Transparency by Winsor Newton

Every colour is relatively transparent or opaque and this also affects colour mixing. Colours can be optically mixed by layers of transparent colours on the surface rather than directly on the palette. Depth is built up in paintings by this method, it is called ‘glazing’. Flat areas of colour are achieved by using opaque colours such as cadmiums. The relative transparency or opacity of Winsor & Newton colours is noted on the colour charts. 

               Utilising glazing                   Utilising opaque colours

               

               Stephen Godson                           Emma Pearce

The thickness of the paint film will of course affect the relative transparency. Thin films of colour will tend to be
transparent either because they are physically thin or
because the colour has been substantially diluted with medium before application. Thick films will always tend to be opaque because of the density of pigment on
the surface. 
   Thin film         Thick film


     

  French Ultramarine

Thick films of transparent colours will actually appear almost black in masstone. Transparent colours can only be seen when light is reflected back through the paint film from the support. In thick films, the light is absorbed and the colour appears dark.


Permanent             Permanent
Alizarin  
               Alzarinn
Crimson on            crimson on 
      black                   white
When used thinly on black or dark backgrounds, transparent colours will not show as the light is absorbed by the dark surface - typically, a water colour on black paper. Transparent colours therefore appear brightest on white.

Cadmium                    cadmium
Red Deep on               deep red on
     white                           black
In comparison, opaque colours reflect the light from the colour itself and appear bright on any surface. Opaque colours will also appear very bright when surrounded by black because the light is being reflected by the colour and absorbed by the black.

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