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Art Supplies — 30-Years Ago Compared To Now


Various hand-painted color charts, circa 1988
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

As I mentioned in my last post, when I stopped watercolor painting some 25-years ago — I kept everything.  All the paints, all the paper, all the brushes, all the palettes (still paint-filled no less!), pencils (both graphite and colored), and related odds-and-ends that fill an ArtBin tackle box to the point of near bursting.

So when I decided to resume painting again, it took some time to find all the pieces and parts, and assemble them together in a pile.


Actually, the pile I assembled is a bit more than I realized — due to being completely out-of-sight, and out-of-mind.  Okay then…  More work.  Lots more work, to be frank.

Hand-painted color chart for Holbein Artists’ Water Colors
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

I had to clear many bags of junk from our office area, in order to shuffle everything around and make enough space for the assembled pile of watercolor supplies.

Of course, this entire process was quite time-consuming, and was on-going with my attempts to resume a daily effort at doing some form of art — a pencil or ink sketch, a quick and dirty watercolor study, whatever.  Also throw in the rediscovery process (including many hours days on the web), not to mention my day job (I still can’t retire just yet), plus prepping for house guests and getting ready for the surgery I had last week, and — whew! — all things watercolor-related have just about slowed to a crawl.

But that’s now all behind me and I have the lengthy recovery period after surgery to begin getting back on track.

The first order of business?  A list!

  • Inventory everything
  • Determine what materials — if any — haven’t survived 25-years of careful storage
  • Replace any needed materials
  • Create a paint swatch for each and every individual tube of color
  • Establish what my new palette of colors will be
  • Create a color chart for the new palette
  • Fill the empty pans of my field kit
  • Begin painting in earnest again

So without further ado, here we go!

Inventory everything:  This was the easy part, as already outlined at the beginning of this post.  I now have all of my watercolor supplies organized, visible, and available for easy access.  For me, this aspect is particularly crucial; by having the materials visible (they’re stored on several shelves right next to my clothes closet) and accessible, it’ll remind me on a daily basis to partake of them — after all, I haven’t been doing fine art of any kind for the past two-and-a-half decades, and need to reestablish old painterly habits.  And having the supplies organized (eye candy!) always makes them more appealing as well, for who among us doesn’t LOVE a raid on the local art supply store?

Art supplies, all nice and organized
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

Determine what materials — if any — haven’t survived 25-years of careful storage:  Hmmmm.  I thought I had already completed this step earlier — by tossing all the corroded pencil sharpeners, rock-hard kneaded and Magic Rub erasers, dried-out bottles of liquid frisket, dull X-acto blades, who knows what else, and replacing them all with fresh supplies.  But!!!  I have since discovered that this will likely be an on-going process, at least for the near future.  Details to follow shortly.

Replace any needed materials:  The first round of the easy stuff is completed, and the new supplies have been distributed to where they need to be.

Create a paint swatch for each and every individual tube of color:  This is another crucial part of getting my painting knowledge back into place.  For example, this is what a 30-year-old tube of Winsor and Newton Artists’ Water Colour paint looks like:

Notice anything?  If you’re Rip Van Winkle (like me), then nope — the label is correct; that looks like a normal tube of Winsor Green to me (Hey look — no barcode!  Those were newfangled back then and had not spread across the planet yet).

However, if you’re from the 21st century, you’ll be baffled as to where they’ve hidden all the crucial bits… information like the pigment number (no one provided that on their paint tubes 30-years ago, no one — as that information in particular was considered a closely-guarded proprietary secret), or how about the lightfastness/permanence rating (ditto), staining? (sigh… ditto again), uh… opacity? (duh… rinse and repeat), or maybe granulation? (dang, will you just get out of here with all your stupid questions and go PAINT something?  jeez!).  And that, my friends, was how you as a customer used to be treated by the artist paint manufacturers decades ago.

The younger painters out there just don’t realize how good they have it today, with all that information readily accessible on each tube of paint.  Sure, the details may be printed in a typeface so small that it requires a magnifying glass to actually see it, but still — at least it’s there!

Published pigment info for W/N Winsor Green, circa 1993
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

Color swatch for current W/N Winsor Green from the W/N website
Central Maryland — April 2018

That’s odd… both the old W/N Artists’ Materials catalog and their current website swatch agree; W/N Winsor Green is PG7 or Phthalocyanine Green (Blue Shade).  However, that’s not the pigment printed on the actual current paint tube label for W/N Winsor Green, which indicates that the pigment used is PY184 or Bismuth Vanadate Yellow.

Wait… what???  Someone obviously has made a mistake.  I wonder how many other paints of theirs are mislabeled?  Has anyone else seen this?

This also brings me to the next reason for creating a paint swatch… unexpected surprises, like the following:

Color swatch for 30-year-old W/N Winsor Green
Central Maryland — April 2018
HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw flat-bed scanner

I have — flat-out — never seen Winsor Green (Phthalo green [blue shade]) granulate like that before.  In fact, it’s widely considered to be one of the toughest — if not thee toughest — staining paints to deal with because it latches on so completely and so thoroughly to everything that it touches.  I was thunderstruck by what I saw on that paint swatch, and stared at it in total disbelief as it dried.

My thoughts?  If this is how my tube of Winsor Green — one of the most stable and rock solid pigments out there — performs, then what do I need to brace for with all my other tubes of paint?  Only by creating a paint swatch for each individual tube will I be able to tell.

The behavior of this 30-year-old granulating Winsor Green came as a complete shock to me because I had always bought into the belief that — unlike all the other painting mediums out there in metal tubes — if watercolors ever dried out, all you had to do was reconstitute them with a bit of fresh water and maybe a bit of gum arabic, and they would preform just like a tube of brand-new paint.  Obviously, that is not entirely true, but I just don’t know to what extent yet.

I should add that the tube of paint looked normal, and the paint itself acted normal prior to being brushed onto the swatch.  There were no off-smells to it; the texture when I squeezed out the paint was just like what I remember when the tube was new 30-years ago; it mixed totally normal with water; etc.  It just didn’t act normal, once it was brushed upon the paper and began drying down.  Weird.

I promise to share more details in future posts, as I encounter them.

Replace any needed materials (rinse and repeat):  The ordering of the second-round of replacement supplies has been completed; I’m just waiting on the delivery of them now.  There may be additional rounds of ordering needed, or maybe not; I may decide to completely eliminate a dead pigment from my palette entirely.

Phthalo green (blue shade) certainly falls into the dead pigment category for me, as I’ve always considered it to be a color of the 1970’s era — a period of time that seemed (to me, at least) to be awash with Phthalo-tinted everything.  So sensitized have I become to this color that I actively avoid using it, even in other mediums — such as fountain pen ink.

So I’ll climb to the top of the highest mound nearby (with the “peak” of the mound at only 1,200+ feet, I absolutely refuse to call it a mountain), shake the offending tube of paint over my head, and scream into the heavens with my all my might — “YOU’RE DEAD TO ME NOW, PHTHALO GREEN (BLUE SHADE)!!!  DO YOU HEAR ME?  DEAD!!!”  Then I’ll go home, squeeze the last of the remaining paint out into a crumpled up wad of cheap printer paper (you don’t deserve the likes of Arches or Fabriano now, you granulating freak!), toss it into the trash where it’ll eventually be collected to burn in the local incinerator (that’s right; your precious water is too good for you now as well!), and recycle the tube.


That’s what we do to Phthalo green (blue shade) in this house.

Establish what my new palette of colors will be:  Yet to be completed, though I expect this will go fairly quickly once all my second-round of supplies arrives.

Create a color chart for the new palette:  Yet to be completed.

Fill the empty pans of my field kit:  Yet to be completed, but this step will go fast.

Begin painting in earnest again:  Yet to be officially started, but gains are already being made even before all the previous steps have been properly completed.

To be continued…

18 thoughts on “Art Supplies — 30-Years Ago Compared To Now

  1. Pingback: The Old Guy Whom Is Now The FNG | Exploratorius Redux

  2. lynnabbottstudios

    You are in Virginia? Are you in the Richmond area? Are you in a gallery in the area? Would love to see your work in person! Such fun reading about the differences in the painting from 30 years ago to today! I use Windsor Newton oils… and am grateful for all the information now provided. 🙂


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      I lived off-and-on in both Richmond and Henrico County for close to a decade (having attended VCU and worked in the creative field there afterward), but moved back up to the DC area in the late 1980’s.

      My work has hung in a gallery several times, but not recently.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂


      1. yenscreativecorner

        Thank you for the link to your works! Your paintings are so beautiful! I’m practicing to use watercolor but a lot of times I get frustrated with the outcome. Well, I guess I’d need more practice, and a lot of patience. Lol


      2. Mitch Zeissler Post author

        Two things that helped me at first; a) try just using three colors in the beginning, as this will help to keep the paint from getting muddy; and b) try doing a base drawing first, then add — sparingly — a really light glaze of color in just one area.

        This goes a long way toward making at least something that doesn’t frustrate you, and you can build upon that further by either adding more colors in the next painting or more glazes.

        Think baby steps at first.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. dkatiepowellart

    Some of my old watercolors and gouaches were still okay — about 20 years old — but dried in the tube. I unwrapped one and it reconstituted fine but the tube-like shape was irritating….
    And Excuse Me, but if you are old then I am ancient so let’s let you not be old, okay?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Watercolor Painting Update | Exploratorius Redux

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