Several weeks ago, I wrote what turned out to become my most popular blog post yet. In it, I explored the effect of water hardness and dissolved mineral content in water on watercolour paints on the palette and on paper.
In particular, I was trying to find an explanation for some weird curdling/clumping behaviour I was observing in quinacridone paints from M. Graham. When I experimented by switching my brushwater from Kitchener-Waterloo tap water (some of the hardest in North America, containing extremely high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium) to store-bought distilled water, I observed a marked reduction, but not a complete elimination of curdling effects
At the time of my original post, I attributed the remaining curdling/clumping in the distilled water sheet to mineral buildup in my pans, brushes and palette from previously using tap water. I theorized that if I switched to distilled water for my painting, over time, this would improve. I could also reduce the effect of mineral residue on my palettes by wiping them off after washing, and rinsing my brushes in distilled water. At the time, I was cautiously optimistic that I would be able to all but eliminate this problem with changes to my painting routine.
Over the past few weeks, I have been dilligent about using only distilled water. I no longer think this is a realistic solution, and I now have serious doubts that this is the only reason for my M. Graham paints curdling. A few things have changed my mind:
- Despite my dilligence in using only distilled water, all the affected M. Graham paints continue to curdle. In the case of the quinacridone rose, this effect has reduced enough that it is now no longer as bothersome. However, the neutral tint still sometimes separates, and the Quinacridone Rust(PO48) still clumps dramatically. In this case, I have gone as far as to fill a fresh pan, tried using paint straight from the tube, even washed my palettes with distilled water, to no avail. No matter what I do, if I water this paint down, or try to mix it with another colour, it still clumps. If this is indeed simply a reaction with some minerals, it is reacting with extremely low mineral content, lower than most tap, filtered or bottled water most artists use.
- While I am willing, grudgingly, to buy distilled water and haul it to the studio for studio use, I also enjoy carrying around palettes for urban sketching, field studies, etc. In these cases I will use whatever water is handy – filled from a drinking fountain, lake water, bottled mineral water, etc. I now find myself concerned not only about whether my paints will unexpectedly clump with the water of the day, but whether I will be messing up my pans by leaving mineral residue in them. This is ridiculous and unacceptable
- In a bizarre mix of frustration and optimism, a couple weeks ago I purchased both a replacement PO48 (Quinacridone Burnt Orange, by Da Vinci) and another supposedly non-granulating M. Graham paint (PG36- Phthalo Green YS). The Da Vinci paint performs beautifully, a very similar colour to the M. Graham, but not a hint of clumping no matter what water I throw at it – whatever the issue is, it’s clearly not merely pigment related. The new phthalo from M. Graham, on the other hand, does some bizarre stuff. It clumps dramatically on the palette, although how much varies day to day, but then the clumping relaxes and all but dissappears as the paint dries on the paper.
- Just as I was beginning to really think I was going insane, consistently seeing paint behaviour that nobody else has reported, an amazing Youtuber I follow, Sadiesavestheday, commented on the same thing in one of her videos (skip to 14:30)
I’m running out of ideas of what could be causing this. It has occured to me that it could be the honey crystallizing inside the paint due to living in a climate with dramatic temperature swings, but that would also fall under the unnacceptable paint behaviour category.
So where does this leave me? I’m actually really upset, because, as I’ve raved before, I love the rewettability and saturation of M. Graham paints. I love their pigment choices and focus on single pigments. Their PY150 Nickel Azo Yellow is hands down my favourite (read: only) yellow. and I love a bunch of their other pigments too. However, at this point 4 of the 10 or so M. Graham paints I own display some level of frustrating clumping. While it is possible to mitigate and work around this in most cases, none of my paints from any other brand have this issue, so I am reaching the conclusion that it will simply be easier to just buy from other brands in the future.
So I guess this is my breakup letter to M. Graham, at least for now. M. Graham, it’s not me, it’s you. I just can’t handle your high maintenance needs and mood swings anymore. I’ll be moving on to more reliable, easygoing paints.
I will reach out to the manufacturer at some point in the near future. I hear they are very receptive to feedback. I hope that they will be able to track down the root of the issue and fix it, so I can once again enjoy these pretty colours.