft

Slurry – 4
Venetian Red, Sartoreus Red, French Red Ochre, Italian Yellow Earth
Marginally acceptable, similar to the loosest offerings from Vasari

Oily, Drippy – 4
Orange Ochre, Ercolano Red, Lemon Ochre, Italian Dark Ochre
Unacceptable, pooling leading to unstable paint film with wrinkles

The tally is, of the fourteen, eight are either unacceptable or marginally acceptable with regard to consistency, according to my standards, which are based on runniness and wrinkling from excessive oil.

I’ve commented how excessive oil has caused paint film wrinkles in thicker applications. A review of the sheets shows negative results from these seven paints: Lemon Ochre, Ercolano Red, Italian Ochre, Italian Yellow Earth, Orange Ochre, Cypress Raw Umber and Italian Green Umber – half of all the samples. Two others were borderline, near to wrinkling. In thinner applications, wrinkling was not present in single layer, but certainly would begin to become a danger for multi-layer paintings not allowed to cure between layers (months of time for each layer).

The finish of almost all the NP paints is consistently matte in appearance. No testing was done to check for sinking or excessively dull areas in multiple layers, but in single layers all paints were harmoniously dull in reflectance.

Color-wise, I can’t find fault with the NP pigments and the colors they produce, other than possibly being over-diluted with oil, reducing their strength. The NP paints compare very well with the other natural earth paints I’ve selected when it comes to the hue and tinting strength.

So, it’s not all bad news!

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