Friday 26 August 2016

Holbein Watercolours

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Whenever I review paints I always consult Handprint which, although increasingly out of date, is still a treasure trove of information hard to obtain elsewhere.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 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  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 site. In the USA Dick Blicks website has full information but you have to look up each colour separately. 


Monday 15 August 2016

Another Two

Painted at this weeks AVA session, after drawing the subjects the previous day.

A Nubian Lady 16" x 12" Waterford High White 140lb (300gsm) not

I didn't think this too bad but it has gone down like a lead balloon on my Facebook 'Portraits ' group. Not one like! I don't get many likes for my portraits on there, the one exception being the 'Green Man'. I never expect to be overwhelmed with praise but it seems the mainly Asian membership prefer different styles.  Actually when I painted it at my AVA group they also seemed distinctly underwhelmed.

Running Antelope 16" x 12" Waterford High White 140lb (300gsm) not

Another indian portrait. Possibly on the dull side but so was the guide photograph. Enough said.

Friday 12 August 2016

Three More

These are my latest efforts, two painted at my AVA Thursday session last week the third at home.

''At Rest' 16 " x 12"

I must get back to painting birds and animals. This is the first for a while.

Unfinished Self Portrait. 16" x 12"

I finished the deer  painting and had twenty minutes spare. I had already drawn the face so decided to start painting. This was as far as I got and I intended to take it  home and do more work,  although the  thought of having to paint my bald pate didn't thrill me. However Jo, one of my painting friends saw it and asked if she could have  it. "Don't do anything else!'. What was I to do. I signed it and gave it to her. She even offered to pay me for it!

,The Hair has it!' 16" x 12" Waterford High White

This was based on a photograph that Pauline found on Google when she put in 'Big Hair'.After she had completed her painting she gave me the photo.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Watercolour Papers

The paper used in watercolours is considered by many artists to be the most important item. The celebrated American artist and renowned teacher Charles Hawthorne (1872 - 1930) had this to say:
"Buy cheap colours if you will,  but buy good quality paper - fifty per cent and more of your watercolours depends on the paper you use".

There are not many books exclusively on paper although most books on painting will have something. Two books that do deal with paper are the "The Watercolourist's Guide to Art Papers" by Ian Sidaway(2002)  and "The Book of Fine Paper" by Sylvie Turner (1998). I have the Sidaway book but not that by Turner. The Sidaway book is available on Amazon from its partners at around £9 including postage. The Turner one at a variety of prices starting at £26 for used up to a whopping £233.96 (!) for a new copy. It has 240 pages, as opposed to 95 and seems to be on a different level. Bruce McEvoy speaks highly of it while giving a mixed review to Sidaway. Handprint has an extensive section on watercolour papers and covers the subject in detail plus reviews of individual papers.

This book is profusely illustrated in colour and is useful covering the best known, as well as some lesser known makes. It is split into sections based on the type of surface, rough and  not but assigns the hot pressed surface into a third group with 'more unusual  papers'. At the price it is worth buying if you want to dig deeper into paper. It is perhaps a little dated.

Essentially the choice for the artist is either machine made or handmade. Machine-made papers are much cheaper but within them prices vary, with those made from cotton fibre the most expensive. The most popular budget make is Bockingford from Waterford made from high quality wood pulp. According to Sidaway the Daler Rowney Langton is Bockingford. Hahnemuhle do a wide range worth exploring including some good quality cheaper papers like Brittania.  Top artists like Gerard Hendriks and Viktoria Prischedko use Hahnemuhle in the heavier weights.

Weight is another issue, the most popular being 140lb (300gsm) but you will find papers in various makes starting from 72lb and rising to 400lb. The heavier the paper the more expensive.  In the lighter weights, up to at least 140lb, you will need to stretch if you want to avoid 'buckling', especially if you use heavy washes. I have stretched in the past but don't any longer and use mainly 140lb in blocks.

Next is surface, There are three standard ones, rough, not - which means cold pressed - and hot- pressed. Rough varies from make to make. Some makers rough surface is similar to others not. Not is somewhere between rough and cold pressed with moderate tooth, although this varies between makes. Hot - pressed is smooth with no tooth. Some offer an 'extra rough' and there are other odd papers made from different materials. The most popular surface is not and is a good compromise. The hot press is used by botanical artists but  can be used for other subjects and can give interesting results.

The above illustrates Schut Noblesse which comes from a Dutch papermill. Schut do a variety of papers but have never been easy to get in the UK. I don't know what the situation is elsewhere. I first heard of Noblesse - the top of the range paper - in a book by the late Zoltan Szabo. Later both Charles Reid and Judy Whitton  used it as a single large block was available - but no longer - from a small art shop in Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds. Judy lives not far away and until recently Charles held annual workshops in the area. I believe Judy has also used Vivace, as I have and it is a nice paper cheaper due to the lower cotton content of 50%.

A while back I tracked Schut down by obtaining a phone number for a mysterious company or agent trading as 'Hookers Green' at Banbury in Oxfordshire. This appeared to be a private house who confirmed they sold Schut papers and apparently had a small warehouse. They sent me a plain A4 list.  Schut do other papers like Vivace, and I ordered both Vivace, a cheaper 50-50 cotton mixture as well as Noblesse.  Later still I phoned them and asked for an up to date list which was promised but never came. I can find no trace of them currently so I contacted Schut who have a website, and despite it being  in Dutch was able to send an e mail asking where I could buy the paper in the UK. I received an automated reply almost immediately saying they would contact me as asap. This was a few days ago and I'm still waiting for a reply. This saga is second only to that concerning the centuries old Czech Republic company Velke Losiney who make Moldau watercolour paper. 

Fabriano, the well-known Italian company make a variety of papers with Artistico being the top of the range. It has been one of my favourite papers in recent years but price has escalated  and special offers infrequent. It is 100% cotton, a lovely paper but I don't like the block size of 18" x 12". My preferred size is 16" x 12", as it is for many of my fellow artists at my Avon Valley group. The 'extra white' is the preferred version. Yvonne Harry is a big fan of this brand. Blocks unfortunately, while convenient as they do resist buckling, although they don't eliminate it, are more expensive than sheets the cheapest way to buy paper.

The premier English paper company are Saunders Waterford who make the popular Bockingford, sold under a variety of names including Langford. Waterford also sell their premium paper Saunders Waterford, a favourite for many years with top artists like the Australian Robert Wade who describes it on his DVD's as "a lovely paper'. Handprint gives it a good overall rating as a good allrounder. Not that long ago a 'High White" version was introduced after demand for a whiter surface was apparent. This is in addition to the normal off white. Several of my friends tried it and initially it wasn't  well received as somehow it was different. However that seems to be overcome and it has been taken up by several of the best artists in my Avon Valley Group, some changing from Arches, which has become very expensive. I think the overall view is that it's equal to Arches. Although I've tried many different papers over the last 17 years I have mainly painted in the last years with either Fabriano Artistico or Waterford and have now decided to use mainly Waterford. Another point is that the Waterford blocks are very well put together, certainly superior to Fabriano.

I have tried many other papers. One I liked very much was Fontenay but something peculiar happened. I was buying blocks and some sheets at competitive prices when Great Art, who sold it, suddenly doubled the price and said it was now 'hand made', That was that as far as I was concerned. Other papers tried included the Canson range and the cheaper papers sold by Great Art. None of them impressed me. Incidentally Great Art have a very large range of papers, more so than Jacksons and Ken Bromley.  I did approach them to see if they would stock Moldau, and while the Managing Director knew about Velke Losiny the response was pretty negative. Although Great Art are German they have a UK website and have recently opened a shop in London, They don't export outside the UK though whereas Jacksons, Bromley and others like Rosemary Brushes do. These orders are not subject to the 20% VAT rate we pay and they charge carriage at cost.

Added 06/08/2016. I should have included as a cheaper option an excellent 100% cotton paper from Great Art at a lower price called Centenaire. This is available in both rough and not surfaces in blocks and also sheets.  It is around 15% cheaper than Waterford at normal prices but they do occasionally offer them at even better prices. I prefer Waterford but Centenaire is acceptable.

Others papers I have are Khadi, the Nepalese hand-made paper  bought in an A3 pack from a London bookseller who have a shop in Bristol, and Jacksons Eco paper - the latter like blotting paper! If you are wondering I'm an impulse buyer though more restrained these days.

Apart from Moldau, the saga of which has been related in previous posts - see the Index July 2014 if you are curious - I also bought some paper from a small shop in Amalfi near Sorrento. I've described this elsewhere also. The shop sold paper in mainly small sizes and amongst them was this watercolour paper in "11 x 15" sheets, packets of ten. Only lightweight, around 90lb, it is nevertheless a beautiful paper which paint seems to love. I enquired from the lady owner where it came from and she waved her arm pointing in a direction saying 'from my factory over there'. I haven't been back but would seek it out if I did go to the Amalfi coast again. As for Moldau although it was available in the USA from a company called Italian Art the only way to get it here would be to go to the Czech Republic on holiday and visit the mill which has a retail shop. That's a little extreme even for me  though Moldau is a beautiful paper to paint on.

Finally there are other hand-made papers, some made in the UK. One is called Milford (although considered a special paper apparently mould- made) and is a replacement for the famous Whatman. It is expensive and with many wonderful artists quite happy with Fabriano, Waterford and even Bockingford why spend more?  Sidaway lists 60 different papers but many are difficult  to find and many are not available in the UK. I haven't included American brands like Kilimanjaro and Strathmore. This is because I've no experience with them. Strathmore has recently been added by Jacksons. The top of the range paper is the 500 series but series 400 is also available and is cheaper.