Saturday, 6 March 2010

Watercolour Paints

I recently found a site, which appears to be American, called . This purports to list all available artists paints, running to hundreds. As my interest starts and ends at watercolour I looked up the watercolour information. To my astonishment 58 - yes 58 - different brands are listed! This list is a mishmash of well-known and unknown (at least to me) brands including such names as Niji. MIR, Yasitomi, Morocolour and Marie's. This is just a sample. Without exception each brand is described in identical wording as `one of the most popular watercolour brands in the world' and the opening paragraph appears to be a standard one with a few modifications for each make. Looking at the information for some of these `most popular' brands they all seemed to have a very limited range, some as few as eight colours.  This site had a number of ads for art suppliers including Dick Blick which surprised me a little, still commercialism knows no bounds. `Full' information is claimed for each colour yet one of the crucial ones - pigment details - are missing.

I now turn to the question of `artists' and `student' quality paints. Generally speaking most - not all - well-known manufacturers list an `artists' and a `student' range. Some like Talens have three, Rembrandt at the top, Van Gogh as a middle range and Amsterdam as the student quality. Without exception the student ranges have a reduced number of colours, around 40 compared to between 70 and 100 plus in the artists quality. Some of the student quality use similar pigments in the cheaper series 1 and 2 but replace the cadmiums, cobalts and ceruleans, as well as a few others, by `cheaper' alternatives. This is what Windsor and Newton do with the Cotman range in the UK,while offering full cadmiums and cobalts in the USA, 50 colours in total instead of forty.  Some of these expensive pigments also seem to be on offer on the Continent. Great Art, who are German, but have a UK ordering telephone number , offer 40 colours as in the UK but seem to have a few Cadmiums and Cobalts in addition to the `hues'. I haven't ordered any so cannot confirm this as gospel. Correspondence with W & N produced just waffling on their part and an enquiry to Richard Bromley of Ken Bromley Artists Supplies about the Cotman situation, despite him being very helpful on a previous query, brought no response. Industry politics?

The standard description of students quality is the use of extenders and fillers to bulk up the paint with the amount of pigment being reduced. The only artist I know who used and recommended Cotman, as against the more expensive artists quality, was Ron Ranson and his private comments were quite dismissive. I did note though that, when on a painting course at his then home, he had artists quality paints in his studio. This in itself is not evidence since some manufacturers actively court a number of well-known artists, supplying them with  paints either very cheaply or even (so I have been told) FOC. This is in return for that artist using and promoting their product. When on courses students always want to know what make(s) and colours the tutor uses.

This is becoming rather long and the usual information for blogging is to make the comments short and sweet but I'll go against the grain and plough on. So far the gap between artist and `student' quality is fairly clear.  However there are one or two makes that `claim' to be artists quality and are promoted as such by the art suppliers who stock them. The most obvious is the Russian St Petersburg,  now known as `White Knights'.  This is a very competitively priced paint with a good range of colours, increasingly popular with amateur painters and used and promoted by some professionals. Read what Bruce McEvoy says on his handprint site  and look under paints then brands. He dismisses the claim they are artists quality unequivocally. Fact - amongst the pigments used by White Knights are several obselete ones that are fugitive - this means they fade. Consult Michael Wilcox's Guide to Watercolour Paints. One White Knights colour is Rose (PR81), Wilcox's comment `it is a mobile disaster area as an artists's watercolour'. I'm assuming the colour chart I have, which was printed when St Petersburg was re-branded as `White Knights' is still relevant. I've seen no information that the paints have been reformulated, which has  happened in recent years with most reputable brands.

Another very recent brand which has arrived in the UK is Shin Han. This is again being promoted as `artists' quality at a very competitive price and is  said to be proving very popular. They have 5 series and are priced at about half that of the top of the range Windsor & Newton. There are 72 colours and the naming of individual paints seems to suggest they are shadowing Holbein, the respected Japanese make, Jaune Brilliant No2, Mineral Violet etc. I tried one colour - Jaune Brilliant No 2 and a fellow painter  one of the violets. Not that  impressed but it is a very small sample. I managed to obtain, with difficulty, pigment details of the range and was even less impressed. There are only 20 single pigment paints - 28% much lower than other artists quality ranges - with 11 paints having white (PW6) as one of the ingredients. There also appear to be dyes present (RV10,  Opera) and a few other fugitive pigments (PV3 Permanent Violet) . PR83 Alazarin crimson is used in 4 colours.  Read what Bruce McEvoy say s about this pigment. Windsor & Newton still offer it but also list a `permanent' version. When the inevitable reviews appear in one or other of the art magazines will these things be highlighted?

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