Sunday 24 July 2016

Watercolour Painting on a Budget - 2016 Update

I've just purchased some art materials, mostly paints and paper, for my Avon Valley Art group.  Two relatively small parcels cost just under £300 and brought home again how expensive watercolour painting can be.

My previous posts on this subject have been very popular and the 2011 one still is to some extent. Not a lot has changed except everything has got more expensive. The main change has been the introduction of a number of cheaper paints as the artist quality prices have continued to climb with the introduction of QoR and Lutea raising them to ridiculous levels.

The principal items are paints, paper and brushes. These are the main ones. I know you can spend a lot more when you get into easels and other accessories like palettes, but in this latter case there are many cheap options which are perfectly adequate. I propose therefore to cover paints, paper and brushes only.

There has actually been more movement on paints than either paper or brushes.  This has taken three forms. The introduction of Korean paints plus Turner from Japan, more house brands plus QoR and very recently Lutea. Both these latter are excruciatingly expensive.

Shin Han, Mijello and Turner have upwards of 70 paints, compared to the more normal 40 of budget makes like Venezia from Maimeri, Van Gogh from Talens, and Cotman from Winsor and Newton. I have covered all three makes in separate posts so I suggest you read those if you are interested. I have analysed the ranges and concluded they are not equivalent to the top makes. However it is perfectly possible to find 20/30 paints in each group that have decent pigments. They are being promoted as artist quality and I would say they are somewhere between student quality and artists quality. Some of my artists friends use Shin Han and are very happy with them. They seem to me to be on the opaque side, rather like Chinese makes like Maries, described by a well-known Chinese artist as 'somewhere between watercolour and gouache'. Make no mistake though Cotman, Van Gogh and Venezia contain some excellent paints. Prices are much cheaper than the top makes and the recently introduced Turner the cheapest. The Winsor & Newton Cotman range in the USA comprises 50 paints, including genuine Cobalts and Cadmiums but they refuse to make them available in the UK. The St Petersburg range remain very popular and have recently added tubes as well as the normal pans.

The other change has been the introduction of more house brands both in the UK and USA. We have recently caught up in the UK with Ken Bromley, Jacksons and Great Art all having house brands. Initially Jacksons was made by Sennelier and still may be. I haven't tried any of them but they are well priced and have had good reviews - have you ever seen a bad one in a trade magazine? - but the only worthwhile one is to try a small sample - say three paints - yourself.

I mentioned  QoR and Lutea. My only comment is to say I won't even consider them because of the ridiculous prices when there are many excellent makes available at far better value. In the UK the much lauded Daniel Smith has made an impact with a huge range - far too many - including some lovely colours but prices are high and I suggest equivalents to many of the colours are available in cheaper makes like Lukas and Daler Rowney, while Winsor & Newton are frequently on offer. Don't rule out Maimeri, Sennelier  or Rembrandt. You don't  have to buy only one make. Others may tell you different so this is my opinion based on my own experience.

No real change here. Without a doubt Bockingford remains the best budget option and I have  just purchased a pack of 50 sheets(11" x 15") for a member of my group at £21,50p. This from Jacksons. Other options include several papers in the Hahnemuhle range like Brittania. Great Art do several budget papers under the Gerstaecker name. I tried a couple but was not impressed. They do offer a good 100% cotton paper called Centenaire, in both sheets and blocks, which is good value for a cotton paper. Sheets work out much cheaper than blocks.

Again no real change here although prices have risen steadily. With Kolinsky sables prices jump into the stratosphere beyond size 8 but Rosemary & Co are well priced compared to some the others. Escoda are also competitive although size by size they are usually smaller. They do however offer an increasing range of synthetic fibre brushes that are used and promoted by some well-known workshop artists. In the UK Pro Arte have a virtual monopoly in art shops and are good, but also have a look at what Rosemary offers.  A very good alternative are the mixed sable/synthetic brushes most list and the Da Vinci Cosmotop range of mixed hair/synthetic , used by some top artists, are worth considering. See the article on synthetic brushes by John Softly.

That's basically it. The index for the blog is July 2014 and will tell you where to find the articles mentioned in the text.


Oscar Solis said...

Because of my tendency to work at 11x15 or smaller, I still have plenty of watercolor paper (Arches and Kilimanjaro, with some Bockingford, all 140lb) that I bought years ago. I haven't looked at the prices of paper in a while. I decided to take a look because of this post. Yeah, prices have definitely gone up. Depressingly so.

If I were starting now, the prices would scare me off. I can think of a number of things I can spend money on rather than on five or ten sheets of artist quality watercolor. Add to this the cost of quality brushes, paints, etc.

I'm an advocate and always will be of making what you have work for you. It may be frustrating at the beginning but if one can create nice paintings on, for example, index card stock using a less than stellar brush with student grade paints than one is ahead of the game because it's not that hard to translate the skills learned with those materials when one upgrades to better materials.

In fact, I still, on occasion, use paper that's not "suitable" for watercolor painting, not because I can't afford it, but, rather, as a way of making sure that I don't become too dependent on quality materials. To this day, I still use Van Gogh, Cotman along with artist quality MaimeriBlu watercolor paints. They mix well and, most importantly, do the job the way I want on any surface.

As always, a great post.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for commenting Oscar. Hope you are well. As usual you offer an interesting viewpoint and bring us back down to earth.