Watercolour painting is an expensive hobby, especially if you buy the best (most expensive?) materials. I refer primarily to amateur artists, who are leisure painters and may have limited funds. Fortunately I can buy within reason what I want, as I don't spend a lot of money on other things, apart from a few books. Even here I get the majority from the local library. Nevertheless having been brought up in a household and period when ordinary people had little money I am loath to be profligate. The following statistics are based on Jacksons current prices which I think will give a good average, but obviously you will get variations between different suppliers, and also some of the above do have special offers from time to time. Some of the prices of first line makes are extortionate. I don't think there is any other way of describing them, so here is an attempt to suggest ways of economizing on price if not on quality. Another suggestion is, where available, buy the smaller tubes of colours that are not used regularly. I was once told, on posing the question when visiting Daler Rowney, that paint was good for at least ten years so it is feasible to buy the larger tubes. The prices I quote per ml are based on |Series 1 prices and increase thereafter in higher series. With the higher ones there can be considerable variation between makes depending on how they rate the paints.(pigments).
The first question arises Student or Artist Quality? Student quality are usually defined - apart from price - by the number of colours available, forty or less with the more expensive pigments, like Cadmiums, Cerulean and Cobalts, replaced by substitutes. My experience only runs to Cotman, Van Gogh and Venezia, amongst which are some very acceptable paints. There are others and some new ones have come on the market in recent years including own brands from the larger mail order suppliers. Invariably the own brands are listed as `artist quality' while we also have the Korean Shin Han and Mijello together with Turner from Japan. These three have been marketed as `artist quality' and have a larger range than the `student' brands. In fact they `ape' the leading brands. Prices are way below the leading makes. Can the quality be the same at these cheaper prices - less than half that of the leading makes? Another question might be have we been ripped off by the big names for years? I know artists who happily use Shin Han, one even who switched from Winsor & Newton, and some decent artists, who paint in more than one medium, have used the very inexpensive (pans) Russian St Petersburg range whenever they paint in watercolour. The Handprint assessment of watercolours, even though now well out of date, is worth reading since much of it is still relevant. One longstanding problem with watercolours is the longevity of the paints - in other words will they fade if exposed to light over a period of years? Despite being much improved, with the many new pigments that have been introduced, there are still doubts about some pigments, even though the makers give them good ratings. Are the cheaper paints likely to last as well, or will they fade after a few years? I don't honestly know but I am always suspicious of claims made that paints at much cheaper prices are `equal' to the best.
Currently the most expensive watercolours, and I refer specifically to the UK and Europe, are Golden QoR and Daniel Smith. Based on cost per ml, as tube sizes vary, are Daniel Smith (15ml) 63.3p with Golden a ridiculous (11ml) 94.5p! Golden are reviewed in the latest issue of `The Artist' magazine. Somebody called David Parfitt gives the review and is generally positive although, in my opinion, less than effusive and the high cost isn't highlighted. For the huge premium these paints ask you would expect something earth shattering. After all they claim a breakthrough with the `exclusive' binder. Unsurprisingly a full page ad for QoR watercolours fills the back cover. I haven't tried them and I have no plans to do so as I am happy with a number of other makes at much lower prices. I'd be interested to know how they are selling.
When Daniel Smith appeared a few years ago with a huge and ever increasing range they caused an enormous stir, especially in America. Prior to this Winsor & Newton held the premium position and still do with many top artists although there is no doubt they are under serious attack. Daniel Smith are very innovative, perhaps excessively so and when I asked a question about the claim they made regarding their alternatives to Cadmiums and Cobalts I received no reply. A repeated request brought a similar lack of response. The range is huge but I suggest you read what Bruce McEvoy of Handprint says including his piece on the Primateks. They certainly have some wonderful paints but with prices that range from £9.50 for bog standard colours like Raw Sienna, up to a whopping £21.50 for the more exotic ones I won't be buying much if anything from them in future. Prices seem more flexible in their home country and they do frequent offers, but unfortunately not so far in the UK. Professional artists who command high prices will no doubt take a different view and some high profile ones have indeed effused about Daniel Smith paints. I have and still use Graham paints but again they are exclusively on offer from Lawrence of Hove and I have had some issues with a few of the paints, especially Mineral Violet (PV16), and also pin holes in a few tubes that leaked. I don't plan to buy any more at the moment although they have some lovely paints such as Quinacridone Rust (PO48). See my piece on Graham - they are one of the favourites of Bruce McEvoy of Handprint. The problem with the Lawrence approach is that they offer better prices if you buy six tubes but, contrary to the policies of Jacksons, Bromley and Great Art, have a compulsory carriage charge. I took up this point with them but they wouldn't budge. `Service' was mentioned. All I want from a supplier are the correct goods supplied without delivery problems and I cannot accept that `service' comes into it beyond that. I haven't found any difficulties as Jacksons, in particular, are very good if any problems occur. Mostly though you get few problems with any of these suppliers.
Having analysed the current costs - and this is a snapshot in time because things change - this is how it pans out. I have calculated what the costs are per ml based on the largest tube sizes, except where 37ml tubes are offered. I haven't looked at pans which are available from most and also many offer smaller tube sizes mostly 5 ml. Sennelier have a 10ml size. Should you really want to go overboard Windsor & Newton have a limited range in 37ml tubes and so do Da Vinci. I have no experience with the latest Da Vinci range because of the way they are marketed in the UK, exclusively by Lawrence of Hove. However they do look good and very tempting.
The dearest paints are, as already stated Daniel Smith and QoR. Winsor & Newton are next but here, certainly in the UK, they have fairly frequent special offers at reduced prices. Also note that the dearest W & N series cost £13.40 and this is exceeded by Holbein, Old Holland, Bloxx and Maimeri. However one has to consider W & N have a 14ml size tube, whereas the others mentioned are 15ml - in Old Hollands case 18ml. The paints are grouped in series from 1 to 6, this applies to Holbein, Daniel Smith and Old Holland. At the other end of the scale Daler Rowney and Lukas have only 2. Most of the others have 4 or 5 and Rembrandt 3. You will also find variations in ratings of the same pigments between makers.. I always recommend - based on Handprint and other writers on the subject like Michael Wilcox and Hilary Page - that you should look at what the pigments are not go by the often fanciful names given the paints. Pigments not colours. If you wish to pursue this further read the various posts I have published on the paint makers which go into more detail.
The Handprint assessment of paint ranges is very detailed, although in some respects becoming out of date. He had some harsh things to say about some of the longstanding European makes in particular, while seeming to favour the American ones, most of which are of more recent vintage. Bias? I think Bruce McEvoy too professional to be overly biased but human nature being what it is......
My view as an amateur artist is that all the leading makes listed have their good points and you won't go far wrong in using any of them. I also see nothing against using a mixture of paints from different makers. In art we have some people who try to lay down laws, which in fact are not laws but their own opinions. This includes, at the most extreme that you must only paint plein air, use only one brand of paint on the basis that different makes are incompatible, and have a limited palette, sometimes as low as 4 to 6.. I don't believe any of this.
We now come to best buys. This again is my interpretation based on a combination of quality allied with price. Others may differ and are welcome to do so. I don't claim any sort of monopoly over this subject. I know from my own experience that different artists will say they like this or that particular paint range and will give their reasoning. Personal preference is a factor here as it is in most other things.
Getting beyond the Daniel Smith and QoR ranges I think Winsor and Newton (60.7p per ml at usual prices but often cheaper) are still a top buy primarily when they are on offer. They have a large range with many superb colours and I especially like Cerulean, which is well priced compared to other leading brands. I also like their earth colours. Earth colours do show considerable variation in colour tone amongst the leading makes. I've never tried Bloxx at 54.3 per ml. They were panned by Handprint leading to an exchange of e-mails between Bloxx and Bruce McEvoy. Schminke are good paints and I particularly like their translucent colours. At 48.6p per ml they are competitive but this is the series one price and they tend to have fewer paints here than some other makes. Holbein are 51.3p per ml and are a favourite of, amongst others Charles Reid. In Charles case he likes the way they don't crack and remoisten easily. Maimeri are an excellent buy- 45.3p per ml - in Series 1 and 2, where most of the paints are listed, but become expensive thereafter. They are a high quality make with the odd reservation. See the post on them.. This applies to all those where I have done a more detailed analysis of the range. Old Holland, with a huge range, costs 46.1p per ml for the 18ml size. They also do a 6ml tube.
I now come to those I consider the best buys. I repeat these are my personal opinions and others may differ. I explain my reasoning which is that I consider the quality of the paint - again my opinion - and compare this with the prices combining the two together. An acceptable quality (to me) with a good price. The winners are Daler Rowney and Lukas with Sennelier coming up fast. With Daler Rowney and Lukas having only two price series this means they are often considerably cheaper in those paints that are in higher series in other makes. You should also consider Rembrandt, especially the 21ml tube which they do in a limited range - unfortunately not by Jacksons. Trevor Chamberlain, one of the very best British artists, said in his book that the Talens (Rembrandt) Viridian was the best he had found, although he generally doesn't use Rembrandt..
I have been buying Daler Rowney at a local art shop at 38.66p per ml for the last year. This is cheaper than Jacksons price which equates to 45.3p. I might add that Cass Art, the London art shop group, have opened a shop in Bristol and the Winsor & Newton prices are excellent, better than mail order . They appeared to me to be the regular price rather than a special. The best buy is actually Lukas, who do a 24ml tube that works out at 33.5p per ml. This is based on the Great Art prices as Jacksons do not sell Lukas, although this may change soon. Lawrence also sell Lukas. Again you need to read my post, where listed for a full analysis and explanation. I mentioned Sennelier who revamped and increased their range comparatively recently. Sennelier do a 21ml tube size, also a 10ml, and the larger one costs 35.7p per ml.. I haven't yet purchased any of the new Sennelier range but Yvonne Harry of my AVA group bought two colours recently and they certainly seemed quite liquid. Honey is used just like Graham and their are different views about the use of it in paints. Schminke in particular are opposed. There are colours I particularly like in Daler Rowney (Indian Yellow PY153 (but note pigment PY153 may no longer be available so this may change.), Green Gold PY129 and Cobalt Blue Deep PB72). Lukas Permanent Orange ( PO71) plus Turquoise (PB16). Reservations would be the earth colours from both Daler Rowney and Lukas. In Daler Rowneys case they seem on the heavy side (to me) and quite opaque. With Lukas I don't like the pigment approach they have with the earth colours, again see the specific piece on them. I may well continue to buy some odd colours in other makes that I prefer. Some years ago I attended a number of workshops with the artist Trevor Waugh. At the time he was sponsored by Daler Rowney and his paintings were fabulous. He did say he preferred some colours in other makes. Permanent Rose from Winsor & Newton, a favourite of many flower painters was one such. Although Permanent Rose is PV19, which is available freely in most makes under various names, there is something about the W & N version that makes it stand out. Earth colour choices would be Maimeri, Winsor & Newton or Holbein depending on price at the time. I haven't yet tried Sennelier. One different choice is the Schminke Translucent Brown (PBr41) that has virtually replaced Burnt Sienna in my palette..
DEC 2009/SEPT 2014
WINSOR & NEWTON