What is a Fugitive Color?


What is a “fugitive” color? and other color questions answered? Simply put, a “fugitive color” is one that is not lightfast. Most acrylics are designed to be permanent and lightfast.

One time I had a painting that ended up fading due to sunlight exposure. That does not mean that I had used fugitive colors, though, it was all on me for leaving it in an area that was by the window for too long. So you do have to do your part to store your paints in a safe place.

Just as a fugitive is someone running from the law, a fugitive color runs from its original pigmentation, if that makes sense?

No, not THAT kind of fugitive….

You still want to check the labeling on individual paints or paint sets, as it will indicate its level of permanency and conditions. Another term you may be familiar with already is “archival” which is by definition, “able to remain intact through various conditions, ” and not become yellow, brittle, fade, etc.

Paper is made the same way, as well as canvases.

How to Check for Lightfastness

As paint hues and shades vary, their levels of color stability will vary too. Paint manufacturers have developed a system of labeling to signal to the consumer the level of color permency that can be expected. Usually there are numbers and symbols included. Remember the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) that I talked about on my post on paint toxicity?

Well, it also has a classification for this too. There is a range from 1-5 to rank lightfastness, from best to worst. This chart below explains it (It uses Roman numerals, as you can see.)

color lightfastness in art

Different brands may have different codes, however. For example, my favorite brand, Winsor and Newton, uses a purely numerical system.”AA” means “Extremely permanent” and “A” is permanent – both good choices to look for.Yet another brand, Faber Castell, uses stars * is “Good”, ** is ‘Very Good” and *** is the best.

Historically, some paints have been more unreliable than others. The below is an example of a painting by a famous artist -Vincent Van Gogh – that started off red for the roses, that eventually faded. From what I’ve heard about van Gogh, he loved a vibrant palette and favored red and yellow especially, yet the red family was the most prone to depigmentation. It’s possible that the background may have faded too.

example of faded painting

Color Shifting with Acrylics

Acrylics do have this color shifting tendency in them, a green tone you use may take on a deeper green after drying, which may or not be noticeable. Student grade acrylics may be more likely to lose their color vibrancy after awhile as the pigments tend to be less rich after awhile.

So as I’m fond of saying, check the labeling and if you are ever unsure about a tube of paint always do a test sample. so you don’t end up with any unpleasant surprises later on. Forewarned is forearmed.  Even if you are just experimenting for now make sure you choose the right grade of colors as well as type if you want your work to last a long time.

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