Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Watercolour Painting on a Budget 2013 Pt.1 Paints

The last time I wrote on this subject was in June 2011 and I suggest - if interested - that you refer to that post as much is still relevant and I don't want to repeat myself. Since writing prices have increased  quite dramatically on the major purchases of the watercolour artist, paints, brushes and paper. What was already an expensive hobby or profession is even more so.

There are lots of other items one can buy but those above are the absolute essentials. Some of the accessories can be expensive, easels, palettes for example, but they are one-off buys whereas paints and papers are ongoing. It is true that brushes will last a considerable time if looked after but if you venture into the sable market, especially those of the Kolinsky variety, then prices soar into the stratosphere once you get beyond Size 8.


From left to right - Graham, Rowney, Winsor & Newton, Maimeri, Schminke, Rembrandt, Lukas and Daniel Smith

I decided to split this subject into three sections with paints the first. As synthetic brushes have already been covered I may only cover sables. I have been planning to do them for a while, have been gathering information, but it is a considerable undertaking and is very time consuming.

 The initial decision with paints  is student or artist quality. We hear many arguments, for or mainly against, with one  being that buying student quality is a false economy, due to the reduced pigment load, so you use much more. This is incorrect and it is well covered in the original post. Obviously manufacturers make economies in the cheaper ranges but this is partly done by keeping the number to around 40, although Winsor & Newton Cotman offer 50 -10 more - in North America including genuine Cadmiums and Cobalts. Here  in Europe we are short changed and when I asked W & N about this I was told it was for `historical reasons', whatever that is supposed to mean.  In my opinion Cotman, Van Gogh from Talens and Venezia from Maimeri are excellent alternatives if you need to economize or are just an occasional painter. All the paints they offer are reliable. I wouldn't necessarily buy all paints from one or the other but would be selective. Despite what is sometimes said you can mix paints from different manufacturers  The key thing is the colour and temperature balance of the palette, not that they should all be the same make. There are others like Akademie from Schminke but I have not tried them so cannot comment. The main difference is that the more expensive pigments, mainly the Cadmiums, Cerulean, Viridian and Cobalts, are replaced by cheaper ones. The blue `hue' equivalents are mostly based on Phalo blue (PB15) combined with white. Phalo Green (PG7 or PG36) usually replaces Viridian. While cheaper these are excellent pigments. I would suggest it is perfectly possible to put together 16 - 20 paints from these ranges that would provide an excellent palette for most purposes. Check the pigment numbers and buy those where they are the same as the artist quality. Many are and don't fall for the `false economy' nonsense.  There are some other differences and you must try a particular range before going overboard as it may not suit. You can also if you wish mix student grade with artist quality and some do. Different strokes for different folks.

Another possible budget make, although promoted by most art suppliers as `artist quality' is the Russian St Petersburg range of around 50 paints. In my opinion they are not artist quality as a careful examination of the pigments show. A lot of amateurs, and some professionals, use them nevertheless. The paints are bright and colourful but fugitive and obsolete pigments abound. Fugitive is self explanatory but when I say obsolete I mean pigments dropped by the majors. Another cheaper alternative is the Korean Shin Han range. Shin Han appear to shadow Holbein and offer 72 paints.They do have a lower proportion of single pigment paints and add white in a good number of others. I wasn't impressed when I analysed them.  One of the best and most original artists in my AVA group, previously a W & N fan, uses Shin Han and loves them. Just a personal view but I'd be very wary of some of these makes, usually described by art suppliers as `artist quality'. Other Korean makes include Mission Gold from Mijello and Alpha.  I don't think either is yet available in the UK but that may change as Mijello is being heavily promoted in the USA and we are sure to follow. I looked at a couple of the Mijello paints on the Dick Blick USA site and the pigments appeared good quality but a thorough analysis on Wetcanvas came up with an altogether different picture. We also have an increasing number of own label makes with large art suppliers introducing their own ranges. This applies to many of the USA retailers and in the UK Jacksons. If you are a member of the SAA (Society of All Artists) they have their own range of watercolours. Almost without exception they claim  paints are  top quality and equal to the leading makes. I wouldn't suggest for one moment that these paints are poor quality but would take the claims for them with a pinch of salt. Try them by all means but first of all check that they are using quality pigments and if not avoid.

If the decision is to use artist quality, which I do, then the question arises which do you prefer and what price are you prepared to pay. All the top makes are good so it is a question of personal preference allied to price. The largest ranges are Daniel Smith with 200 plus followed by Old Holland, Schminke, Holbein, Sennelier. Winsor & Newton & DaVinci. We then have another group that offer fewer but still substantial at around 70- 80, Bloxx, Rembrandt, Maimeri, Daler Rowney, Graham,  Art Spectrum and Lukas. If I lived in North America I'd probably go for Daniel Smith (with qualifications), Graham and possibly Da Vinci. Pricing is different to Europe and Daniel Smith paints, which  are very expensive over here, are cheaper and seem to have regular offers. In the UK Graham and Da Vinci can only be obtained from W.E.Lawrence of Hove www.lawrence.co.uk As pricing varies country by country one cannot be specific. My suggestions are based on the European situation but might be useful as a guide.

Another factor which affects value for money are the sizes offered. Winsor & Newton and Da Vinci have a 37ml which is much more economical than the smaller sizes. This is a  large tube and possibly only for the professional, who paints almost daily. Rembrandt and Sennelier do a  21ml  which is more practical perhaps for the amateur. Note these larger sizes are only available in a limited range, but see exceptions, usually the most popular colours and not all art suppliers stock them. In the main only the mail order specialists and again only some of them. In the case of Lukas the whole range is offered in 24ml. The final point is the way the makers group their paints, some have up to 6 different series priced accordingly with 1 the cheapest and 6 the most expensive.. While the earth colours tend to be in the cheapest Series 1 this doesn't apply logically. Take Maimeri. Permanent Magenta, the rose form of PV19 is in series 1 (Jacksons £6.50) BUT Rose Lake the red form of PV19 is Series 3 (Jacksons £10.20!). The bit about the rose and red forms I learned from Handprint as the tubes and literature just says `PV19'. You won't find much difference in these colours in practical terms. I haven't tried Jacksons own brand, made I am told by Sennelier,which, as well as pans, has a 21ml tube. Are you confused? There is no consistency across manufacturers and while they may be cheaper in some colours (pigments) they may be more expensive in others.

Taking a combination of quality and price I suggest that Daler Rowney and Lukas (see January 2013 ) are hard to beat. Both have only two series, use quality pigments, and with 70 colours  (DR 79) enough choice for most artists. The new Sennelier range looks interesting in the 21ml size - they also have the usual 10ml - covering the complete range. Do you really want to pay over £20 for the dearest Daniel Smith in a 15ml tube, £29.10p for the  most expensive 18ml Old Holland , £18.80p the dearest Holbein in a 15ml size? I certainly won't. These prices are eye watering. There may well be colours in certain ranges you must have. The Schminke Translucent Orange is one such for me but Lukas also offer the same pigment (PO71) as Permanent Orange at a lower ml for ml price. Daniel Smith have some special colours but a lot of the basic ones can be bought at better prices elsewhere.

My suggestions are, quoting Bruce McEvoy of Handprint  www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/wpaint.html  buy by pigment not colour. Bruce is no longer automatically updating this information but much remains relevant.  Cross check pigments across manufacturers, for example the Winsor & Newton Cerulean Blue is cheaper than many others and  is good. Take advantage of special offers as they arise. Do this by getting on the e-mail listing of the mail order specialists. If you belong to an art club group together to buy saving carriage charges.  

This  may seem very complicated and not something many might wish to delve into. If you have a deep pocket fair enough but just one final statistic. If you are starting off and purchased 16 paints it will cost, buying artist quality in 15ml tubes, anywhere between £130 to £200! The rough equivalent in student quality of  recommended makes would be no more than £40 - £50.

14 comments:

Dr Henry Tegner said...

This is a really helpful guide. Cost of materials can certainly be a huge problem particularly for the many retired people who paint. I am mostly a painter in oils, of course, but oil paints and larger brushes do not come cheap. As to the surface one uses, we oil painters may be at an advantage - I gave up using canvas years ago as I prefer painting on board. And for me this means a walk to Homebase and buying a 2'x3' sheet of MDF and cutting it up. Then I seal it with PVA after which I apply several coats of tinned down white emulsion. I have never sought actively to sell my paintings, but such as I do brings in enough to cover the cost of materials.

Sharon Whitley said...

I agree that Cotman are not as bad as many make out - I started out with Cotman and am still using them now , just replacing with artists quality as they run out but the ones I still have I'm mixing with the artist quality and haven't had a problem (that I've seen anyway!) I also have just bought some Daler Rowney and am very happy with them too. Very informative post thanks

Oscar Solis said...

Excellent post, Peter. I recently switched to Cotman watercolors. There was a bit of a relearning curve as I hadn't used them in years, but they do the job and are nice and bright.

I'm conducting a lightfastness test on some of the colors. Here in sunny California, the sunlight is intense and a color will start to show signs of fading quickly. So far the only color that I had a problem with was Prussian Blue. Despite the rating on the tube, it started fading immediately. Goodbye Prussian Blue. The others being tested are:

Permanent Rose 502
Cadmium Red Hue 103
Cadmium Yellow Hue 109
Cadmium Orange Hue 090
Cadmium Yellow Light 113
Emerald 235
Viridian Hue 696
Ultramarine 660

These have held up excellently. I've added more colors, some hues, some not as well, as replacing others. The reason I've used hues is that those warning labels scare the hell out of me and my feeling is why take the chance when there is an alternative. I am not a purist by any means.

I hope this post of yours helps dispel the notion that using "student" quality is a bad thing.
It's a very distressing thing when all one reads on some forums is that one should switch to "artist" quality once one can afford to. The attitude is almost a dismissive one of those who use paints such as Cotman or Van Gogh, etc., whether for economic reasons or because they just enjoy them. I once posted on a forum that I no longer post on where I wondered how many would stop painting if forced to use student quality materials.

Sorry for the long post. I hope it contains something useful. Keep up the good works.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Henry. This is aimed mainly at the (as you say) many retired people who paint. There are also a lot of struggling artists trying to make a living.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Sharon. With artists quality the range of colours is much wider so you needn't mix quite so much but even so the myths about `student quality' are repeated time and again.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Oscar. I'm sure different light conditions are a major factor which has to be taken into account, especially in the Californian climate as well as other similar conditions. Prussian Blue has a mixed reputation. See what Bruce McEvoy says about it.

Ray Maclachlan said...

Good work Peter, interesting and informative and very helpful.

Irena said...

Excellent post Peter, very informative. One other consideration for me is the tendency of W&N tops to get stuck after a time. For that reason I will not buy W&N watercolour paints if another manufacturer offers the same colour.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Irena. W & N are known for this but it can happen with other makes. I stick them under the hot tap(the cap end) and that usually does the trick top

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Ray. Glad you find it interesting.

Jayelle said...
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Peter Ward said...

Thanks Jayelle. I think they always have sold these paints as part of the UK range HOWEVER in the USA True Cadmiums and Cobalts are included, 50 paints instead of 40 over here. I could get little sense out of W & N who said this was for historical reasons, whatever that means.

Jayelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Ward said...

That's a great deal on W & N 37ml tubes Jayelle.