My Painting Equipment – Part IIIa

Winsor & NewtonAs Part II of this series of painting equipment articles indicated, a tightly stretched substrate is my preference for watercolor work in order to minimize buckling of the paper during wet wash applications. Even more important to my painting technique than the substrate, however, is my choice of paint. Over the years, I have utilized numerous brands of paint and admire several for their unique characteristics. I often choose a palette from a specific manufacturer based upon the character I wish a particular watercolor painting to emote. I prefer heavily granulating natural pigment paints for textural pieces or works depicting metallic objects. Conversely, I often choose very vibrant, heavily pigmented paints that possess very minimal granulation characteristics for floral work.

One of my early favorites consisted of a selection of Winsor & Newton tube paints housed in a Guerrilla Painter brand covered palette. The plastic palette worked nicely and I still return to the Winsor & Newton paints on occasion. The company’s Opera Rose will always be one of my favorite colors for floral work.

RublevAfter reading an interesting article in Watercolor Artist magazine by Cathy Johnson, I learned about a company based in Willits, California USA called Natural Pigments that was selling vintage reproduction paints as well as pigments, binders, and paint making supplies. Their line of naturally pigmented watercolor paints was being marketed under the Rublev brand name and promised to be accurate reproductions of paints from yesteryear. I began using their 18th century reproduction palette in pan form and created an entire series of lock, key, chain, and door paintings using them. Eventually I switched to their tube counterparts and I still regularly use selected paints from their line. A couple of my favorites are the German Vine Black and Prussian Blue. I keep a selection of Rublev paints in a Possum Palette for quick access. An interesting aspect of the Rublev paints, is the fact that each color behaves uniquely under the brush. While one color may feel waxy, another may be very grainy. Another may create smooth gradations while yet another may easily leave behind brush marks. The unique quality of each paint is definitely one of the charms this product line possesses. One drawback to this series of paints, however, seemed to be the sporadic availability of certain pigments. I often had to supplement my palette with equivalents from other manufacturers when the Rublev selections were back ordered. Some pigments could be unavailable for up to 6 month stretches. I haven’t checked lately but I hope the brand’s availability has become more consistent because these paints are absolutely incredible products and I highly recommend that you try them if you are feeling a bit adventurous.

The sporadic availability of the Rublev line of paint prompted me to search for naturally pigmented products from other companies. After experimenting with several, I settled on the Primatek series from the Daniel Smith company in Seattle, Washington USA. Their products are amazing and I fell in love with the company’s Rare Green Earth and Sedona Red watercolor paints. Daniel Smith’s Lapis Lazuli had a great hue but tended to harden in the tube after a short amount of time. It could be quite difficult to clean from my palette if it dried in place. In fact, I would occasionally need to chisel it off.

Butcher TrayWhen I began delving into my floral series, I searched for a line of paints that were heavily pigmented, vibrant, and responded well to repeated glazing. I looked once again to the Daniel Smith company and built a palette from their selection of transparent watercolors. I really like how these particular paints seem to stay wet and workable for a little longer than many brands I have tried. They withstand repeated glazing and are very concentrated which is perfect for my painting style.

At some point during my transition from natural pigment paints to more modern varieties, I was approached by a representative of the Sennelier company and asked to participate in a blind study designed to help the business reformulate their watercolor product line to meet the desires of modern artists. To be asked to become a part of this iconic company’s history simply goes far beyond flattering.

For those who are unaware, Sennelier has been supplying materials to artists since 1790 and its clientele have included such notables as Van Gogh and Renoir. An interesting facet of the company is its continual pursuit of innovation and customer satisfaction. They are not afraid to develop new art products based upon the desires of their clientele. History has shown that on several occasions Sennelier has created a specific product to meet a particular client’s requirements or creative techniques. Reading Pascale Richard’s History of Sennelier will definitely enlighten those who wish to learn more about this company’s desire to innovate and provide the tools necessary for an individual artist to freely create.

Small Paint TubesThe blind study in which I participated involved a selection of nearly 60 small tubes of paint paired with a comment form and rating system. There were approximately 5 different tubes for each color and each possessed different characteristics. I was asked to paint a small sample utilizing each tube, note the characteristics, and rate my preference for each formula. The formula critiques and sample paintings were shipped back to the Sennelier company in France and about a year and a half later the company released a newly reformulated line of watercolor paints marketed under the L’Aquarelle name.

I currently use a selection of these paints in my more recent work and find them an utter joy to use. The paints don’t lift particularly well but that makes them very nice for repeated glazing techniques. They are probably among the most heavily pigmented and vibrant paints I have ever used which make them perfect for floral work. The paint remains workable for a very nice amount of time and I find I don’t have to rush to complete a gradated flower petal or background wash in order to avoid hard edge formations.

Sennelier GiftAs can be deduced from this article, I enjoy experimenting with paint from different manufacturers. Each company’s offerings provide characteristics that are as individual as the artists that use them. While some strive to have their product lines behave in a homogenous manner from color to color, others desire to have each paint perform uniquely. I often combine paints from different manufacturers in different areas of a painting in order to exploit each product’s individual characteristics. While many artists become attached to a particular brand of paints for a variety of reasons, I find it to be an interesting and somewhat unpredictable element of the artistic process to implement a previously unutilized brand of paint.

If you are an artist, is there a unique watercolor paint you use? If so, leave a comment below and let me know what characteristics you admire and how you utilize the product. Every artist has a different vision for their work and it is always interesting to learn what others use to accomplish their artistic goals.

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Comments (5)
  • Ken Powers October 8, 2012

    Thank you! I am glad you found it interesting. I’ve used a lot of products over the years. I will have to try yours as well! Have a great day!

  • Dai Wynn October 8, 2012

    Excellent article, Ken. Very detailed and well researched.

    On my part, I have a very old cardboard box of 8 ml watercolour tubes; a mixture of Cotman (Windsor and Newton) and Art Spectrum. Some are new, others are absolutely ancient. I have even been known to poke a wet brush into old tubes to soften the age-hardened paint.

    My palette is an extremely old heavy porcelain device with five circular depressions and five oblong wells. It was made in England for Reeves around the time of the Magna Carta (insert smiley face here) and has several repaired cracks in its base. I clean it every few months as necessary.

    I did buy two Windsor and Newton Artisan flat and filbert brushes recently. Excellent value.

    Apart from my love affair with 300 gsm Arches cotton papers in smooth, medium and rough textured surfaces, I am simply hoping that my choice of subject matter and my use of ink, pencil and watercolour paint will ‘deliver the goods’.

    • Ken Powers October 8, 2012

      Thank you Dai!

      I love to experiment with different brands of paint. Quite a few of mine get hard in the tube to the point that I cut the tube open and put them in little containers for easy access. The natural pigment paints seem to be extremely prone to this and get hard much quicker.

      As for palettes, I really like the porcelain variety but lately have been using a butcher tray. I think I like it better than anything else I have tried and they are easy to clean. My friend Dick Cole turned me on to them and I think it is the palette I am going to stick with. They are also very cheap so if it gets too hard to clean, another one can be purchased for only a couple of US dollars.

      I am going to have to replace a couple of my favorite brushes soon. They are actually splitting down the shaft and are getting awkward to use. I mainly use two different sized rounds for all my work. I guess that is why they are taking such a beating!

      Thanks again for stopping by to read my rambling articles!

  • Sandra Pearce October 11, 2012

    I’m enjoying your articles Ken. I currently don’t stretch 140 lb paper, but I do tape it down and it works for now. Different means for different methods and preferences. Have you tried M. Graham paints? They are made with honey, which I heard makes them a little slower to dry, but that has not affected my work. They have fabulous creamy texture, but that means they run in my sealed travel palette. Nonetheless, I do keep a small amount of cobalt violet in that palette and live with the occasional spill. So far I have only tried 2 or 3 colors and they are like jewels.

    • Ken Powers October 11, 2012

      Thank you for the kind words Sandra! I haven’t tried the M. Graham paints but I have heard great things about them. I know the Sennelier, Rublev, and M. Graham paints all contain quantities of honey which aids as a wetting agent, preservative, and also gives the dried paint a distinctive look which I think might be known as the French Sheen….but I am not positive. I will definitely have to give the M. Graham paints a try in the future. Thanks again for your kind words and I am glad you are enjoying my series of articles. Have a great day, Ken Powers –

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