Monday, 8 April 2019

Beware the Hype!

As readers of this blog will know I have something of an axe to grind regarding the very high price of watercolour materials, specifically paints. but also brushes and papers to a lesser degree. What has prompted this piece is the campaign by Daniel Smith (and others) to appoint 'ambassadors'- using well-known artists -  or other titles to promote their products. We get the usual stuff with the designated artist claiming they are the 'best in the world' or the best they have ever used 'etc etc. The latest instance had the artist squealing with delight and receiving posts from followers on her Facebook page congratulating her and 'assuming' she was getting them free.

 I know Daniel Smith watercolour paints are very good but 'best in the world'? They certainly have the largest range at 200 plus and growing. They do include some unique colours. However do  we really need 20 plus or more shades in reds, yellows, blues, browns etc. On my dot cards many seem similar or have only minor differences. Who has a palette with 50 or 60 colours let alone 200. I would guess the average varies from about 12 to 24. Is it really ethical for these successful artists to encourage their followers or students, many of whom will be amateurs or hobby painters, to pay the very high prices charged for Daniel Smith in the UK? The late Ron Ranson told me privately that the whole thing about watercolour materials was a ripoff. Of course he wouldn't say it in print but personally used Cotman paints, less than a dozen, cheap brushes and Bockingford paper. The famous Chinese master Guan Weixing reportedly uses Cotman also. These are approximately one quarter the price of the Winsor & Newton 'Professional' range. There are many who will say this is their preferred paint for this or that reason and personal preference is a factor but the idea that they will help you produce better paintings is debatable. In the case of Daniel Smith the lure of many of these colours is hard to resist. I've fallen for it in the past and bought umpteen which you then struggle to incorporate in your paintings. Other top makes like Schmincke and Winsor & Newton now have over 100 in their ranges and this seems likely to increase. Maimeri have gone from 72 to 90 and even - most intriguing of the lot - Van Gogh a budget make increased recently from 40 to 72.

Some years ago I did a series of workshops with an artist who used and promoted Daler Rowney watercolours. He didn't say they were the best in the world but nevertheless his students took note. One of the participants, who knew him well, said they were provided free. Later this was withdrawn and the next thing was articles appearing in an art magazine promoting another make.

A few years ago I got into a spat with a well-known artist who was promoting various makes as 'the best in the World.' These included Da Vinci paints and Escoda brushes with the statement that Charles Reid used Escoda. I pointed out that on all the workshops I'd done with Charles Reid he used and recommended Da Vinci Maestro brushes. This was not well received and I got an unpleasant response and subsequently received further vitriol.  Charles was on a workshop in Spain and visited the Escoda factory where he was given the VIP treatment. In my final workshop with him he was using some Escoda brushes and not long afterwards a three brush set  with his name on the handle was introduced. Escoda have done this with several other artists and they are at slightly higher prices than the normal Escoda range, presumably because the artists get some sort of monetary return. John Yardley, who always previously used the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Size 10 brush (at over £100 each) also has a three brush set now from Escoda with his name on the handle. I'd clarify that I've some Escoda brushes. I bought a size 14 Kolinsky after examining one that Charles Reid was using, and have one or two others. They are excellent brushes but smaller size by size than makes like Da Vinci. Best in the World? I think Da Vinci and others would strongly dispute that. Very good certainly but that isn't the same thing. Does a name on the handle make your paintings better?

I know many artists struggle to make a living from painting alone. This is one reason we have them doing demonstrations, paintings holidays , workshops etc. However the successful artists who promote various products are - presumably-  far from struggling financially.  I am an amateur or hobby painter and the majority who paint are in the same category. Some are reasonably affluent but many are not. Is it really ethical to suggest amateur artists must buy the highest priced artists quality paints? I suggest the answer is no as there are quite a few much more reasonably priced makes that are perfectly adequate. In the case of  'artists quality' Sennelier, Lukas, Rembrandt amongst the European makes, and then you have Shin Han, Mjello and Turner from Korea and Japan.  New ones seem to be appearing regularly which includes house brands, all worth consideration especially for the standard colours. While I have some reservations about some of the Asian makes; if you look at them selectively and avoid certain ones there are many with good single pigments that are worth trying. The ranges are quite large, much more so than the recognised budget or 'student' quality makes. The new Van Gogh  range is worth a try. I've used them in the past and they were perfectly acceptable. With 72 paints (from 40) they have quite a few single pigments and some that haven't appeared previously in budget makes. I would avoid certain blues like Cobalt Blue  and Cerulean as they are combination of Phalo blue and white. I don't like paints with added white as they are  more opaque and , in my experience, tend to solidify in the tube after a relatively short period. The same reservation I make about multiple pigment paints due to the unreliable results  that can occur if used for mixing. One other way of saving money is to buy 5ml or 10ml tubes, where offered, of colours that are not regulars.

I'm not going to cover brushes or paper in detail as I've done so fairly recently. Naturally I can only do so where I've actually used them myself or looked at what recognised artists use. With paper Bockingford is the  most popular in the UK and there are also some good synthetic papers in the Hannemuhle range. I do agree it is desirable to use a good quality paper. It doesn't have to be hand-made but 100% cotton like Saunders Waterford, although increasingly expensive,  is my favourite in the High White not surface.  As for brushes I believe the standard of synthetic brushes is now very high, and while they may not be exactly like sable they are getting closer all the time. A good compromise are the sable/synthetic brushes readily available from makers such as Rosemary. The best amateur artist I know - semi professional in some respects - used Pro Arte synthetics almost exclusively - seconds at that - but has been impressed by Rosemarys sable/synthetics.

I have on occasion contacted some manufacturers with specific queries. In the case of Daniel Smith and Maimeri I received no replies, even to a second e-mail to Daniel Smith. Winsor and Newton, to their credit replied promptly and  - while not bending an inch - gave their reasons for not doing so. I disagreed and said so but what can I do? That's it folks.


CharM said...

I appreciate your frankness about the sponsorship bundles offered by Paint and Brush Manufacturers. I have never truly believed the hype, but didn't think much about it until Daniel Smith's newest release. This set of greys really bothers me because I don't believe the Artists whose names are attached to them would use them as tube paints. They mixed their greys. Daniel Smith took advantage of this and filled tubes with the homogeneous mixtures. These mixtures will never behave the same as mixing the colours on palettes or mingling on paper. :(

indianagreg said...

The JZ and Alvaro sets of grey are a curious additions as neither artist actually uses those tubes of paint. Pure marketing. But I'd give a pass to Jane as she has long mixed her own "Jane's Grey" and adding a little of one paint or the other will modify it--and she does use both single pigment paints on her palette.

To clarify, I'm not suggesting either of you is criticizing Jane.

jimserrettstudio said...

Product marketing has always been intense in claiming such and such artist uses this item, so you should too. Just look back through some vintage art magazines such as American Artist.

I do think the self-marketing product reviews and promotions by artist themselves has worsened the whole thing. I always keep in mind what a teacher once told me.

There are two creatures that eat their young,
Artists and sharks.

Peter Ward said...

I’m not critising Jane (Jane who?). Thanks all for comments.

indianagreg said...

Jane Blundell aka Quinacridone Gold on Wetcanvas. She's the one for whom Daniel Smith introduced Jane's Grey. I know you're not criticizing her, Peter. I tried to make that clear. I do think that JZ and Alvaro should have passed when asked to lend their names to sets of grey paints they don't even use. If they actually use the paint brushes with their names or use a tube of paint with their name, I wouldn't be critical. (I think JZ does use the Escoda brushes with his name; I don't know about Alvaro.)

indianagreg said...

I do wonder if the VAT represents a good portion of the price difference in paint between the US and the UK. From your other post I was shocked at the amount you'd have to pay for a 14ml tube of W&N; much less here.

Peter Ward said...

Hi Greg
Prices here have escalated over the last two years. Winsor & Newton were often available at good prices, below Daniel Smith but not at present. Daler Rowney have increased by a considerable amount. The American makes of Graham, Daniel Smith and Da Vinci have always been more expensive than in America. Mind some other countries are even worse regarding prices.
As far as this 'grey' thing goes I'm staggered we need umpteen ready made greys. It's easy enough to mix them with a little practice. This is marketing gone mad.

Edo Hannema said...

Excellent article Peter! Its true DS is very commercial. I can t blame them. I did visit the Old Holland factory not so long ago! They told me the brand did have the highest pigmentation of all brands, and the small tube would go a long way. With this in mind I bought me a few tubes 5 ml. a big disappointment for the ultramarine, cobalt blue, Raw Sienna and Old Holland ocher. very weak colours. I asked the factory to investigate and still waiting. my point is, every factory will say they have the best. I bought also 3 colours from DS. And would not buy them again. one tube was even 22 euros! I stay with my Rembrandt. and Cotman now and then!

IStew said...

A thoughtful and well written article. Thank you. As one of the "ambassador" artists let me point one thing out. I've painted professionally as an architectural illustrator and fine artist for over 20 years. I've tried a lot of paint. I use a lot of paint. In my workshops and those of most of my friends that teach there is always a disclaimer before or after the materials list. Mine reads as follows.

"In most cases the colors you already have will work if you have good quality paint. I don't expect you to buy every paint on my palette- if there is a color you have in question please email me.

Any for other watercolor materials you generally use. In most cases the materials you already own will work. I would, however, suggest that you have at least one large wash brush one mottler and a pointed detail brush at size 10 or 14."

I make a point at the beginning of each workshop that it's generally not the materials (or even specific colors) that will help them it is how they are handled. In my last workshop I took a piece of lichen from a tree and used that as a stamp to create a tree shape in my demonstration.

I also use Escoda brushes and for a very specific reason. I have found that their synthetic brushes are some of the finest man made fibers I have tried. The reason I have touched on this subject is that I no longer buy animal hair brushes. I'm not trying to wax lyrical about endangered species and animal cruelty I simply find that in my hand a Kolinsky will lose it's point very quickly. There is also a notable spring and extremely sharp point that the Perlas have that I have not experienced in other manufacturers. Of course these brushes are in high demand in my workshops but I do not offer them as of now.

When I teach a workshop I have original paintings for sale and I mention that at the beginning of the class and then I am done with any marketing. I don't sell Daniel Smith Paints- but they are kind enough to let me have enough to share with my students. I will typically go through 2-3 tubes at least letting students try them out. I enjoy them and although they are not the only manufacturer I use they do have a couple of things going for them that I believe is somewhat unique. Once you have filled your palette and left it open over night the colors set meaning they will not move or spread in my palette as I travel. I also do not have to "pre wet" my palette as the colors remain usable and do not dry out. Relatively speaking they are a small company amongst giants. They are no tiny mom and pop but they aren't speedball either. The same goes for the Escodas. They are a wonderful and generous family and I have visited their factory outside Barcelona. I have met the woman who specializes in making the exact brush I use and I know that when I pick that up it's more than likely gone through her hands as well. That is a special connection for me.

A hero of mine the late Rowland Hilder said- when you paint imagine you are a millionaire. You cannot worry about what your materials cost and still "play for discovery" to better understand how your colors react with one another and practicing wet in wet along with other techniques best tested on paper you have not drawn on. If the painting is precious before it begins it's ruined.

I painted with Cotman colors for many years and when I made the jump to artists grade the results were extremely noticeable. This may not be the case for you. I don't know.

So, in conclusion, let me say we do not all have everyone of our students out buying hundreds of dollars / pounds / euros of paint nor do we all think that is a good idea.

In the end the tools don't really matter though. It's what you can do with them. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful article and I do hope that this response is not taken as a rebuttal but rather an explanation of my ideas regarding your subject. Iain.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks all for comments. Iain I understand you're point of view and I wasn't getting at you or artists like you. I was quite specific and the examples quoted are true. A few years ago one artist who came to my local art group to do a demo arrived with an art shop in his boot of makes he was promoting. Of course students at workshops and demos are interested in what the artist uses. That's not the same thing as the ;points I was making.

TwoStone Studio said...

It reminds me of Forrest Gump:

"'When I was in China on the All-America ping-pong team, I just loved playing ping-pong with my Flex-o-lite ping-pong paddle," which everybody knows isn't true, but Mama said it was just a little white lie, it wasn't hurting nobody.'

indianagreg said...

Peter, today I found this youtube video apparently from a recent demonstration JZ did in China. In part 2 he says he no longer uses neutral tint; interesting timing given Daniel Smith's introduction of JZ neutral greys!

markus said...

The best solution is to buy fewer (high quality) paints in tubes. All I basically need and use is Ultramarine, Purple Magenta, Phthalo Green and Lemon Yellow. I buy 15ml Schmincke tubes. 24ml Lukas is also OK.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks all; for comments.

Whatever said...

Its all marketing hype.. and a joke. These artists can paint with dirt and make amazing works of art... but - they sign big deals to make extra $$ and suddenly claim these are the best of the best.

It's the little guy... the one that has little idea or talent that buys into this nonsense.

Peter Ward said...

Unfortunately Daniel Smith just seem to be getting in to their stride. Another well-known Asian artist, who I respect, has just jumped on the bandwaggon. The certificate Smith give them states -' they are promoting brand awareness'. That's all very well but many amateur artists are being 'persuaded' they must have DS paints to be any good. Utter rubbish. I know from my own experience that many students hang on every word the artists conducting the workshop say.

Meryl Mae Ong said...

They are really attractive to impulse buyers and at the end of the day they are there to make money. I myself was tempted to hoard art supplies (mostly paints lol pretty colors) when I started with watercolors. You just want to try everything at the start, how else would you learn and develop preferences.

Daniel Smith paints are good, but I mix and match with the paints I'm using now because I prefer some colors by other brands. And I am not really tempted to buy new colors or the most expensive brand anymore. And if price is a concern, which should be in my opinion, other makes are certainly good enough to use. If you've got the skill, it will show even using 'just' student grade paints.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Meryl

IStew said...

I understand Peter. I have seen the "art shop" before workshop set up as well which is exactly my point. I am not in the business of selling anything but my own work so I believe we are in agreement. There is no "best in the world" there is only what works best for each individual. That requires an understanding of the materials in question. Your post thoughtfully and thoroughly explains that. My best. Iain

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Ian. Professional artists have to make a living - not easy I know. My main point is many students hang on every word the artist teacher says. I did myself when I first started Unfortunately there are some who shamelessly exploit this and some manufacturers like Daniel Smith are doing the same.