Colors Change as They Dry

“And it must be born in mind that distemper colors change greatly in value as they dry out, especially those carrying white in the admixture, which dry lighter or higher in value.  ..the student must not let a few failures discourage him. True “color deductions” will come with experience, and unless trials are conscientiously persisted in, and in connection with the study procedure set forth in this manual, your progress cannot be other than slow.”

Excerpt from Frank Atkinson’s “Scene Painting and Bulletin Art” (1916, page 167)

For me, dry pigment is never an exact science – every step is based on intuition and experience.  I have always had a good eye for color, but all of the standard color mixing rules are thrown out of the window when mixing dry pigment colors.  The color, the manufacturer, and the age of the color all determine the final result.  Swatches of every colors is imperative to commence the overall restoration process.  Each step of color mixing is carefully analyzed before an application occurs.

Starting a  new composition from scratch is one thing, but matching colors on historic drops is something else. When amateurs have attempted minor repairs and painting on old backdrops the result is often disastrous – to the extent that a wrong color will continually to reappear after multiple layers are applied to the top.  In this case, the only option is to seal the entire surface and start from scratch.


I have encountered this unfortunate occurrence in all areas of the country where “cheap and inexperienced” artists caused the final repair to be four times the anticipated amount – far exceeding the expense of hiring a “professional” to start with.  There is a reason that conservation and restoration requires a great deal of training, understanding of historical scenic art techniques, and experience.

Below is a picture at the Danville, Virginia, Scottish Rite six years ago – I was color matching a damaged section on a drop.  Their collection suffered form severe water damage and was extremely tricky to touch up. Dye rings necessitate a series of steps to conceal them.  Add the challenge of a roll drop and the work becomes even more of a challenge.  It was my 20+ years of working with dry pigment at that time that greatly contributed to the overall success.

Unless you have studied dry pigment extensively, please leave it for those who have studied it.



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