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.


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Latest Amerindian

My Indian paintings tend not to be very popular.  I post the better ones on Facebook/ Google groups like 'Portraits & Figures in Watercolour' - which I started - and 'Watercolour Addicts' as well as my own Facebook page. When I see the huge number of likes some others get I admit surprise and puzzlement at times but there you are. I'll keep trying. The one below is my latest and I quite like it. Some of my older ones, when I see them now horrify me as they are so bad and they quickly end up in the recycle bin. I'm still, at this late stage, trying for a more consistent result but it remains elusive. 


Indian Brave - 16" x 12" Waterford High White not

The overall affect is fairly close to what I was aiming at, although the eyes may be too close together. Resemblance to the guide photo is moderate but I don't aim for a  particularly realistic result. I have learned some lessons over the time I've been painting but it has taken longer than it should have done, partly because I took up watercolour - indeed painting - at a late stage in my life. Still I enjoy it !

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Watercolour Paintings 53

Here are this months batch. Varied as usual showing a wide range of styles and subjects. Hopefully there is something for everyone although this is always a tall order to fulfil. Some of the artists are no longer with us, some are already famous and World renowned, some well known and some lesser known or not at all, at least to me. Of course many may  have reputations in their own countries or local reputations where they are based.



Robin Berry - This is very recent from this fine American artist



Leilie Abadie - A study in delicacy from this French lady



Sarah Yeoman



Vladislav Yeliseyev



Tim Wilmott



Yugo Nakayama



Alvaro Castagnet - The Workshop King, Great Artist.




Herbert Brocklebank  1892 - 1932 A fine Australian artist



Correction - Stephen Zhang - Still Stunning!



Andy Evansen



Michiko Taylor




Ross Paterson - one of the leading Ausrtralians



Harold Herbert - Very Charles Reid like.



Lorna Muir 1920 - 1990 - Another  Australian




Jinnie May



Erkut Sevin


Rae Andrews



John Salminen - Amazing!




My Mistake! It is Charles Reid- Thanks Ray



Keiko Tanabe

Any name corrections or more information on the lesser known artists above welcomed

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Winsor & Newton 'Cadmium Free' Watercolours

Winsor & Newton have introduced seven new paints which they say act exactly like the Cadmium versions but without the toxicity. They call them 'Cadmium Free' after the names, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Red etc. In addition three other paints have been introduced Smalt (Dupont's Blue),  Transparent Orange and Quinacridone Violet (PV55).  All these paints are in Series 4 - the most expensive. I have e-mailed W & N to ask for the pigment details and will post their answer (if I get one).



Smalt was available as part of a special 5ml edition in 2016. Presumably due to demand it is now part of the full range. Here there is a problem, if you like to call it that. The paint is based on PV15 which in my book is Ultramarine Violet so should be called a 'hue'. The true Smalt had a different composition.

Transparent Orange is shown on the website as Pigment 'DPP' but on the colour chart comes up as PO107. I've never heard of this one and neither has the Pigment Database which ends at PO86. Interesting must be a new one. Quinacridone Violet is PV55, first introduced by Daniel Smith. The pigment database calls it 'Quinacridone Purple' and says 'it is claimed superior to Quinacridone Violet PV19 and close to PV23'. I bought the DS version and eventually discarded it as the paint went solid in the tube.

Looking at the 'Professional' range in total the number offered is 109, 100 plus in 5ml, 96 in 14ml and 24 in 37ml. There are also 95 in half pans and 72 in full pans. Current W & N prices at Jacksons are (14ml) Series 1 £9.80, Series 2 £11.30, Series 3 £13.10 and Series 4 £15.40! These are stiff and have escalated over the last year, as have many others.

At the moment my recommendations using my markers of price and quality together  are first choice LUKAS in 24ml which may be too much for some unless you use a lot of paint. An alternative is Sennelier who offer both 10ml and 21ml tubes, while I'm considering giving Shin Han another try. I might also try Turner. The other option is the new Van Gogh range, increased to 72. My main reservation with the Van Gogh is the smallish number of single pigment paints but nevertheless there are some interesting newcomers amongst the range. I realise of course that personal preference plays a large part in choosing what to buy. I think however one should have an open mind as prices  of top ranges are reaching stupid levels for keen amateurs or just hobby painters. Ron Ranson used Cotman and thought the whole thing was a con, while my friend Zvonimir regards it is as ripoff since the pigments in watercolours are the same as in oils and acrylics, which are not as expensive volume for volume. In addition to the above suggestions have a look at house brands like Jacksons, the SAA and Bromleys. In the US all the big dealers offer them and some are very well-regarded.

I have received the following reply to my queries from Debbie at Winsor & Newton:

'Since we have developed Cadmium Free colours we cannot give the pigments away for other companies to use. We have spent years perfecting these colours to mimic as close as possible the original Cads and we are protecting our own interests.
Transparent Orange contains pigments that are not registered with the ASTM this means that the ASTM (the America Society for Testing and Materials) has not given it a C.I. number. D.P.P stands for Diketo-Pyrrolo-Pyrrol. Additional Note: On Jacksons website PO107 is shown on the details for the new Transparent Orange.

I have to say this concerns me. Since Handprint stopped updating pigment details and testing them I know for a fact some companies are changing pigments without altering the packaging. Others seem less inclined to give details. Most of the makers websites do still give details but it is getting harder to find them.


Friday, 15 March 2019

Trevor Chamberlain - A Watercolour Master

Trevor Chamberlain is a contemporary of John Yardley.  I think it fair to say they have been at the pinnacle of British watercolour artists for many years, both now in their mid-eighties. John Yardley is a shy and reserved character although, according to his many friends much less so when you get to know him. Trevor is even more reserved in that he has never made a video nor held workshops or given demonstrations. I imagine over the years he has received many requests to do so. When Steve Hall wrote his book on Trevor he told me he was initially rather reserved and perhaps suspicious, but once Steve gained his confidence was fine. Trevor is a prominent member of the famous Wapping group of artists founded in 1946- www.thewappinggroupofartists.co.uk/ - so has many painting friends. They paint outdoors weekly April to September, much along the River Thames. Numbers are restricted to 25 although their splendid website currently has 26, 25 men and 1 woman.







The two paintings above are my favourites. The one on the oil tanker, I believe painted at Falmouth is quite small which makes it all the more amazing. I could be wrong on the size.







There have been a number of books on Trevor. He is shown as author of two, one on oils in Ron Ransons Painting School series, and (my favourite) 'Trevor Chamberlain - A Personal View'  in the superb David & Charles Atelier Series, sadly discontinued after only a small number of titles.  Angela Gair is credited as assisting on the Atelier book. The other books are a section in Ron Ransons splendid 'Watercolour Impressionists' and the latest by Steve Hall and Barry Miles 'Trevor Chamberlain England and beyond.










What is Trevors approach? As Ron Ranson says in 'Watercolour Impressionists'... 'The effect of light is everything to him and it is the constant theme that runs through his work whether it be oils or watercolour'. As noted Trevor also paints in oils and when he decided to do watercolour  he states in the Atelier book that it took him a year to master the medium. Lucky him as some of us still struggle after many years - at least I do. As Ron also says he is something of a  slave to the weather as he paints  exclusively outdoors, but he's by no means a 'fair weather' painter. This limits him to about two paintings per week.








What is Trevors approach to painting? He paints 'loose and fluid' using what is called the 'controlled wash' method , Jack Merriot, who promoted this,  being one of his early influences. To quote him from the Atelier book 'Much of the picture is completed in a single wash, with the addition of one or two additional washes to define forms'. This gives in most of his paintings a very soft look. This does not appeal to everyone. My friend John Softly isn't a great fan of this 'soft' approach. Each to his own as we say.  His methods are detailed in the Atelier book so I won't go into detail just say if you are interested seek out the Atelier book and Ron Ransons 'Watercolour Impressionists' I don't have the latest available book by Hall.& Miles. The others are out of print but searching may find copies in the second- hand market.







What materials does he use? He likes many of the old papers and built up a stock of several makes. which are probably exhausted by now. Of current papers he likes Arches, Bockingford, Waterford, Fabriano and Two Rivers, usually 140lb stretched to avoid cockling . He will paint very large in the studio- full imperial - in which case he has 300lb paper -from a small outdoor sketch. Brushes are Kolinsky round  sables in sizes 8, 12 and 14. On larger paintings he may use a 'french polishers mop' - presumably Isabey for the initial wash. He also sometimes uses a shaving mop and has an 18mm flat brush for lifting out. A No 4 rigger for fine detail completes the number, although he also uses an old brush to apply masking fluid, used  very sparingly.

Artists quality paints are his choice, both tubes and pan colours,  Raw Sienna a favourite and also mentions Olive Green, Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine, Viridian, Burnt Umber, Venetian Red. Permanent Magenta - a softer colour - has replaced Alazarin Crimson. After trying many different Viridians  he'd found the one by Talens (Rembrandt) 'really good'. I bought the Rembrandt Viridian on this recommendation but couldn't see it was much different to others. Still I'm not Trevor Chamberlain.



Trevor is a close friend of the artist David Curtis who told him about Craig Young and his hand-made palettes  based on old designs. He purchased the one similar to  the Binning Munro without the flap. I've one of those with the flap and it is still pristine and unused. I can hardly bear to spoil it but as my other two Craig Young palettes are showing the worse for wear will have to bite the bullet shortly.

I think that's pretty much it. As said enquiries on the internet will bring more information and lots of paintings, and searches amongst  second-hand booksellers may result in copies of the books mentioned. Without a doubt a wonderful artist.


















Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Nearly But Not Quite.

This is an odd title but denotes what I feel about many of my paintings. A sense of not quite getting there. The one below, done this week, is an example.



What I was interested in here was the heads of the animals, a rare Scottish breed, I reached this point and didn't quite know what to do next. Perhaps I should have stopped. Charles Reid says when you look at a painting and wonder what to do next the best thing it to stop. After reflection I carried on, feeling it was a bit too unfinished but was I right?  I don't know. Certainly overpainting is one of the worst faults artists painting in watercolour do. They just keep on when stopping - even if the painting is slightly unfinished - is the best option. Judi Whitton taught something similar.


Stonehenge Aqua not 16" x 12" 'Highland Cattle 'or 'Mother & Son'.

One of Charles other pearls of wisdom is that you reach a certain point in a painting where - if you make the wrong decision - it goes downhill or alternatively the right one and a decent painting emerges.

The other day I decided to take Robert Wades advice, illustrated in one of his videos, of going through that pile of paintings and discarding the ones that don't come up to scratch. In his case most of us would be delighted with the ones he tore up but.... I have a huge pile built up over some years so started on the first batch, about half the total. I segregated them into three piles. Those to be discarded, those where I could paint on the back - at over £1.50p a sheet now per block of Waterford this is an  option, and you can do it whatever might be said to the contrary. The late Ron Ranson told me he had a painting hung at the Royal Academy that was on the reverse of a 'failure'. The third pile were those I considered decent, although a few are borderline. Remember this is a hobby painter talking not a high profile artist. The discarded ones were torn up and put in the recycle bin. Do I feel better after doing this. Robert said he did and so am I. Actually it tidied things up somewhat.







Friday, 1 March 2019

Watercolour Paintings 52

Here are the latest batch, a very varied collection, which hopefully has something for everybody. It once again displays the wide range of styles and subjects that watercolour now encompasses. I know some of these artists but not all. Further enquiries on Facebook or Pinterest should bring more information.
Rachel McNaughton


Another from Rachel McNaughton

This one is very similar to the paintings John Blockley produced at the earlier stage of his career. His paintings were quite bleak with sombre colours however. He later introduced more colour and even became President of the Pastel Society. Interestingly his daughter Ann, an accomplished flower painter, has also changed direction with  a far more abstract approach and very strong colour.


Edward Seago


Steven Scott Young


Corneliu Dragan-Targoviste



Jake Winkle
This British artists wife runs the Luxartis brush company,  although the brushes have  'Germany' on the handles presumably where they are made.


Charles Reid



Olivia Quinton



Ann Christian Moberg



Koo Cheang Jin



Roberto Zangarelli


David Taylor

One of the leading Australian artists.



J W M Turner
Turner has an International reputation although not everyone likes his work. Charles Reid amongst them.



Lars Eje Larsson





Yvonne Joiner





Thomas W Schaller




Maria Stezhko




Jasmine Huang




Annemiek Groenhout



Tim Willmot

This was painted in Saltford nr Bath, where I lived until fairly recently. I'm still close by at Keynsham. Seago painted  at least one oil at Saltford, down by the river Avon.



Elke Memmler



Bev Jozwiak

A top American Bev loves painting Jackdaws.



Edward Wesson

The simplicity of most of Wessons paintings is typified by the above. Don't think though that such works are easy to produce.