Thursday, December 31, 2009

Artists, Thank the Automobile

The development of modern, lightfast pigments owes a great deal to the automobile.

Cars are parked outdoors in all kinds of weather. The sun beats down on them year after year. That puts a tremendous demand on any pigment. Scientists had to develop reliable pigments, especially for yellows, reds, and violets, which had been notoriously fugitive. And the car industry had the money to do the lab work.

The quinacridone red pigments were developed in the 1950s and are mainly used for car paints. Pyrrole Red is also known as Ferrari Red because of its use in sports cars. But it’s exactly the same basic pigment you'll find a tube of Winsor Red.


Pete said...

I drove an 89 wrangler the same color as the one in the picture for ten years and never once thought about the paint! Where do you get this stuff? Happy New Year and I look forward to another great year of this blog!

The fearless threader said...

The only colours on cars I see fading now are the flourescent ones, used over here for drain companies for some reason. After about 6 months they look pastel and washed out.

My first car was 10 years old and jade green, my son described it as visible from space.

Richard said...

I've read that they no longer use a "vehicle" on put paint on vehicles. They bake it on.


Eugen Caitaz said...

Happy New Year dear James!!!!

Unknown said...

I know this is completely unrelated to this post but James Gurney i just have to say that your book Imaginative Realism is probably one of the best books i have ever read. it is my goal to memorize it and i know it will definitely help me immensely as i make my way through art center. Thanks a lot!

Shane White said...

I heard somewhere that the lines painted on roadways had something to do with the development of acrylic paints too.

It's interesting seeing how the evolution of science effects art. Like what were some of the earliest paintings using synthetics?


James Gurney said...

Thanks, David. Unrelated is OK! Glad you're finding the book useful, and give my best the people at ACCD.

Fearless: I've noticed that too--modern paints just don't fade like they used to. I've been looking at the backs of peoples' cars to see if those "Support The Troops" magnetic stickers left a shadow, and you see it more on the cars with the older paints.

Shane, I'll do a future post on synthetic pigments and organic chemistry.

Pete: there are some great sites on pigments, including ""

Happy New year, everyone!!

Anonymous said...

I want a wrangler so bad, it will be mine one day, maybe not my first car but it will.
Happy New year to anybody that reads this comment! ^-^

António Araújo said...

Great post, Jim.

Advances in artist's paints are often derivative of those in industry. There is much more volume there, and far greater profits to drive research. Not only but, but a great need for reliability and logical understanding of the objects in question (thus one learns much more objective truths about colour from some published papers financed and motivated by the needs of textile, automobile, and television industries than on many books witten by artists - there is a wonderful book called "the measurement of appearance" that is a great example of that).

This reminds me of another book called "Bright earth" on the history of colour, much focused on the development of actual pigments and dyes. It makes a very clear point that all throughout history the stuff that artist's got to work with was very often the byproduct of those lowly but far more necessary and therefore more voluminous industries that ensure our daily needs - of those the textile industry being probably the most relevant, at least until the XXth century.