All packed into a slim, beautifully curved case that fits in your pocket, The Cotman Brush Pen Set allows you to capture moments of inspiration no matter where you are, and add splashes of vibrant colour to your work with all the precision and control of your favourite brush. The set contains 12 Cotman Watercolour Half Pans and an ergonomic brush pen with its own water reservoir. The box measures 13cm x 8cm x 2cm and has a mixing palette on the inside side of the lid which means you don’t have to take anything else with you when painting plein air.
The best way to find out about a new product is to try it out – we gave 3 artists whose styles differ greatly a chance to review the new set (I had one to play with too!) We wanted to know how the brush performed, whether it was easy and practical to use and had the range of colours needed. Below are their reviews and images of what they managed to create whilst using the set.
Margate-based illustrator H Locke tried out the new Cotman Water Brush Pen and Watercolours Set for a quick sketch of the Margate harbour arm.
‘Add a pad to this small painting set and it’s a complete travel kit with everything you need for sketching on the go. I’ve used Cotman Watercolours before and like them. The water brush pen can do wide washes and small strokes equally well – someone thought about this one. I did not need to squeeze a lot of water out through the water brush to clean it between colours, though the blue stained the brush more than the other colours. I used a small amount of water to try and clean it, but even then didn’t use much of the water – there’s more water in the pen than you’d think. Though if I were out painting for the whole day, or more than one sketch, I’d take a spare bottle of water to refill it.
It is a good selection of colours, I’m always pleased to see black and white, plus several blues and several greens to make a full range of colours. Also a couple of great browns/reds. They’ve got a lot into a small package. Great for seascapes and landscapes. I found that I wasn’t able to control colour mixing on the palette very well – because of trying to control both the amount of water and the amount of pigment/paint – the paint became too watery. So I ended up mixing the colours on the painting, which worked out well. And instead of obsessing over every possible combination of paint/water/stroke, I spent my time on trying to capture what was in front of me, so I feel like it freed up my work. Something about having a “pen” in your hand instead of something that feels more like a brush was also liberating.
I found the only thing I was missing was a way to clean the palette or absorb excess colour so it doesn’t leak when I close it and put it back in my bag. I think I’d need some kind of sponge to carry with it. It’s nice that it combines sketching and watercolour – it will be good for people who like making quick sketches on the go – but it’s not a replacement for people who like several brush sizes with them or more colours.’
Watercolour artist Rachel Toll also trialled the new set from Winsor and Newton, here are her thoughts and a few examples of a work in progress:
‘The size is very convenient with lots of space for mixing colours on the palette. There is a good range of colours although I would have included a cadmium red and I had to substitute my normal cerulean blue for the turquoise blue in the set. I personally never use black or white. Good that the half size pans could be easily replaced when needed.
The brush tip was excellent and came to a nice point, it would be perfectly fine for sketching out in the field. Although its nature as a permanently wet brush meant I couldn’t dry the brush when I wanted to use dry brush techniques. Easy to fill up, not too fiddly – cleaning was fine and I kept some kitchen roll to wipe off the paint as I went. I thought it was an ideal kit to take out for sketching and easily fits into a bag or pocket or glove box. If I was relying on it beyond a quick small sketch more water might be needed.’
Being a watercolourist myself, it would be a shame for me not to try them out too! Here are my thoughts on the new set:
‘The first point to make about this Water Brush Pen & Watercolour Set is how slim and compact it is. Normally when painting I have an array of pans, tubes, water holders and brushes scattered around me but with this set there is so little to actually carry, it means I am more likely to venture outside to paint. The half pans come individually wrapped and so the first job is to unwrap them and assemble the waterbrush – it was so easy to put together as it only involves pushing the brush tip and reservoir together, it comes apart so easily and fits securely on so there was no worry about water spilling out. The brush itself is made from a soft but rigid plastic which means that it was easy to pump water through with a gentle squeeze but was sturdy enough that it felt really similar to holding a normal brush. It is a great size too, it fitted nicely in my hand as it tapers to a point at the end.
The tonal ranges I managed to achieve from the 12 half pans included in this set was much more than I anticipated, the beauty of the pans not being fixed in place means that if I wanted to I could switch up the colours with some of my own. That being said, there isn’t really any major colours that I missed from the set supplied, other than perhaps a brown.
The brush tip was really flexible and loaded a lot of colour onto the paper. It also didn’t take much to pump the colour out if I wanted to change colours cleanly from light to dark. I painted for around an hour before I noticed that the reservoir was about a quarter full. As the barrel is clear you can see the water slowly reducing, you can also feel it when you paint as the paints become drier and they flow less. It has a feel of a brush marker pen in that it has the ability to produce fine lines but also because of the constant flow of water it means that you can cover large areas evenly.
The most challenging aspect I found with the actual brush itself was the amount of water that came out of the tip, with watercolours I normally work really dry, almost like an acrylic. As the colours were really fluid because of the amount of water that is deposited from the tip, I did struggle with having to wait for the layers underneath to dry before I went back over them. I also found it strange not having to go backwards and forwards to reach for my water holder, and when I went back to my normal watercolour brushes I was saddened that they couldn’t hold as much water as the Cotman Water Brush. I think that this set is a great way of loosening up artists like myself that normally work with watercolours quite dry, they are perfect for quick sketches and especially if you are outside it means you don’t have to carry an extra bag for all your paint supplies!’
Illustrator and founder of Tequila Mockingbird, Emily May also took the new set with her for a painterly stroll down the river, here is how she got on:
‘I own a portable watercolour set that I take on holiday with me but I tend to shy away from using it when I’m out and about, preferring just to sketch with a pencil and colour in when I get home. This is simply because I have a beautiful vintage paintbox that I do all my work from, it’s packed full of colours and each one has their place. It’s the first thing I’d save in a fire and I love it.
Having said that, the first thing that struck me about this Cotman set was how much of a lovely object it was, the set is really compact and tactile, the paints slightly tilted towards you when it’s open with the palette flat on the ground. I was also really impressed with the selection of colours, there’s the standard ones like Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow but ‘Paynes Gray’ was a nice surprise and came in really useful. I tend to use a lot of ‘naples yellow’ as a base, it wasn’t one of the selection but I had no trouble making up the shade I was after with the colours provided, and if I’d really wanted to I could’ve easily switched one of the halfpans to one from my paintbox.
I took the set down to the river and filled up the reservoir in the paintbrush before I left. It was much easier to fill than the water brushes I’ve used in the past and I was really surprised at how nice it was to use, my style is quite illustrative and the texture of the tip lent itself really well to both sweeping strokes and finer detail. It’s also not too bulky, which is great when you’re used to holding a paintbrush. The paints themselves were excellent. I had been a bit worried that the small sections of the palette wouldn’t be big enough to mix up colours but the paints were perfectly saturated and blended together very smoothly. The ducks didn’t stay still for very long so I found myself doing a lot of quick test sketching with the brush before the final painting, but by the time I’d finished there was still about a third of the water left which I was really happy with considering how long I was out.
The Cotman paints themselves are genuinely fantastic to work with and something I’d consider switching to use on a daily basis. It’s a lovely little set and something I’ll definitely be using on outings in the future, not just on holiday.’
Click on the underlined link to go to the Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Brush Pen and Watercolours Set on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.