Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lightfastness: Part 1 of 6

Blue jeans, tattoos, leather stains, car finishes, and house paint all have a tendency to fade—and so will some of your art materials. For the next six posts, we're going to look at lightfastness.

To test how much common art materials fade, last August I made a whole lot of swatches on strips of cotton rag paper. Then I cut the strips in half. I put the left half of the strip in a dark, cool drawer. The other half sat facing the sun in a south window for almost eight months. I tried all sorts of media.



How do fountain pen inks survive light exposure? All of them became lighter in value.

Here's a range of popular pens subjected to the same treatment. The blue Pilot Precise faded away to a light gray.

Bic Ultra Round Stic stayed a little darker. The black Sharpie permanent marker did OK, but the blue Sharpie completely lost its color.

If you think these results are bad, wait until you see the markers tomorrow.

10 comments:

Swashbuckle Dom said...

Sorry in advance if I misunderstood...

Are they all pen Inks?

Curious as to the other mediums you tested as well. Oils? Water colors? "Archival" print inks?

James Gurney said...

Dom, yes, those brown swatches are the water-soluble inks for fountain pens that come in bottles. As the week progresses, I'll do oils, watercolors, colored pencils, and various markers.

I'm not doing these thorougly with dozens of separate pigments, just a few at a time as an introduction to the topic.

But at the end I'll give links to websites and books that give thorough testing information, listed pigment by pigment and brand by brand.

Brandon O'Donnell said...

Great stuff. This is the side of art that I'm glad others like yourself have an interest in. The analytical part of my brain often wonders about things like this, but when I ask these questions in art stores, the best response is usually "Well, I'm not sure, but I know this is the best pen."

Michael Dooney said...

Direct sun it tough on art, but I'd be curious about a similar evaluation of general ambient light vs. cool and dark. I've had things fade in the studio just being out. Some pigments and media are more fugitive than others. I've had older colored ink pieces fade even when stored in the dark.

Oscar Baechler said...

Arguably one of the better things technology has enabled for us. Paint fades, but pixel values stay the same, so even though modern paintings might slowly deteriorate, artists can forever retain digital images that won't change.

Torbjörn Källström said...

Well, they say data disappears over time as you copy it over and over again. So I guess not even digital stuff will stay the same forever. Although I have yet to see any kind of digital media 'deteriorate' so maybe it's not as bad as some people would make it seem...

Charles said...

I see lots of artists sign their paintings with felt pens (over paint & watercolor), plus write on the back of the canvas with felt pens and wondered:

1 )how long the felt pen color lasted vs. the paint on the painting.

2) When they wrote with felt pen on back of canvas did in time it seep through to other side into paint?

(I am not a fan of signing art with a felt pen.)

goat89 said...

I never thought about weathering of inks paints, etc. Great post Mr Gurney! Especially for non-painters like me. ><

bill said...

This is great Jim. Did you do ballpoints?

Arnd said...

Seeing those lines of ink that are of the same color on the one side and totally different after some time in the sun i got this idea:
With different inks of the same color you can paint a picture that will change over the time. Some lines will vanish - may even reveal something hidden that looked uniform before.
Sounds like a great idea. The real art reveals itself only over the time.