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Ask The Experts - A PrimaTek Panel Discussion

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Ask The Experts - A PrimaTek Panel Discussion

PrimaTek® Pigments: A Panel Discussion

DANIEL SMITH released Lapis Lazuli Genuine watercolor in 1998 and artists were introduced to PrimaTek® pigments. Since then, this line of natural mineral paint has grown to 38 colors and has become indispensable to many artists.



RON HARMON has over 22 years of experience as DANIEL SMITH’s in-house chemist. With a chemistry degree from Whittier College, he started his career in the aerospace coatings industry and then brought his high-tech expertise to us.

JANA WINTERS PARKIN is an award-winning watercolorist who teaches at Utah Valley University as well as in a variety of workshop settings. Her paintings are filled with vibrant color and exuberant brushstrokes. Learn more about her work at parkinx.com

BRUCE WOOD, an expert in homogeneous minerals, has degrees in Mineralogy and Geology from Pacific Lutheran University.

What inspired the idea to develop a line of mineral pigments?

B.W. Artists have been using mineral pigments for thousands of years, but very few modern paint lines offer a full range of mineralbased color. DANIEL SMITH started his company, in part, to make products that were unavailable to fine artists at the time. We wanted to continue the tradition by offering mineral paints from natural sources without any additives.

What makes these colors different from the paint I already own?

Refiners Fire

R.H. PrimaTek watercolors retain many of the natural qualities of their source minerals. In artist’s paint, the size of the pigment particle is very important—it determines the amount of light that is reflected and, therefore, the intensity of the paint. Standard pigments are produced in labs and adhere to a specific size. When we develop PrimaTek pigments, we mill the minerals to a point where the color is optimized. Pigments that are too large are gritty and, if we mill too far, the color can appear dull. The resulting characteristics of these paints vary based on the mineral. Most have a natural luminosity and many granulate.

J.W.P. Luminosity is a primary goal of most watercolorists, and I definitely notice that in my paintings. I find the PrimaTek greens and violets to be especially luminous. Another quality I observe in some of these pigments, like Fuchsite, is a glisten and sparkle. It’s different from the luminescents and iridescents because it’s more subtle and naturallyoccurring, coming directly from the mineral’s own properties. Other colors, like Hematite Burnt Scarlet and Serpentine, separate and granulate into multiple colors when they’re laid down on the paper. It’s amazing to watch.

How do you decide which minerals will make the best paint for artists?


B.W. One of the best parts of the job is our search. We travel around the world to find color in rocks and minerals. Through trials and testing, we develop pigments that can be used by artists. Some minerals, like sulfates and phosphates, retain a lot of color in the milling process. Other types of minerals don’t retain much color and are not suitable for paint.

How does the stone go from the ground to the paint tube?

B.W. The raw minerals can be quite large; some of the Lapis Lazuli specimens are more than twenty pounds. These large minerals are first crushed by a jaw mill that uses thousands of pounds of pressure to break them into manageable sizes. They are then further refined on a hammer mill and roll mill to achieve uniform pigment particles. Finally, they are mixed with high-quality gum arabic and processed on a roll mill to create watercolor.

Have the pigments been tested for lightfastness and permanence, and if so, how did they fare?

R.H. At DANIEL SMITH we test all of our artists pigments with a Fadeometer, a device that simulates high-density UV light the same wavelength as sunlight. All of the PrimaTek pigments are Category 1 or 2, meaning their color lasts at minimum 100 years and most are permanent well beyond that time. One thing to remember about PrimaTeks is that they are natural minerals so many of them have been around for billions of years; they’ve already proven the test of time.

Will using PrimaTek colors change the look of my work?

mummy bauxite

J.W.P. Yes, they can change the look of your work in terms of granulation. I have found that my paintings have more texture. In my landscapes the color is truer, especially the browns. When painting on location in the Southwest nearly my entire palette is PrimaTek, though I do make sure to supplement with a red, gold and blue for mixing and glazing.

How can I begin incorporating PrimaTek watercolors into my work?

J.W.P. You can paint many subjects with PrimaTeks, and if you’re inspired by nature and scenery this is a great place to start. I feel like my landscape work has more integrity when I use actual pieces of a landscape in the painting. Painting rocks with a pigment that comes straight from the earth really makes them look more like rocks. To get started, I recommend replacing some of the greens on your palette. Serpentine has a beautiful warm/cool color separation and is a great substitution for Sap Green. Jadeite can replace Hooker’s Green. For darker tones and shadows, the Hematites add richness, depth and granulation.

What are the best techniques to try with my new PrimaTek paints?

J.W.P. I recommend that artists try direct painting using enough water to keep the paint flowing freely. Work loose and allow the pigments to move and you’ll get gorgeous granulation with just one stroke. You can also let the granulated paint dry and apply a transparent glaze over the top. I like to glaze over Lapis with Indanthrone Blue to get rich, textural blues.

What is your favorite thing about PrimaTek watercolors?

B.W. I’ve been interested in minerals my entire life—I started collecting them at age five. For me, it’s a great adventure to search for color, and exciting to find it and turn it into something wonderful for artists.

J.W.P. I love when something magical and unexpected happens in a painting. Like I tell my students, “happy accidents” are doubled when you use PrimaTeks.

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