Gift Guide: Well designed gifts for watercolour artists

The holiday season is gearing up.  Every year, around this time, people start asking me what they should gift to the artists in their lives. in particular to loved ones interested in watercolour.  I always find this such an awkward question, because art materials (and budgets!) are so individual!

I’m going to be blunt for a moment.  If your artist is a professional watercolour artist who has been working in the medium for a while, I would stear clear of gifting paints/brushes/paper unless they have requested a specific item or you are VERY familiar with their practice and favourite/coveted materials. Artists can develop very specific preferences and each artist is unique

However, here are a few products that caught my eye as good quality giftables for artists of all levels:

For the art student:  St. Petersburg White Nights set of 12 – Price £15.60(~$21 USD, $26 CAD incl. VAT)

St Petersburg White Nights : Watercolour Paint : 12 Pan Set

This is set of 12 watercolour (whole pans !) in a plastic carrying case, made by St. Petersburg White Nights.  White Nights is marketed as a professional grade paint, and have a bit of a cult following among students and other deal-seekers, who value their very low price point (below most student brands) and easy-to-rewet, saturated colour.

I would hesitate to classify White Nights alongside other artist grade paints, primarily because the brand (and this set) feature quite a large number of pigments that have been phased out by other watercolour brands for poor lightfastness.

However, the paints are a pleasure to use, very easy to rewet, and are bright, strong colours.  For a university student who is using watercolour primarily for sketching and non-archival class work, White Nights definitely offers a great product at an amazing price.

This set of 12 whole pans packs a whole lot of paint (including some expensive cadmium pigments) into a portable, affordable package, perfect for the student on the go.  It is a great first palette for a new artist, or a great stocking-stuffer upgrade for someone who has been painting with student-grade/craft paints.

For the bookworm (or artist of any kind): James Gurney Art Books $17-25 CAD ($12-$17USD)

My two favourite art instructional books, hands down, are both by James Gurney.  Gurney is the illustrator behind the Dinotopia series, a well-respected urban sketcher/plein air painter, and has also done work as an illustrator for large publications such as National Geographic.

Colour and Light: A guide for the Realist Painter

My most referenced art book of his, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter is absolutely packed with information.  It is an extremely useful reference book for even the most advanced, professional painters, but is also clear and understandable enough, with lots of illustrations, to be useful and inspirational for even complete beginners.

The first part of this book deals with different kinds of light sources and lighting conditions, from sunny days, to indoor candlelight, moonlight and luminescence. For each type of lighting, Gurney gives illustrated examples, and tips about how to visualize and represent this kind of light in a painting.

Imaginative Realism : How to draw what doesn’t exist by James Gurney

The second section of the book deals with colour choices in painting, from choosing pigments, to gamut mapping, effects of colour on the mood of a scene, contrasts, etc. The final section of this book deals with special lighting effects – dappled sunlight through leaves, reflections, shiny surfaces etc.  Again, the whole thing is thoroughly illustrated with great examples.

 

 

The second book of Gurney’s, Imaginative Realism: How to draw what doesn’t exist is equally good, but less relevant to me personally because I mostly draw what is directly in front of me.  It is a great reference for any fantasy artist or paleoartist looking to bring realism to their work with useful advice on finding and altering references, building models, lighting conditions, blending reality with inventions, etc.  It is also useful for botanical and other realist artists as a reference for how to work with imperfect references (painting subjects out of season, building compositions, etc)

For the avid sketcher:  Stillman & Birn Beta Multimedia Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn : Beta Papers : 270 gsm Natural White Cold Pressed

Watercolour is a great medium for sketching with, because it is so compact and portable.  However, most sketchbooks contain lighter weigh paper which will warp and buckle when painted on.

If you know someone who sketches regularly and recently started watercolour, consider gifting them a sketchbook in their preferred size from Stillman and Birn

The Beta series has a lightly textured surface between a standard cold press and hot press watercolour paper.  It is a beautiful, heavyweight paper which takes watercolour well but is smooth enough to draw pen/pencil details on and write on easily as well.

 

For the minimalist artist on the go:  Schmincke Horadam 8-colour set Price £69.00 (~$90 USD, 115 CAD incl. VAT)

Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour Paint : Metal Set : 8 Half Pans

This 8-colour mini travel-palette can actually fit up to 12 regular half-pans, and it comes with a built in water flask and clip-on water cup, all in a quarter the volume of the two 12 pan sets above.

The Schmincke branded palette I linked is a good option for an artist who is just starting out with plein air/urban sketching in watercolour, and doesn’t yet have an artist quality travel set.

If your giftee is a serious hobbyist or artist who has been sketching outdoors for a while, they may already have paints they prefer to use. However, most urban sketchers would still appreciate the small form factor of this box.

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In this case, it may make more sense to buy a cheaper empty version of this palette.  The same palette is available as an empty tin with and without the built in water flask at Cornellisen’s

I own the version without the flask, and it is my everyday carry palette.  I love how compact this palette is, and how all kinds of different brands of half-pans (which are all subtly different sizes) are held neatly and securely by the simple fastening system.

 

For the professional artist who hunches over their work:  Tabletop Painting Surface Price: $44 USD

This may not be the cutest or most glamourous gift, but it can make the biggest difference in an artist’s life.

When I became a full-time illustrator,  within a couple of months I was experiencing chronic tightness in my shoulders and shooting pains in my spine from hunching over large, detailed watercolour pieces for long hours at a time.

My tabletop easel/drawing surface was a belated birthday gift, and now I can’t imagine life without it.  I am looking at buying 2 more – one for my secondary desk at the studio and one for home.

A large size and adjustable angle are key to a good desk easel but the brand is not important – due to the large size of these, you may find a cheaper alternative locally than Amazon shipping outside of the US and Canada.

For the enthusiastic new botanical artist and vivid colour lover:  Billy Showell set of Sennelier Watercolour Paints -£60.00 ($80 USD, $100 CAD)

Billy Showell : Sennelier Watercolour Paint Set : 12 10ml : Tubes In Case

Botanical artists tend to share slightly different paint preferences than other watercolour painters such as landscape or portrait painters.

Botanical painting tends to involve lot of bright, vibrant colours to render the full range of colours seen in flowers, leaves and fruit, as well as a high focus on transparent colours with excellent glazing properties.

This selection by Billy Showell contains a great range of vibrant and transparent colours selected for painting botanical subjects.

Although my own colour selection is quite different from this set, when I was just starting out in botanical art, these colours would have been much more satisfying and fun to work with than the generic starter set I had.  The colours in this are mostly single pigment paints, mostly transparent with a good range of hues, and no white/black/blackened neutrals.

Sennelier is a good, artist quality brand – their honey-based paints are known for rewetting easily and glazing beautifully,  perfect for many botanical art techniques.The paints in this set would all fit neatly in 12 half pans in the itty bitty Cornellison tin linked above, for a really indulgent gift for the ambitious beginner!

For the very spoiled pigment magpie: 48 Half Pan Watercolour Set in Wood box with Ceramic Palette- £239.00 ($315 USD, $400 CAD incl. VAT)

Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Wooden Box Set : 48 Half Pans

Remember when I said “you shouldn’t buy paints/paper/brushes for an artist, we mostly already have specific preferences”?

This is true, but the exception is over-the-top giant sets full of pretty artist-grade colours.  Luxurious wood boxes with perfectly fitted ceramic palettes also help. I know very, very few artists who wouldn’t look at a set like this one and be delighted.

I already have all the colours any regular human needs. My studio palette is larger than this one and contains a personalized selection of colours from many different brands. This set contains lots of colours I have no intention of buying, or have tried and don’t use much. It is not remotely a sensible purchase, and yet it makes me drool.

Sennelier Set of 48 Paints

In a similar (and slightly less indulgently priced) vein, Sennelier also makes a lovely set of 48 half pans.  Theirs is presented  in a tin palette.

One design element I really love about Sennelier sets is that they all come with a laminated colour chart showing all of the colours in the set.  Given my preference for swapping out paints and mixing and matching, it isn’t a particularly useful feature.  However, I really appreciate this attention to detail and it is a neat design element, particularly in a gift set

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS.  LEE ANGOLD  IS A PARTICIPANT IN THE AMAZON SERVICES LLC ASSOCIATES PROGRAM AND THE JACKSON’S ART AFFILIATE NETWORK.  THESE ARE AFFILIATE ADVERTISING PROGRAMS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE A MEANS FOR SITES TO EARN ADVERTISING FEES BY LINKING TO PRODUCT LISTINGS.

The Bad Vegetarian Artist: Animal Products in Watercolour Supplies

I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years, nominally for ethical reasons. I eat some dairy and eggs, but the majority of my meals are mostly vegan.  I am bothered by the idea of raising and slaughtering animals, particularly in modern factory farms.  I am also concerned about the larger land and carbon footprint of eating higher up on the foodchain.

My ethical views are somewhat nuanced – while the scale of animal consumption and cruelty bothers me, I am also aware that a purely vegan lifestyle up here in the great white north isn’t exactly sustainable either.  Being vegan where I live would be nearly impossible without the heavy use of fossil fuels for transporting fresh vegetables and producing synthetic insulating fabrics.  I’m not going to delve too far into it here, but I’ve made a conscious choice to wear (mostly, but not exclusively second hand) wool and leather, I don’t fuss about by-products, I’ve definitely ingested fish-sauce and lard at restaurants, and I am comfortable with that.

However, if I’m truly honest, my ethics are pretty flimsy.  Nowhere is my ethical ambivalence more obvious than in my art supplies.  Every part of my art “kit” contains some kind of animal products, and none of them are truly necessary, they’re just convenient indulgences.  I don’t really feel guilty about it, but I also recognize and admire that others may be more interested in making cruelty-free choices.

In the following sections, I’ll describe all the common hidden animal products in a regular watercolour kit, what they’re used for, and some possible alternatives.

Brushes

My “nice” brushes, which I use most frequently in my watercolour work, are nearly all made with animal hair.

My “best” brushes which I use for most of my detail work, are Kolinsky sable brushes, made from the tail hairs of male the Kolinsky weasel (not actually a sable at all).  These have great liquid retention, and a very soft but super-springy point, which allows me to paint long lines, fine details and larger areas with only one brush.  The weasels, which are prevalent in northern Eurasia, are trapped for their pelts.

I also have a couple of large “mop” brushes for large areas, made with squirrel hair.  They are incredibly soft and hold a huge volume of water and dispense it smoothly, ideal for making large, even washes. Squirrels are farmed or trapped, and killed for their pelts.

Other watercolour brushes may include various other animal hairs such as red sable, badger, etc.

Synthetic brushes, made using nylon or acrylic hairs, are widely available and often cheaper.  Synthetic brushes tend to be a bit harder/rougher than the sable or squirrel brushes traditionally used for watercolour.  This can be a useful quality for lifting/scrubbing away dry pigment, but can often lead to a streakier look when painting wet in wet or large washes.  They also almost invariably have a lower water capacity, which can be a little bit easier for beginners to manage, but makes it more difficult to paint a large area or long line in a single stroke.

Comparison of Detail Brushes : Midrange Synthetic vs. "High End" Kolinsky Sable
Comparison of Detail Brushes : Midrange Synthetic vs. “High End” Kolinsky Sable. From left to right : Size 5/0 Synthetic (3 Years old), Size 3/0 Synthetic (2 Years old), Size 0 Kolinsky Sable (4 Years Old), Size 2 Kolinsky Sable (2 Years old). The sables get much more use and abuse and are older and larger sizes, yet have a much finer point.

Finally, synthetic brushes tend to lose their point and splay out more quickly than good natural hair brushes, which use the natural tapered and curved point of the animal hair to craft a point which springs back time after time.  For this reason, synthetic brushes may need to be replaced more frequently than animal hair ones.

Some companies have recently put a great deal of effort into creating very high quality synthetic brushes.  Silver Black Velvet brushes, for instance, are rumoured to rival the water retention of natural squirrel hair and deliver a soft brush point.  Escoda Versatil brushes are what I use as travel brushes – they are quite durable and have good water retention, although they lack the soft-springiness of my best Kolinsky brushes.

Paints

Watercolour paints are often formulated with ox gall and/or honey, and some pigments are made with animal products

Ox Gall is a wetting agent, which increases the rewettability and flow of watercolour.  It is made from, you guessed it, the gall bladder of an ox (or more frequently, a cow).  Ox gall is a common ingredient which many watercolour paint brands mix right into their prepared tubes and pans.  It can also be purchased as a watercolour medium to add to your paints.

Schmincke produces a synthetic ox gall product, which I believe they use as a wetting agent in their paints as well.  Holbein advertises that they use no ox gall in their paints.

Honey is used as a binding agent and to keep watercolours semi-moist and easy to rewet.  A few brands, notably M. Graham, Yarka St. Petersburg and Sennelier, use a very honey rich formula in their paints, which results in a semi-moist consistency in the pans.

I personally think that the beekeeping industry is a great advocate for the environment and have no ethical problems whatsoever with honey.  I also love the consistency of honey-based paints, so I specifically seek them out.  However, most large brands (excluding the three listed) do not use honey, if thjs is something you wish to avoid.

Luckily for those with ethical concerns, most animal-based pigments have been discontinued as most were not very lightfast.  Ivory Black(PBk9) is made with charred animal bones – watch out for it in some mixed pigments such as Neutral tint or Indigo. In general black pigments are easy to avoid in watercolour, and there are other non-animal blacks. Some companies still produce Genuine Carmine (NR4) – I would rank it’s terrible lightfastness as a greater concern than the fact that it’s made with ground up beetles 😉  Just use quinacridones.

A few indie brands have popped up that formulate exclusively cruelty-free paints which do not contain ox gall, honey, animal pigments or any other animal by-products.  One of my favourites is Eventually, Everything, Mixes – the paintmaker, Amé, also seeks out unique and environmentally friendly pigments for her beautiful, unique paints.

Paper

What, even my paper contains animal products?  That’s right, watercolour paper is treated, or “sized”. The sizing is what keeps the pigments sitting on the surface of the paper, rather than sinking and feathering across all of the paper fibres  Sizing is traditionally made with animal gelatin, although some papers are made with starch or synthetic gelatin rather than an animal product.

Bockingford, Canson Moulin du Roy, and Fabriano Artistico papers are sized without animal products

It goes without saying that vellum, another traditional surface for watercolour, is also not cruelty-free, being made from stretched calf or goat skin.

EDIT: Further clarifications about vellum, as I’ve drawn the attention of a few great artists who use vellum as their primary surface 😉

Vellum (and other skins) are considered a by-product, like gelatin or ox-gall.  No calves or goats are directly raised or slaughtered for their skins.  Skins are a waste by-product of the meat industry, and many skins end up in landfill as the demand for meat far outstrips the demand for vellum and other leathers.  However, like other by-products, the purchase of vellum supports the primary meat industry.

Vellum has several unique qualities – in addition to a mostly impermeable surface it also has a unique semi-transparent finish and shows the skin texture and patterning of the animal.  Each piece of vellum is a unique item.

The impermeable surface of vellum can be mimicked, to some degree, with synthetic alternatives.  One interesting alternative is Terraskin, a paper alternative made of rock in a plastic binder.  It has many of the same handling properties as vellum, with a smooth, non-absorbent surface that allows the paints to sit on top and glow rather than sinking into the surface,  It is much cheaper, available in larger sizes than vellum, and of course, cruelty free.  However it lacks the variable translucency and unique character of vellum.

 

Watercolour Myths (Part 1) – Watercolours have poor lightfastness

Working as a primarily watercolour artist, I have heard some frequently repeated myths from customers as well as other artists, which I would like to dispell.

The first myth I hear very frequently is “Doesn’t watercolour fade?”.

The short answer is no, my watercolour paintings will not fade.  In fact, most watercolour paintings you buy from professional artists should be just as durable as other media, especially if framed behind conservation glass.

Paint Composition

Watercolour, like most other artistic paint media such as acrylic paint, oil paint, etc, is composed of pigments held together with a binder. For oil paint, this is a drying oil such as linseed oil or walnut oil, for acrylic this is an acrylic emulsion (a synthetic plastic product that hardens in contact with air).

The primary binder in watercolour is gum arabic, a resin made from acacia sap, and sometimes honey.  Gum arabic and honey are no more prone to discolouration or other long term effects than other binders.  In fact, oil-based binders have a tendency to yellow over time, as do acrylics (which as a newer media, have not yet stood the test of time).

Pigments are naturally occuring and synthetic colourful chemical compounds, which paint manufacturers mix with binders to create paint.  In modern days, we are spoiled with a wide variety of stable pigments, thanks to global shipping and modern chemistry.   With a little bit of care, artists in all media can use a palette of extremely lightfast, durable colours which will not fade or change colour under any circumstances.

In the past, artists had very limited choices in some parts of the colour spectrum.  For instance, before modern lightfast synthetic rose colours such as Quinacridone Rose (PV19) became available, artists had no choice but to use less reliable pigments such as Alizarin Crimson (PR83 ) or extremely fugitive genuine carmine (NR4).

Lightfastness is a problem across all media, not just watercolour

Portrait of Charles Churchill, by Joshua Reynolds. National Gallery of Canada

Poor lightfastness is by no means unique to watercolours.  Oil or acrylic paintings made using carmine or other fugitive pigments will also eventually fade.  To the left is a portrait of Charles Churchill.  It now looks ghostly, but when it was originally painted, the subject’s cheeks were likely rosy, and the coat a deep red, through the extensive use of carmine and other fugitive pigments, long since gone.

However, in oil paint, the thicker paint film provides a small amount of UV protection, so an oil painting using fugitive paints may last a little longer than an unprotected watercolour framed behind clear glass.

Modern artist-grade paints are generally not made with highly fugitive pigments such as carmine anymore.  However, some specialty paints (such as neon paints and some common brands of liquid watercolours) as well as cheap scholastic grade paints, are made with fugitive dyes instead of traditional pigments (again, this is equally true in non-watercolour media).  In addition, some pigments with limited lightfastness are still used in artist paint lines (for example, alizarin crimson is still a common pigment which many artists use.   While more durable than carmine, alizarin still has a significantly lower lightfastness than similar quinacridone-based pigments)

How much do you really care about lightfastness?

Dining room Art
Cote-des-Neiges Oil Landscape by Carly Leyburne

Some artists prefer to use impermanent materials for immediate impact, rather than creating artwork that will last centuries.  Most popular mixed-media, collages including newspaper clipping or plant matter, resin etc are prime examples of this.  Similarly, some painters use neon paints, which are virtually all fugitive.

There’s nothing wrong with buying and displaying art for your enjoyment that won’t last forever.  For example, I purchased the beautiful oil painting shown on the right (by my studio mate Carly Leyburne) as a statement piece for my dining room.  The hot pink trees are painted with an oil paint that includes a rhodamine dye, which will eventually fade.  I am not concerned.  It looks fantastic right now.  We’ll cross the fading bridge when we get to it.  I may be old and senile by then anyway 😉

If you are unsure of the pigments used in your watercolour paintings, and would like to ensure they stay looking bright for years to come, framing your art behind conservation glass (which offers significant UV protection) and not hanging it in direct sunlight can dramatically slow any fading in both watercolour and other media.

How to ensure you are creating lightfast art

I am happy to buy any art that catches my eye, with little concern for archival qualities.  However, as a seller, I do feel compelled to stay one step ahead, and ensure that my artwork will continue to look bright and fresh, regardless of how my customers choose to frame or display it.

If you are an artist looking to produce artwork that will last for centuries, you can ensure the durability of your pieces by eliminating pigments from your palette which do not have an “excellent” or “very good” lightfastness rating.

The most durable pigments should last centuries without discernable change, given proper framing and protection.  Below, I’ve listed a few common paints to watch out for, as well as alternatives.  This list is by no means exhaustive – do your homework and research the specific paints that you use if lightfastness is a concern for you

“Opera Rose” and other paints containing rhodamine dye (BV10):  Probably the least lightfast paint in most modern paint lines, “Opera Rose” is a  hot pink, popular with botanical artists looking for the brightest colour.  Usually formulated with PR122 (Quinacridone Magenta) and rhodamine B dye.  The rhodamine is highly fugitive, if exposed to sunlight, this will lose brightness, fading back to the (still fairly bright, but not neon) PR122.  A safer alternative is to just stick with Purple Magenta (PR122) to begin with.

Alizarin Crimson (PR83):  An early synthetic and once the most stable “cool” red,  Alizarin Crimson is a relatively dull, deep rosy red.  It is now considered relatively fugitive compared to the many available permanent red pigments. Many modern paint manufacturers still offer Alizarin Crimson, and it is favoured by portrait artists and traditionalists over the brighter, modern quinacridone rose (PV19) for mixing skintones and rosy lips because it is slightly muted. However, it isn’t very permanent.  Many brands offer a “permanent alizarin crimson” formulated with quinacridone red (PR206) or redder shades of quinacridone violet (PV19).  I use Quinacridone Rose (PV19)  or Purple Magenta (PR122) for most mixing, and Perylene

Hansa Yellow Lemon (PY3 and PY1):  The moderately lightfast Hansa Yellow Lemon (PY3) is one of the most common lemon yellow pigments available.  It is much more transparent and highly tinting than other pigments in this range.  PY3’s close cousin PY1 (also a Hansa Yellow Lemon) is even less lightfast, yet is still available in some paint lines.  An increasing number of paint brands have started offering Lemon Yellow paints made with PY175 , an azo lemon yellow with a “very good”lightfastness rating.

Dioxazine Violet(PV23): Present in nearly every watercolour line, dioxazine violet varies in lightfastness depending on manufacturing. It is a deep, saturated, transparent and non-granulating bright cool violet colour, in a portion of the colour wheel with relatively few pigment alternatives.  It is also a relatively inexpensive pigment, whcih no doubt contributes to it’s enduring popularity.  There is no single pigment replacement for dioxazine violet, however, hues can easily be mixed from a warmer violet shade such as quinacridone purple (PV55) and a splash of a blue.

Rose Madder Genuine:  Most brands have discontinued this pigment, but Winsor Newton have made it their flagship colour.  The Winsor Newton paint is scented with bergamot – originally to please Queen Victoria.  It is a slightly muted, liftable colour similar in hue to Quinacridone Rose (PV19) but lighter and more muted.  Just use quinacridones. For a muted pink with some granulation, try Potter’s Pink (PR233)

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS.  LEE ANGOLD  IS A PARTICIPANT IN THE AMAZON SERVICES LLC ASSOCIATES PROGRAM AND THE JACKSON’S ART AFFILIATE NETWORK.  THESE ARE AFFILIATE ADVERTISING PROGRAMS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE A MEANS FOR SITES TO EARN ADVERTISING FEES BY LINKING TO PRODUCT LISTINGS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Palette Tour – “Greatest Hits” Full-Pan Palette

 

After my latest post (a tour of my huge studio palette), I received several requests to post a similar “palette tour” blog entry for what I call my “Greatest Hits” palette, a collection of full pans of my 14 most commonly used colours.

Full Pan Watercolour Box
My Greatest Hits Palette – A well-loved collection of 14 full pans of watercolour

The idea behind this palette was to curate a selection of paints that I could take out of the studio for travel or home use which would allow me to paint a large range of botanical and plein-air urban sketching subjects in a relatively portable way (although this palette is still relatively bulky), as well as facilitating my work in the studio and out by enabling me to load larger quantities of my frequently used colours easily.

I’ve been delaying writing this post for a few weeks, because although I have been using this palette regularly for several months, as both a travel palette and in the studio, over time I’ve come up with several changes I intended to make to it as I used up the paints currently inside it.  I couldn’t decide whether I should profile the palette as I’ve been using it, or my current (and ever-evolving) lineup of “ideal” colours.

However, last week I decided to order an all-new full-pan palette from Ebay.  The new palette is thinner and more compact than the current palette, yet holds up to 24 full pans. The picture below shows the half-pan version of the same palette, which I ordered to use as a studio palette in my home studio.

Compact Half-Pan Studio Palette
New Palette Format size comparison with Studio Palette

The practical upshot is that sometime in the next few months, my “greatest hits” palette in it’s current format will cease to exist, being replaced with a much larger selection of paints.  However, I still think it is useful to keep track of my paints in terms of smaller curated collections.

Therefore, I will give you a tour of what is currently in my “greatest hits” 14-colour palette, and discuss what I would change, or which paints I could eliminate in even smaller palettes.

 

The image below is the swatch sheet I made of the colours in my current “Greatest Hits” Palette.  The template I used was designed by the amazing Sade of “Sadie Saves the Day”, who sells the templates as digital downloads in her shop :

Full Pan Palette.png
Swatches of Watercolours from my “Greatest Hits” palette

In the listings below, I’ve included (affiliate) links to my favourite paints.  As always, I’m trying to find the best prices for most of my viewers.  American brands have Dick Blick/Utrecht links, European brands are listed with Jackson’s links.  All have reasonable shipping fees around the world. However, if you are in Canada, the Daniel Smith/M.Graham paints are available more affordably at Deserres and Curry’s, respectively.  The colours contained in this palette are:

PY150 – Nickel Azo Yellow – M. Graham : My favourite yellow, hands down.  Truly transparent, no milkiness and a beautiful middle yellow in tints.  Mixes beautiful greens and subtle oranges.  Lovely in glazes.  Forever in my faves.

PO49 – Quinacridone Gold – Daniel Smith:  Recently discontinued by Daniel Smith, the last remaining manufacturer, this is a good transparent alternative to Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre, and works beautifully as a glazing colour.  I have a few backup tubes stockpiled, but a good convenience mix is available from most brands (usually made with PY150 and PO48, the two neighbouring pans).  In a smaller set, or if I run out of the single pigment, I would simply mix PY150 and PO48

PO48 – Quinacridone Rust – M. GrahamA beautiful earthy orange hue, this particular formulation of this pigment has given me no end of grief .  Although I love the saturation of this paint, I’ve decided I just can’t deal with the weird curdling behaviour for my formal paintings.  I’ve already replaced it in my studio palette with the similar Da Vinci paint, which is a slightly browner tone.  It will be years before I run out of the Da Vinci, but I’m also curious to try the Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange, which is apparently slightly more orangey.

PO71- Translucent Orange – Schmincke:  A beautiful, transparent fiery orange. I like this paint a lot, but I like the QOR version of the same pigment slightly more, I think.  It has less of a drying shift, which also makes it a more vibrant orange.  It will be replaced when I run out.

PV19- Quinacridone Rose – M. Graham: Another M. Graham colour with weird curdling behaviour , this one is available from basically every other manufacturer.  However, I tend to prefer using PR122 for most applications, so I could leave it out altogether, or replace it with another colour, such as a deeper red, or my current crush PR242 Geranium Red by Schmincke

PR122 – Purple Magenta – Schmincke: My choice for a primary magenta colour,  a really pretty transparent clear magenta, very slightly on the violet side.

PB60 – Indanthrone Blue – Daniel Smith:  Darker and moodier than the more common ultramarine, this is my choice for a red-biased blue.  Mixes vibrant purples with PR122, neutral greys with PO48, and interesting greens with PY150 and PO49

PB27 – Prussian Blue – M. Graham: Another dark and moody blue with great mixing properties, this one slightly on the green biased side.  Has a challenging drying shift but is very useful nonetheless.

PB16 – Phthalo Turquoise – Winsor Newton:  Another clear favourite, the final part of my “primary triad” of PY150, PR122 and PB16.  Oh so pretty, deep and transparent.

N/A – Amazonite Genuine – Daniel Smith: A slightly more turquoisey version of Phthalo Green or Viridian, not as aggressively staining or pigmented as the former, much easier to rewet than the latter.  I originally thought this was a silly vanity purchase, but I find this paint finds it’s way into nearly every painting.

N/A – Serpentine Genuine-Daniel SmithAn interesting sap green colour with tiny, nearly imperceptible purplish/brown flecks ground from natural serpentine.  Kinda goofy convenience colour which could be left out of a smaller palette. I love it and get a lot of use out of it rendering foliage and lichen.   I have the stick format, which is much better value for money than the tubes.

PG7 + PV19 – Neutral Tint – M. Graham: Another otherwise great M. Graham colour that curdles unexpectedly with my water/climate.  This is a genius convenience mix.  Nearly black and slightly purplish in masstone, it mixes beautifully with rose and red colours to make deep plummy shadows, works as a complimentary shadow colour for yellows, and deepens greens well too.  I’m working on mixing my own dupe with non-curdling colours.

PBr7 – Raw Umber – Daniel SmithThis is my go-to dark earth colour.  Nice granulation, plays nicely in mixes and glazes to make all kinds of earth, stone and treebark colours/textures.

PBr7 – Burnt Sienna – M.  Graham Chosen for it’s granulation and because so many artists seem to favour this pigment.  It’s nice, but I don’t consider it essential with PO48 and Raw Umber in the palette.  Would likely replace it with PW6 Titanium Buff, which seems like an oddball choice but I find really useful for mixing glaucous/hazy textures on leaves, fruit and lichen, particularly with Amazonite.  Or leave it out altogether, in a smaller palette.

So that’s it – a useful mixing collection of 14 colours.  I know I have some unusual picks in there, but they work well for me.  What are your favourite mixing colours?  Favourite unusual pigments?

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2017 Watercolour Palette Tour – Introducing the giant 52-pan monster

It’s been a while since I shared what’s in my watercolour palette

52 Colour Chart - 2017 - Yellow, Orange, Red, Magenta
52 Colour Studio Palette  Colour Swatch Sheet
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Meeden Palette – Empty

A few months ago, I purchased a Meeden 48 Half Pan Watercolour Palette and Pans to house my evergrowing collection of watercolour paints.  I recommend buying one of these tins if you want an empty standard tin like the ones sold by WN, Schmincke, etc at a lower cost.  They are available in a variety of sizes, with or without pans included.

Like in most similar boxes, it is usually possible to fit one extra pan per row (for a total of 52).  Actually, the Meeden half-pans are a little thicker than other ones so you won’t be able to fit the extra pan if you only use Meeden pans, but as I have some pans from other brands, I was able to squeeze them in.

meeden palette
Meeden Palette – In Use

Like most of the lightweight tins, the large Meeden palette has two fold out mixing areas (the inside of the lid, and one on the opposite side.  As well, there is a centre tray that holds the pans which can be lifted out as well, and the inside of the tin underneath can also be used for mixing.  I generally prefer to use a ceramic plate for mixing, and I am actually considering removing the second flap so the box will take up less space when open.

Here is a painted out colour swatch sheet of the colours I keep in this box with labels.  This swatch sheet is kept in a sketchbook for reference.

52 Colour Chart- 2017 - Labelled
52 Paint Colours in my Studio Half-Pan Palette – 2017 – Swatches with Labels

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Why you should (or should not) stick to single pigments in watercolor

If you spend any time with watercolourists, you’ll very soon start hearing some artists who insist that you should only use single pigment colours.  At the same time, others will swear by common mixed paints such as Payne’s Grey or Neutral Tint, or rave about wacky special effect mixes such as Daniel Smith’s Imperial Purple.  What’s the deal?

In my opinion, there are lots of good reasons to stick with single pigment colours when you first start exploring watercolors, and a few great reasons why you may want to include a few mixed pigments in your collection.

Good reasons to use single-pigment paints:

  1. Optimize your budget:  Most of us can only afford a limited number of paints when we are starting out.  With a limited selection of paints, it doesn’t make sense to buy paints that you can mix from other paints you already own.  So for example, if you’ve got Phthalo Green (PG7) and Azo Yellow (PY151) then you can mix Schmincke’s lovely May Green (made from PG7 and PY151) from other pigments in your palette, and it may not be the most effective purchase.
    May Green by Schmincke (PG7, PY151)
    May Green by Schmincke, a convenience mix of two greens

    That being said, if you can afford it, and May Green makes your heart flutter like it does mine, by all means feel free to buy it.  I did.  I even made you an affiliate link. For that matter, if it’s the massive full set of 96 Winsor Newton watercolours that sets your heart aflutter, it exists, it’s almost as pretty as it is expensive, and  I have a link for that too.

  2. Single Pigments (often) mix more reliably:  Individual pigments each have their own characteristics.  Some are transparent and staining, others are opaque and granulating. Black pigments tend to dull mixes, and white pigments will haze over in washes. Some mixed pigment paints are created out of two pigments with similar behaviours (for example, many brands sell a mixed-pigment Phthalo Turquoise made from Pthalo Blue and Phthalo Green, with all the same transparent, staining, easily mixing properties).  However, many mixed pigment paints are mixes of granulating/opaque pigments with transparent ones, or they are a pastel shade formulated with white, or they have black added in to darken.  When these paints are added to mixes or layered, their behaviour is harder to predict than single pigment paints. They may act in unexpected ways, or separate into their components.
  3. It is easier to learn colour mixing and paint behaviour with fewer, brighter colours: Do as I say, not as I do.  Although I am now overflowing my 52-pan main palette (including 49 distinct single pigment paints),
    No automatic alt text available.
    Juggling my paint collection to fit new pigments into my 52-pan mega palette.  

    I strongly believe that great colour mixing skills come with being very intimately familiar with the behaviours of your paints and learning how to match colours from a limited palette.  Choosing only a few pigments to learn with makes this way easier, and the brightest and clearest mixing paints for a limited palette are mostly single pigments. Trying to learn and keep track of the properties and mixes between a giant and evolving selection of paints has been a lot of work.  I buy paints because I love testing and collecting all the pretty colours, but I long ago passed the point where getting new paints was helping me make better art.

  4. Learning about pigments will help you be an informed shopper: Many brands have cute names for their paints (such as Marine Blue, or Geranium Red).  Different brands will offer the same pigment but use different names. or use the same name to describe different pigments.  If your paints are mostly single-pigment, and you know their pigment numbers, you won’t fall into the trap of buying a cool-looking colour it turns out you already have from a different brand.  You’ll also be able to watch for sales, and mix and match your brands knowing which pigments you are looking for.

Great Reasons to add mixed-pigment paints

  1. Your absolute favourite colour is just not available as a single pigment:  Each of us has some colours that just make us happy.  If you’re lucky, there’s a pigment just for you.  However, not all colours have a corresponding pigment.  For example, the May Green above is one of my favourite colours with special meaning to me.  There is no single pigment that colour, but it makes me happy having it on my palette.
  2. There are two colours you find yourself mixing all the time, and you’d like a shortcut:  Do you always mix Ultramarine Blue (PB29) and Burnt Sienna (PBr7) to make neutrals?  It might make sense to have a pan of that mix to reach for.  Or maybe you’re a floral painter and would like a violet made from PR122 and PB60.  Whatever the reason, if having a mixed pigment shortcut on your palette makes your life easier, add one.  You can even mix your own in empty pans.
  3. You paint in a very graphic/bold/pastel style and don’t care about mixing: If you like making art that has flat even areas of pastel mint and lilac, by all means get some Holbein pastel shades of watercolor.  If you paint in moody neutrals, reach for that Payne’s grey.  If you paint everything in block colours and don’t like mixing, get a nice big set of whatever and don’t worry about pigments.  These paints exist because they are useful to some artists.
  4. An alternative to a colour you’ll only use for mixing:  As discussed in point 1, I love insanely bright, springy greens.  Sure, I could mix them, but generally that requires a very cool shade of yellow.  I don’t like cool yellows, generally, and I especially don’t like how opaque most of the pigments are.  I don’t use a cool yellow for anything else.  I’ve decided to simply not have a cool yellow on my palette, and keep 1-2 mixed-pigment bright yellow-greens on my palette instead.  Unconventional, but it works for me.
  5. Special effect Paints:  Many artists love special effect paints like Daniel Smith’s Imperial Purple  and Cascade Green, mixes of pigments that are intentionally made to separate and granulate on the page, creating interesting texture in juicy sky or landscape washes.  They’re not really designed for mixing, but they are stunning on their own.  These can be easily mixed from common pigments, but that can be a bit of a hassle if you will be doing so frequently.  If you love granulating effects paint, it may be worth it to have a couple on your palette.

I think that seeking out single pigment paints is a great strategy for beginners in watercolour to get familiar with their paints and the medium on a budget.  With such a dazzling array pigments available to the modern artist, it is usually not limiting to stick with single pigments.

Once you are more familiar with the medium, however, and are attracted to specific multi-pigment mixes, there are good reasons to not be a purist.  Practice responsible pigment mixing!

This post contains affiliate links.  Lee Angold  is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Jackson’s Art Affiliate Network.  These are affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to product listings.

 

Colour harmony, limited palettes and realism

I’ve recently started making a very conscious effort to restrict my colour palette (in individual pieces and sketch kits, my overall watercolour studio palette is still a 50+ pigment smorgasbord,  my coloured pencil collection is even larger, and I love it).

Mixing Surface, Studio Watercolor Palette and corner of Gladiolus painting
My usual studio setup – 52+ pigments in my studio palette, about 3-5 paints make it onto my mixing surface

The goal is both to practice more conscious colour mixing, and to train myself to make more deliberate and informed choices about colour and light interaction.  These are more broadly described with the term colour harmony and cohesion, but like many abstract concepts in art, have a strong scientific basis.

Colour harmony is one of these “fuzzy” subjective topics in art that I really didn’t “get”  for a long time.  Many artists extole the virtues of a limited palette for creating a “cohesive” look within their paintings, but each artist had different and conflicting suggestions for essential pigments.  In addition, doesn’t the real world contain all of the visible colours?  In a world with all the colours, what is a “cohesive” look anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to have every colour at your disposal?

Reality is quite a bit more complex.  The colours we actually see are affected by the colour of light, as well as reflected colour from surrounding objects.

Our eyes play tricks on us – for instance, we know a ripe banana is a bright, middle yellow, but in a dark room, in a fruit bowl surrounded by dark red fruit, the “correct” colour to paint a ripe banana for realism might be a neutralised orange, such as an ochre or Quinacridone Burnt Orange.  It took me a while to understand is that in this case, it wouldn’t just be “cohesion” or “harmony” that would be disrupted by painting a bright yellow banana, it would actually not be a realistic depiction of the banana.

Our eyes are actually even tricksier than this  – humans actually only have “good” colour accuity in a very narrow cone.  We do have a fair bit of peripheral vision outside this cone.  Our brain fills in the edges of our vision with colours to match what we see in front of us, then edits our memories to correct any inconsistencies as we look around.  Part of the reason a painting with a very bright pop of colour all the way to one side, which doesn’t appear elsewhere, is considered a “bad” or “uncohesive” composition is because this is not how we actually ever see the world.

Magenta and Two Greens
Two Greens and a Magenta – An effective colour palette for tomato plants?

In a way, choosing a very constrained colour palette is an effective way to mimic real lighting/environmental conditions as we might see them.  Take, for example, the limited colour palette above, where I chose a magenta (PR122) and two greens – a cool almost-turquoise PG7 (Winsor Green BS) and a warmer PY129 (Azo Green, or Green Gold).  This palette produces a surprising gamut of slightly neutralized warm colours from reds to rusty oranges and plums, as well as some eye-poppingly bright greens.  It might be a great colour palette for rendering berries or tomatoes shades by sunlit leaves – in fact, I am planning to paint these very pieces using primarily these colours.

Screenshot 2017-07-22 20.50.54
Instagram Feed by Iraville

And then, of course, there is the matter of using colour selection to draw attention to a specific element within a composition, or to evoke a mood within a collection or body of work.  I’ve recently started taking online courses with the School of Visual Storytelling (SVSLearn),  and was struck by the strong focus on manipulating colour and light to help with storytelling.

An illustrator who I think has a really stellar grasp of limited palettes for communicating mood and lighting is Ira Sluyterman van Langerweyde (Iraville).  Her studio palette rivals or exceeds mine, but she regularly uses a very limited, and fairly consistent subset to create a cohesive, whimsical, warm and natural-looking collection of playful illustrations.

In the field of botanical and scientific illustration, we are somewhat shielded from all of these concerns.  Botanical illustrators draw close-up, isolated subjects under bright, white light, specifically in order to communicate details of the individual subject without influence and distraction from surrounding scenery.  We don’t have to worry about the colour of ambient light, because we choose white light.  We don’t have to worry as much about competing colours with limited subjects, and can manipulate our composition without worrying about impacts on surrounding elements.  We use neutral backgrounds and are specifically discouraged from using cast shadows.

Nonetheless, I have found that the most successful scientific and botanical artists and illustrators, and the ones I admire the most make both deliberate and subconscious choices about lighting, colour, and subject selection which are very helpful in creating eyecatching, striking compositions.

This  can play out within individual pieces, where artists choose to highlight the unique characteristics of their subject – in my lichen on elm bark image in my header image, I really loved the stark, graphic white look of the cup fungi, and chose my colour balance in a way that would highlight that graphic, almost comic look, choosing to neutralize most of the greenish-gray crustose lichen and tree bark, but pump up the colour in the pops of green, rust and ochre.

Lichen and Cup Fungi on Elm Branch by Lee Angold
Cup Fungi and Lichen on Elm Branch – Coloured Pencil and Micron Pen by Lee Angold

On a broader scale, even realist artists develop a colour “brand” or “colour signature” across their body of work.  As an example, Anna Mason’s brightly lit, vibrant fruits and florals have a very different look from Jess Shepherd’s  dramatic and earthy leaves and vegetables, although they both make large-scale, realistic botanical paintings.

Muted Primaries
Muted, earthy triad – Spanish Gold Ochre, Salmon and Mayan Blue

Inspired by Iraville and other illustrators I admire who I have noticed use similar colour palettes, I thought it would be fun to create an earthy, natural triad to try sketching with or using as a base for some earthier subjects (obviously, this will never be an appropriate palette for very bright citrus or purple flowers  I used my new paints from Pruche along with Mayan Blue from Rublev, which is bluer than it appears in this image but still very dark and muted.  I generally prefer much brighter, clearer colours, especially greens, but I think this is an interesting jumping off point, in particular urban sketching and simple studies.

I’ve been spending a lot of time poring over James Gurney’s book Color and Light, which is fantastically detailed with loads of visual examples about different lighting situation, how they affect colours within a painting, and how they can be used to communicate mood and focus within a painting.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter on gamut mapping. In future posts, I’ll be exploring pieces created with a limited palette, and sharing the gamut mapping for each of them.

Rethinking the colour wheel: Mixing primaries from secondaries

Originally, I was going to give this blog post a much more clickbaity title, “There’s no such thing as primary colours”.

PG7 to PV23
Green + Violet = Blue ?!?

In this post, I will discuss why everything we’ve been taught about primary colours is an oversimplification to the point of being wrong. You can actually mix so-called “primary” colours from secondaries.  And on the flipside, no matter which set of 3+ colours you assign as primary, I can find you a shade that cannot be mixed from them

As a first example, take a look at my spectrum mixing chart to the left, mixing Winsor green with Winsor Violet.  According to every lesson on colour mixing I’ve ever seen, these are secondary colours.

If your primary school was anything like mine, you were taught fairly early on about the concept of primary colours.  Sometime in kindergarden, or maybe it was first grade, we were taught that there three primary colours that can’t be mixed, from which all others can be mixed, and shown a beautiful colour chart.

The primary, secondary, and tertiary color wheels.
Yellow, Red, Blue Primary mixes

In this first class, we were also taught that these three colours are Yellow, Blue and Red,  and then asked to mix a pie chart with the secondary and tertiary colours.

I dutifully completed this exercise, and like most of you, was dissapointed my result looked nothing like the example above.  Most of the mixes looked grey or brown.The flustered teacher comforted upset kids, assuring us it was not our fault the mixes came out muddy.

CMY colour mixing, from John Muir Laws

Some years later, perhaps in middle school, the same exercise was brought up again.  We were told the “primary” colours we had previously been taught didn’t work well because they weren’t the real primary colours, cyan, yellow and magenta.  With cyan, magenta and yellow,  we really could mix every other colour. Perhaps this was even paired with a lecture about additive and subtractive colour.

 

Once again we were asked to mix colours.  This time, the mixes did come out somewhat cleaner, but I was still wasn’t quite satisfied.  I could not, for the life of me, mix a pure, non-neutralized ultramarine blue, or the brightest greens.

Finally in high school and beyond, we were taught the concept of split primaries, where instead of 3 primary colours you have six (a warm and cool yellow, a violet-blue and a turquoise, a red and a magenta), but by this point, I had lost all faith in the concept of primary colours.

Where does the concept of primary colours come from, anyway?  In pure physical terms, colours are just a continuum of wavelengths of light in rainbow order (ROYGBIV) There are no colours with special “primary”  distinction.

There are, however, wavelengths of light that we distinguish better than others.   Our eyes have 3 colour receptors (red, blue and green) which each record light within a band of wavelengths and an intensity receptor. Our brains interpolate intermediate colour in the overlaps between these receptors (so what we perceive as yellow is a colour in the very narrow band between the extremely far apart green and red receptors where both are fired.    When both blue and red are fired we interpolate violet and magenta- magenta doesn’t even have an associated wavelength – it is the halfway between red at one end of the visible spectrum, and violet all the way at the other.

By wrapping that line of wavelengths around on itself, we create a “colour wheel”.  In actual fact, a wonky horseshoe/triangle might be a more accurate representation in 2D space of the colours we really see.  However circles are more satisfying and easy to understand than wonky horseshoes, so colour wheels it is.

On this colour wheel, you can pick any two colours, they don’t have to be primary colours,  and mix them together to get colours on the line between them.  Mix a yellow and a magenta together, and you will get an orange (albeit a less saturated orange than the brightest orange you could see).  Likewise, mix a violet and a green together, and you will get a blue, albeit a muted, dusky one.  There are many resources, such as the one below by Bruce McEvoy of Handprint, which map common pigments onto a colour wheel.

You can easily map out the area you can mix with any given palette of 3 or more colours by drawing lines between the pigments you are using.  The area enclosed is the colour gamut you can mix.  No three colours can actually mix all of the visible colours, however, they may be enough to render the subjects and lighting you are interested in representing.

So what makes primary colours special?

Our most accurate “primary colours”, in terms of paint (as opposed to emitted light) are in fact the midpoints between our three colour receptors placed on the colour wheel.  In other words, what we commonly consider primary colours: magenta, cyan and yellow, are actually the 3 colours we see least well.

While it seems backwards, when explained in words, that our primary colours are the ones that we don’t see very well, there is a good reason for this.

In the image to the right, you can see the results of the XKCD colour survey.  People were asked to name colours on a computer screen generated from RGB codes.  As you can see, the range of different colours we perceive as green and blue are huge compared to what we label yellow.

It is therefore very easy to mix  an acceptable “green”  from yellow and cyan or blue.  Mixing the “primary” colours, however, is a little bit trickier, as the target is much narrower

Amazonite to PV55Cyan, or blue, (as there are no true cyan pigments artists usually substitute a blue or teal), is probably the easiest of the primaries to mix from secondary colours. Any bluish-green with purple mixes a satisfactory range of teals and blues.

You’ve seen my PG7 and PV23 example above.  In case you thought that was a fluke or something to do with the specific pigments, here’s another example, mixed with Amazonite Genuine (DS) and Quinacridone Purple (PV55).

But this really does work with any colour to some degree.  Let’s take the example of the red/magenta area.  You can, of course, mix a red (in the grade school “primary” sense of the word) from magenta or rose and orange or yellow.  We’ve all done this.

Orange to violet.png

 

 

 

However, you can also mix an orange with a violet to get magenta.  You won’t get a clear, pure PR122 Purple Magenta colour, of course (just as you won’t get a clear, vibrant green mixing a far apart yellow and blue), but you will get a magenta colour saturated enough to work as a “primary”  in a muted palette.  The spectrum charts on the left are a little overexposed – my scanner does weird things to oranges, but you get the idea.

YellowsFinally, the hardest primary colours to mix (and get my scanner to show properly) are yellows.  Anything but the purest, most saturated yellows read as brown, olive or orange to the average observer.

To mix a yellow, my first attempt actually included two “secondary” colours actually in the yellow colour index.  PY129 (Azo Green, or green gold, a very yellowish green) and PY110 (Isoindoline or Indian Yellow, more of an orange at full saturation, mix to make closer to a primary yellow.

My scanner really shifted the masstone of my Azo Green, which truly does read as a green or chartreuse in real life, but the mixes in this spectrum are fairly close on my monitor to their real life colours.

In colour mixing, think beyond “primary colours”.  Sometimes the blue you need is most easily reached by mixing green and violet.  Sometimes the “secondary colour”  you need cannot be mixed from the “primary” colours you have available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clumping of Non-Granulating Watercolour Paints, Part 2 – It’s not me, it’s you, M. Graham

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

Comparison
Original Experiment:  Tap water vs. Distilled, used pans/washed in tap water

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:

  1.  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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.