Holbein are a Japanese company with a good reputation for their watercolours although not widely used in the UK. They are easily obtainable through mail order via Jacksons. A retail shop (now also selling online) Herrings of Dorchester sell Holbien which is where I first came across them. Holbein are however a favourite of Charles Reid, who despite dalliances with other makes, seems to come back to them every time. He particularly likes the way they remoisten when dry with just a light spray of water.
Highly saturated colours
Whenever I review paints I always consult Handprint which, although increasingly out of date, is still a treasure trove of information hard to obtain elsewhere. He last reviewed them in 1999 but most of what he said is probably still relevant. There are two ranges but we are only concerned here with the main artists range. The second range is a slightly odd one called 'irodori' with 48 colours all prefaced by the word 'antique'. I don't know what the purpose is of this second range.
Of the 108 colours - 2 of which are metallic - 55 are single pigment paints, 20 are 3 or 4 pigment mixes and 20 contain white as one of the ingredients. I was surprised at this as in general I prefer single pigment paints and this proportion is low compared to most other leading makes. I do make exceptions though like 'Moonglow' from Daniel Smith. I'm not keen on white being added as in my experience it can make the paint cloudy, especially when diluted, and in Naples Yellow, the paints have solidified after a while and can't be squeezed out of the tube. This certainly applies to Maimeri. Most Naples Yellows contain white which is why I prefer the Winsor & Newton single pigment Naples Yellow Deep (PBr24), Oddly enough the W & N Naples Yellow adds white to this pigment. The naming of Holbein paints is all over the place - very confusing - and you really need to look at pigments rather than the often misleading names.
Holbein offer both 5ml and 15ml tube sizes and you can buy pan sets although they don't sell pans separately. I presume they intend you to fill the pan, when empty, with tube paint.
Reading the Handprint review again I would say he was lukewarm about them. This isn't unusual amongst non-American makers, although I would quality this by saying he is or was too professional to allow bias to be a major issue. While he praises them for some 'superb single pigment colours' he also criticises them for including 'several fugitive pigments not clearly identified as such'. Take for example Carmine - a favourite of Charles Reid - and Rose Madder are both PR83, which is Alazarin Crimson, a known fugitive pigment, yet given 'excellent' lightfastness ratings. I have been present when Charles Reid was asked about his use of Holbeins Carmine (PR83) and his slightly puzzled reaction was that he had never had any complaints about fading. Holbeins Permanent Alazarin Crimson is composed of PV19 - Quinacridone Rose - and PBr25 a brown, quite different to other makes. If this seems overcritical to Holbein users then I again quote Handprint who writes ' Holbein paints overall are amongst the most saturated, most transparent and least staining of the brands listed here' - qualities that will appeal to many. Just Google Handprint and see what he says in totality. Overall his view is that you need to be selective. This is something which applies to some other makes.
The Holbein website holbeinamerica.com does not include pigment details on it's colour charts. Jacksons in the most recent catalogues still do but I sense that since Handprint gave up and others like Michael Wilcox and Hilary Page are no longer scrutinising what the makers are up to backsliding is going on.There have been instances of makers changing pigments yet the tubes still show out of date pigment information, if you can read it that is! It must be difficult if you still have thousands of the old labels but I notice Winsor and Newton are now printing details - once again very small - on the new bare metal tubes which will presumably allow them to change pigment details quickly. When I have queried some of these things with makers the result has been a stony silence. When Handprint did this they had to reply such was his influence with a million hits a day on the site. In my case I'm insignificant so can be ignored. Surely if what is in the tin is not what it says on the label this is a breach of trading standards?
My experience is limited. I have tried Jaune Brilliant No1 and 2 - 'the secret vices of many (American ) artists' according to Handprint, the earth colours (good) and currently have a tube of Ultramarine Blue. They have 6 price categories ranging from (current Jacksons) £7.70 for Series 1 to a whopping £19.40 for Series 6. I thought them fine but wouldn't rush to buy them unless they came in with a good price offer and then I'd be selective in what I bought. This whole question of pricing is something I've written up before because it is complicated and there is no common policy. If not careful you can pay more than is necessary for one make when you can get a better alternative cheaper. One such example is Winsor & Newton Cerulean which is very competitive and a better buy than several others. I take the view most or indeed all of the leading brands are perfectly acceptable subject to personal preference. My take is to combine acceptable quality with price. I also buy different brands as you don't have to stick to one whatever some may say. At present you have a marketing drive for the recently introduced very expensive QoR with several well-known artists promoting them. Take all this stuff with a pinch of salt. I'm sure most artists offer a genuine view but do they pay for the paints or are they gratis? I know this happens.
If you wish to pursue interest in Holbein - a perfectly acceptable make overall - then have a look at www.parkablogs.com/picture/review-holbein-artists-watercolor. This guy is enthusiastic about Holbein and there are lots of comments . In addition the artist Tom Lynch promotes them on Youtube so look at that also. In the years since Handprint gave up many new pigments have been introduced. The best source of information on pigments - perhaps too technical for most tastes but a phenomenal source of pigment information and usually smack up to date, is the artiscreation.com/ColorCharts.html site. In the USA Dick Blicks website has full information but you have to look up each colour separately.
BLOG INDEX - JULY 2014