Mayan Yellow (PY223)

mayan yellow

Mayan yellow is one of several colors that have their roots in Mayan culture. Just like Mayan blue, the yellow color is produced, in a complicated process, from the indigo plant together with palygorskite. More than a thousand years ago, the Mayans were able to produce a durable and beautiful yellow color.

You can look up a few smaller manufacturers of the watercolor paint online, the only major one seems to be Daniel Smith. The Japanese Turner has a color they call Mayan Yellow but it is actually something else. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on color names, artists’ paint manufacturers take great liberties when naming their colors.

Mayan yellow has a color that is a warm mid-yellow, when well diluted it appears cooler, and when painted thickly it becomes cloudy and almost orange. All manufacturers, that I have seen, describe the color as transparent but in reality it is quite opaque. Mayan yellow is very light resistant and extremely averse to water, it does not want to move at all in a wet surface. The color does not leave any hard edges and cannot bloom.

Just like Mayan blue, I experience it as sticky and rubbery before it is well diluted with water. If you try to do a flat wash with mayan yellow you will be disappointed, every brushstroke will be visible as a darker strand, its reluctance to float in water is the reason. The color has a milky whiteness that reveals itself when painted thickly.

The mixing samples below are made by painting the different colors on a wet paper on opposite sides. The paper is then tilted so that the color is mixed without using a brush. Mayan yellow gives nice color mixtures both towards the green and orange direction. In the first example, the yellow is mixed with Indanthrone Blue. The second sample is with Perylene Maroon. Both colors are blackish but give nice greens and oranges together with Mayan yellow. Notice that the yellow color floats on top of the blue and red.

Mayan yellow has so many characteristics that are different from modern colors that I am reluctant to use them in the same painting. I prefer to use it together with other unruly colors such as genuine earth colors and mineral colors. In such a context, the color becomes an asset, while mixed with modern colors it is more of a burden.

In summary, it can be said that mayan yellow is a fairly opaque, somewhat unclear milky color that works best with similar colors but stands out in a painting together with modern colors. Its slightly gluey consistency makes it immobile in water. It is not possible to make a completely smooth surface with Mayan yellow, but the color is very durable and does not fade in sunlight.


Color index name: PY223
Light fastness: Very good
Transparency: Semi-opaque
Staining: Somewhat
Granulates: No

root cellar in Tuscany
The painting of a root cellar in Tuscany is done with Mayan Yellow, Azurite Genuine, Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine and Serpentine Genuine. The paper is Arches 140 lb (300 gr.)
Maya yellow is quite opaque
Mayan yellow is quite opaque
Maya yellow Quite staining
Quite staining
Maya yellow An attempt at blooming resulted only in a light spot in the lower left corner.
An attempt at blooming resulted only in a light spot in the lower left corner.
Maya yellow Totally immobile on a wet surface
Totally immobile on a wet surface
Maya yellow No granulation and no hard edge
No granulation and no hard edge
Maya yellow Left is freshly painted right is dry, no difference.
Left is freshly painted right is dry, no difference.

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