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Whenever I review paints I always consult Handprint which, although increasingly out of date, is still a treasure trove of information hard to obtain elsewhere.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. 



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Terry 904 said...

Totally agree with all said about Holbein tubes, with the exception that many are colours are also available in 60ml tubes.

Totally appalled at UK prices.

At cheapest in Australia I would have to pay $13 per 15 ml S1, rising.


Obviously currency exchange rates vary slightly, but, my last order apx 5weeks ago was.....

15ml tubes $2.86 to $6 Aud dependant upon series.
60ml tubes $10 to $17 Aud dependant on series.

Shipping cannot account for the monster discrepancy.

I paid (air express, 7days delivery)
1kg parcel $38aud. This equates to apx $1aud per 15ml.

A 1kg parcel = 4 X 60ml tubes, + 16 X 15ml tubes. Half/half mix of light and heavy pigments.

Terry 904 said...

Just thought to add a quick note on Holbein watercolours for those unfamiliar with them.

HWC are generally speaking a very good, Prima line with a high pigment load, very bright colour, etc.

Buying HWC you really do need to know what you are doing though, much more so than with other brands.
HWC produce many excellent single pigment colours, including a couple of more unique colours, eg PBr25 Imidazolone Brown, a unique and stunningly beautiful transparent earthy red, just gorgeous in tints. It is only offered by HWC and Shin Han. PBk31 (shadow green) Perylene Green. A very fine particle, staining, transparent, dull, black shade green, not green shade black.
They also offer many multi pigment mixtures, good colours if you are into that sort of thing, just not my cup of tea.

A problem sometimes encountered with HWC is that they may call a colour a single pigment, whilst inculding another undeclared pigment in there without telling that it is so. Eg PG18 Viridian, good colour, lovely granulation, in usage you will notice that it stains strongly. Now pure Viridian is a non staining pigment, so obviously they've included PG7 Pthalo Green. Of course other manufacturers do this kind of thing too, whether to extend an expensive pigment, increase saturation, or to boost chroma, but they at least for the most part tell you so. Eg Schminke Terre Verte PG23+PG7. I wiish they would desist, as I'd much rather mix the exact shade myself, but that's by the bye.

HWC's own attributed lightfastness ratings ratings.They use a 3 star rating system, about to change to a 4, that is for the most part plausibly reliable, eg they really can't go wrong with the top performing pigments, as I say plausible for the most part at least, given what we know. But in there are also 2 X PR83 synthetic inorganic reds that are sporting the highest 3 star rating. These are well known fugitives, so one thinks it's a typo error, but bringing it to their attention in the polite form of a question, by way of a test, results in neither conformation nor denial, but rather obfuscation, which clearly demonstrates the intention.

As I said, HWC watercolours are generally very good in every particular, but with obvious exclusions. Some of their colours beat their corresponding equivalents in other brands. Eg HWC PB60 Indianthrone Blue beats Maimeri Blu's. HWC PR264 Pyrrol Crimson beats Dan Smith's, in hue and chroma, if not in pigment load. (take note botanical artists) PR264 is an opaque, no getting around that, but HWC is much more transparent, and very much brighter, a visibly rose Crimson, that so beautifully complements M Graham's PV19 Quinacridone Rose. DS's PR264 is great formulation and gorgeous in isolation, but in a side by side comparison with HWC PR264 it looks dark and quite dull. Both of course have their specialised uses.

To best sum up buying HWC,

This brand will best suit those who know all all about what they are doing,

or absolutely nothing at all.


Peter Ward said...

Thanks Terry. Very interesting. The news that Holbein have a 60ml tube size is news (forgive the pun) to me. It certainly isn't on sale in the UK. Personal preference plays a big part in what artists choose. One man's meat is another mans poison?

Peter Ward said...

With regard to your comments on prices. Obviously I base my views on UK prices and there seems to be an enormous variation in other countries. Why such a difference I don't know. My ratings of 'best buys' are based on a combination of quality and price. I link the two together and IF the quality is acceptable = which it is in most of the leading makes - then price is added to the mix. As far as the validity of what the tube says about what's in it ie pigments then I'm sure not all is as it seems.

ang5svr said...

Express offers full range in both 5ml and 15ml (their prices are the cheapest available with 15ml being whay most retailers all 5ml for and very few 15ml over $10 usd). The irodorni line is single pigment colors used in traditional Japanese painting. What makes these paints so so so poplar is the way they process pigments in Japan, which is revolutionary and Kremer pigments is now trying to mainstream this process in Europe offering a huge line of these and now offering some really cool watercolors as the shift to artist making their own paints has increased drastically, I'm sure with the watercolor trend along with handprint and decrease in quality. Natural pigments is now offering this as well as rublev line.

Got off track. The Japanese process ensures the pigment particles are all the same size allowing more vivid colors since light reflectivity is uniform, where they usually come in a general range size which can be very very broad. Also the finer the pigment the lighter it is whole coarser(or larger) are darker. This is why you'll typically find a light in a dark option within a single pigment as the middle ground is typically the most expensive I heard you to check out the Kramer website a lot of great information and also check out the pigment store that opened in Japan I think they have over 10,000 different pigments but they now have an online store which ships to the US and you will notice a lot of these pigment lines are in fact from Holbein

ang5svr said...

Apologies artexpress out of fl, also Vermont art supply is a fast resource and one more out of Columbia sc can't remember name at this time but only one who carries every color stuck as pompadeur, smalt and as compose greens (3).

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for your comments. very interesting.