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Atelier Aquarell & Fotografie

Watercolor Painting Update


My first tubes of professional watercolors, circa 1988
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

I figured I’d update readers on what is happening with my watercolor painting revival, especially since I haven’t been actually posting any new paintings yet.  Well, in recent days I’ve been doing the following:

Continuing to get things organized — This includes:

  • Figuring out exactly what viable watercolor paints I have (a variety of different pigments from Winsor and Newton, Rembrandt, Sennelier, Schmincke, Holbein, and Daniel Smith).
  • Going through and getting my big sheets (22×33) of watercolor paper organized by brand (generic no name, Lanaquarelle, Winsor and Newton, Arches, and Fabriano), weight (140 lb and 300 lb), and finish (cold press, soft press, and hot press).
  • Carrying around my painting kit in my sling bag to see if it’s too heavy for me to carry (it is), and culling and/or replacing things to make it lighter.  Rinse and repeat as many times as is necessary to get it right.

It’s surprising how the little things can really make or break the enjoyment of the artistic process.

Getting up to speed with all the new paint data — I know this seems like a no-brainer today, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, detailed information about each color of paint never used to be printed on each and every tube.  For that — if you were lucky — you had to dig.  And badger the manufacturer.  And dig some more.

Keep in mind, the vaunted “information highway” of the Internet didn’t yet exist — so finding out details like this could be a very long and involved process that may require phone calls, letter writing, visits to the library, etc.

30-year-old watercolor swatches
Central Maryland — April 2018
HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw flat-bed scanner

My surviving paint swatches from that period are woefully short of information (and include paint colors that no longer exist), and I needed to completely redo them with all the nitty-gritty details to better understand what I was dealing with today.  Detailed information to place on each of the new swatches includes:

  • Manufacturer
  • Paint name (in some cases this has absolutely no bearing on the actual pigments used)
  • Manufacturer paint number (if they have one)
  • Pigment number or numbers (the most I have seen listed so far is five)
  • Series number (not all have this)
  • Light-fastness rating (5 through 1, or I through IV, or other scales — none of which are standard throughout the industry)
  • Transparency/opacity (again, not standard throughout the industry)
  • Staining
  • Granularity
  • Glaze
  • Black opacity lines (to confirm the transparency claims of the manufacturer)
  • Lifting ability
  • Dispersion test (how fast the pigment moves across the glaze of water)
  • Mass tone (what the pigment looks like straight out of the tube)

And if that weren’t enough, there are a bewildering number of pigments today that I know absolutely nothing about — including the following:

  • Anthraquinone
  • Arylide
  • Benzimidazolone
  • Bizmuth
  • Carbazole
  • Diarylide
  • Diopside
  • Dioxazine
  • Imidazolone
  • Indanthrene
  • Isoindolinone
  • Napthamide
  • Naphthol (seriously?  I thought this was just used in the automobile industry)
  • Perinone
  • Perylene
  • Pyrrole
  • Quinacridone (this was just arriving on the watercolor scene when I stopped painting back in the mid-1990’s)
  • Thioindigo

Not to mention entirely new watercolor paint technologies that include duochrome, interference, iridescent, and pearlescent pigments.  Coming from the era of heavy metal pigments like cobalt, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and others — the switch to this list of less toxic materials is a welcome development, but utterly confusing nonetheless.

My second round of watercolors, circa 1993
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

Creating watercolor swatches — I have been spending entire days doing this.  Yes… DAYS.

Why?  Because I have found during this rediscovering process that nearly all of my 30-year-old tubes of Winsor & Newton Artists’ Water Colour paints are dead, broken, unrecoverable, and — sadly — unusable.

Most were completely dried out, which surprised me, as I had checked the tubes every so often and they remained supple up to my last examination of them some 5-years ago.  Those that were dried out were either crumbly and fractured, or had a texture that was similar to a kneaded eraser that had been left out in the sun for a few years… either way, too far gone for water and gum arabic to reconstitute them, as they produced cracked glazes and actually peeled off the paper in some cases.

The same is true for a few (but not all) of the other tubes of paint I bought about 20-years ago (as my Dad pointed out in one of the comments — use it or lose it).  The tubes that survived the best were the tiny 5 ml tubes from Rembrandt and the 15 ml tubes from Schmincke; the absolute worst were the Winsor & Newton 15 ml tubes.

The most surprising finding was the tube of Old Holland Cobalt Violet Dark… which squeezed out of the tube looking like bi-colored taffy (the pigment and the gum arabic had separated and turned into a stringy rubbery substance).  Another thing that surprised me about the Old Holland tube — the ratio of gum arabic to paint appeared to be 50-50; i.e., I paid for a lot more binder and far less pigment than the paint from other manufacturers.

Other surprises — The 20+ year-old tube of Holbein Opera had totally corroded at the shoulder of the tube, where the cap is screwed in place.  Why did it do that, and why did I not see the same behavior with other tubes of paint?  The rest of the Opera tube and cap appeared to be in perfect condition, so was the shoulder section not made from the same material or protected with the same coating?  Very weird.

Also, when comparing my 30-year-old paints against the current lines, I expected and discovered that there were changes to how colors of the exact same name were actually formulated — but none more glaring than Winsor Yellow, which was a cool yellow made from PY1 in 1988, and is now a much warmer yellow made from PY175.

Lastly, another surprise was seeing the price tag of the W&N Lamp Black that I had purchased from Cheap Joe’s three decades ago… which was $4.99.  Keep in mind that the MSRP of W&N Lamp Black today is $19.59…  watercolor painting was a lot more “affordable” back then than it is now.

My third round of watercolors, circa 1996
Central Maryland — April 2018
Sony RX100 V + Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70/1.8-2.8

Figuring out replacements — With all the established and new pigments available — well over 1,500 different offerings from dozens of different watercolor paint manufacturers world-wide — finding the replacement colors I want for my final palette is a huge undertaking.  Also, there are many more manufacturers that we have access to today than I ever knew existed 30-years ago.

For me, the only decent manufacturer I could find at first was Winsor & Newton, and their artist supplies were available nearly everywhere.  Sure, Grumbacher and Liquitex watercolors could also be found in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but they were student-grade materials when compared to the superior paints being offered by W&N at the time.

Later I was able to find access to watercolors from Sennelier, Schmincke, Holbein, Blockx, Utrecht, Rembrandt, and Old Holland (Sennelier and Schmincke were early leaders of adding detailed info to paint tubes).

Then in the early-to-mid 1990’s Daniel Smith exploded upon the art scene and changed the watercolor world as we knew it.  I discovered Daniel Smith products from back when I did etchings in the late 1970’s and was very much impressed with the black printmaking ink that they offered at that time (sadly, their printmaking inks were all discontinued in 2014), so when I heard that they were coming out with their own line of watercolor paints, I figured they would be special.

Ha — little did I know!

Now — 235 colors later — Daniel Smith is the manufacturer to beat, as they have the most comprehensive and innovative line of watercolors currently available.

So, as you can imagine, I’ve had my hands full getting back up to speed on all current events that are watercolor related.  At present, I’m about two-thirds of the way through creating all the swatches and should be finished this coming week.  THEN I can select my palette and begin to paint again!

5 thoughts on “Watercolor Painting Update

  1. Pingback: Watercolor Field Kits | Exploratorius Redux

  2. Julie Coats

    Great article, so informative! I’m currently going through a similar process updating my oil paints. As far as watercolors go though I absolutely love Dr. Ph. Martins lines of liquid colors. Beautiful and dense but, unfortunately not very portable.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Dr. Ph. Martin makes great colors. In fact, I’ve got several bottles of their blackest blackety-black India ink (i.e., liquid coal) that I was using to create my watercolor swatches. Great stuff, but as you said… not very portable.

      Liked by 1 person

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