Despite talk of `zero' inflation, even deflation, prices of art products, specifically watercolour related, continue to rise. Here are a few suggestions for those who are finding it increasingly expensive to pursue our hobby. I refer naturally to the UK and the rest of Europe but for those who live outside the UK they have the benefit of not paying VAT (value added tax) which is currently 20%. As far as I'm aware UK art mail order specialists like Jacksons www.jacksonsart.com and Ken Bromley www.artsupplies.co.uk charge carriage at cost and in many cases this will not exceed the saving on VAT.
Starting with paints I suggest the best current buys are Daler Rowney, Lukas and Sennelier. Rembrandt are also pretty good. These are all very acceptable paints. Maimeri are also currently being sold at very keen prices by Jacksons. I myself primarily buy tubed paint and where the maker offers different sizes, the larger ones like 21ml by Sennelier and Rembrandt, Lukas 24ml, are the best buys. To save money if they offer a 5ml or 10ml buy those in the colours you only occasionally use. Winsor & Newton, still the one to compare with, are frequently on special offer at much better prices than are available in the USA. I personally avoid the Korean brands like Shin Han but others swear by them. Lukas is not stocked by either Jacksons or Bromley which is a nuisance but is by Great Art, who are German but have a UK telephone number and website in English, and Lawrence. Unfortunately Great Art www.greatart.co.uk do not supply outside Europe. Lawrence www.lawrence.co.uk will but impose fixed carriage charges. There is also some movement in `student' quality paints with new ones like Turner, available from Jacksons, appearing on the market. Both Jacksons and Bromley have cheaper own label paints which are worth investigating.
Brushes are one of the most expensive items, especially sable or Kolinsky sable (however see article on sable brushes Index June 2014), These are excruciatingly expensive once you get beyond size 8. I suggest trying sable/synthetic mixes from someone like Rosemary & Co www.rosemaryandco.com or Jacksons. There are several to choose from. I have also recorded the choices of great artists like Viktoria Prischedko and Piet Lap (see article Index June 2014) who use the Da Vinci Cosmotop series, a mix of synthetic and animal hairs. One friend of mine, who is a very fine artist, Yvonne Harry, uses synthetics, normally Pro Art and much prefers them to sable brushes. There is an increasing range of quality synthetics becoming available from the Catalan maker Escoda, and Rosemary & Co has a wide range. Synthetics are considerably cheaper. and affordable compared to sables. The claim is that the latest synthetics are getting closer and closer to sables. The mail order specialists are also increasingly introducing own label brushes which are worth a try.
As for paper 100% cotton papers continue to rise in price. Cheaper non-cotton alternatives are some from the Hahnemuhle range, Britannia being one, while the perennial British favorite is Bockingford, used by many professionals as well as amateurs. Hahnemuhle Cornwall at 210lb (450gsm) is also favoured, and while roughly the same price as a 140lb cotton paper is cheaper than the equivalent cotton ranges in 200lb.
The best value 100% cotton paper, in my opinion, is Centenaire, exclusive to Great Art.
I don't know what the situation is in the USA but with a number of very aggressive online suppliers there are regular offers.