After reading Ann Cahill’s review on jacksonsart.com of Jackson’s Artist Cadmium Yellow Orange Watercolour saying ‘this is a lovely rich orange which, when picked up with more water on the brush, is a really lovely mellow orange yellow… very good for botanical work as most oranges I’ve tried are really quite harsh.’ We asked her to elaborate on her review and she started talking to us about why she transitioned from student grade to artist watercolour paint.
Transitioning from Student to Artist quality Watercolours
By Ann Cahill
The Limitations of Student Grade Watercolours
As an amateur I was, initially, quite happy with my box of Cotman watercolours. Painting almost exclusively Irish landscapes. West of Ireland at that. Which meant soft dull colours… the landscape seen through the mist of typical August bank holiday weather i.e. wet and windy.
It was only when taking a garden design course, and I was trying to do some illustrations of potential gardens, that I realised the limitations of student quality watercolours. To any professional artists out there it’s obvious, but I had to learn this for myself. If the colour wasn’t already there in the set, then trying to mix it from pans, very few of which were single pigment colours, meant that most mixed colours ended up dull and muddy. Of course I take responsibility here, I am an untrained dauber. Still, if you wish to inspire a customer to go ahead with spending money on a new garden design, it does help if the garden design were not to seem constantly swathed in the mist of “West of Ireland August bank holiday weather”.
The Behaviour of the Watercolour when Lifted from the Pan
Looking for better pigments, I initially tried a couple of W&N artists colours but the real revelation of the upgrade came when I splashed out on set of Schmincke Horadam paints (half pans). The colours were amazing, especially the cadmiums. The problem now was that the darker colours were so pigment rich, I couldn’t immediately tell what colour each pan was without making a colour chart. (The Cotman set colours were obvious on sight.)
Without doubt one of the main joys of using artists grade paints is how well they lift from the pan even with just a damp brush. Here I would say that Schmincke Horadam are superb. The Jackson’s artist watercolour are also very good in this respect, especially considering their very reasonable price. I have found the W & N artists pan paints are comparatively hard to take up on the brush and, when using tubes, hard to reactivate once dried on the palette.
Mixing Botanical Colours with Schmincke Horadam Watercolours
As a learner I had made myself a book of watercolour mixes using combinations of the paints I had. I was especially keen on developing a range of greens because greens for foliage are rarely, if ever, “sap” or “hookers green” or “Viridian”. I spent quite some time producing pages of greens, reds, pinks, purples, browns, greys, blues, chromatic blacks and so on. After I bought my Schmincke Horadam set I felt like throwing that book out the window and starting again! It was slightly like using a different language.
I still kept my Cotman set, but without the paints. The little spaces are now full of paints poured in from tubes. In fact, the little plastic box is so light, it is ideal for painting en plein air, especially if I’m not even sure I’m going to paint anything when out on a walk.
Why Paying Attention to the Pigments in Watercolour is Important
Apart from Schmincke Horadam, which are probably my favourite, I have tried Daniel Smith watercolours. I’m ashamed to say I am easily entranced by the names alone. How could I resist “Moonglow” which was described somewhere as the perfect colour for the shadows on clouds. It is, indeed, a gorgeous deep lilac tinged grey, but so far from my experience if I mix it with any other colour it makes a brown soil colour. Moonglow is already a mix of a blue, a green and a red pigment…. So now I pay more attention to the pigments listed. I have spent numerous sessions on the internet looking through the pigments listed on www.artiscreation.com which gives me far more information than I need or can remember but it is fascinating. (The website doesn’t actually show you the colour by the way.)
Of course, I now realise that even knowing the pigment colour is not sufficient. Take PV19, Quinacridone Violet, this has numerous marketing names. I have been seduced by the various names, Ruby Red (Schmincke), Quinacridone Rose (Daniel Smith), Permanent Rose (Winsor & Newton), Permanent Carmine (Schmincke again) all turned out to be single pigments PV19 and all slightly different. Still, as one botanical artist said, “You can never have too many pinks…”
Some of the names given to the paints indicate their origin, such as lamp black, but even here not all lamp blacks are the same. Schmincke Horadam is Pbk6, Daler Rowney Artists’ is Pbk7 and W&N a mix of the two. Now, I know that most artists will not use black as you can get better results adding a complementary colour, or mixing up your own chromatic black. The reason I was interested in lamp black is because I had read that in bygone days portrait artists would paint on a ground of mixed white, lemon yellow and lamp black which gives a slight olive tone, perfect for Caucasian skin in shade. This does require the “right” lamp black, however (with a blue undertone), which, according to me at least, is Pbk 7 – at least Daler Rowney’s lamp black works. Having said that, I have yet to do a portrait in watercolours… it’s just that every time I watch Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year I look across at my husband and think… I really must have a go…… after all, he’s just sitting there!
I can understand how some artists like to have a wide range of colours premade and available in pan or tube, to save time and experimentation, and for that, the Daniel Smith range is very evocative. Whilst the hypocrite in me loves Moonglow, some of the other names, for example, “sleeping beauty turquoise green” which seem to be their made up names for minerals they have ‘rediscovered’ are just plain annoying.
Again the hypocrite in me has to admit that I can see why their Mayan series are called that, after I visited an exhibition in Bristol last year of the large scale watercolour copies of Mayan wall paintings/reliefs the explorer Adela Breton made in the Nineteenth century. I will also add that some of Daniel Smiths mineral paints are gorgeous such as genuine amethyst. However, whilst some paint names do annoy me, I wouldn’t want to rely on a Pantone-like system of numbers only.
Advice on which Artist Watercolours to Buy First
It’s all too easy to get carried away with new paints, and especially as there are so many in the artists’ ranges. If you are still using student range paints and are not sure if the artists’ ranges are worth the extra money, may I recommend starting with one or two of the heavy metal pigments, the cadmiums and the cobalts. These are often so vibrant and pigment rich that a little goes a long way. Mixing with these colours is truly a revelation. If I had to choose one colour to start with, I’d go with Schmincke’s Cobalt Turquoise which is a perfect colour in itself, hard to beat, but it is in the mixing that it shows why it’s a series 4, i.e. expensive paint. Just the sheer range of greens from acid green to “deep in a dark forest” kind of green (yes, I made that name up – didn’t I say I was a hypocrite?) which is very useful for anyone interested in botanical or landscape painting.
Pros and Cons of Buying Artist Watercolour Sets
Although sets are an expensive outlay, they are often cheaper than buying the colours individually. The downside to sets is that there are usually colours included that you wouldn’t have chosen yourself (I have yet to use the silver or gold from my Schmincke set – yet. They generally have a good palette of cool and warm primaries plus the usual earth colours. As for using pans versus tubes, I generally prefer the pans (especially Schmincke as their paints are so easy to lift off) but I sometimes buy a tube colour and using an empty pan will give some of it away to a friend to try out….. especially if it is a series 3 or 4.
I recently bought two new Schmincke colours, perhaps unconsciously chosen because they were pretty much complementary, I sketched these pears using only these two colours. I was surprised with what I could do with these two alone, and that despite they were both were made up of two pigments. Ultramarine Violet and Green Yellow.
I’m sure most readers of Jackson’s Blog will understand exactly how little pans or tubes of luscious and delicious colour can create excitement and enjoyment even when ‘playing’ with the colours themselves, never mind what can be created using them. That pleasure and enjoyment is so much greater when the colours are artist quality.
About Ann Cahill
Ann Cahill is an amateur artist who is currently teaching herself and experimenting with different media and approaches. She does plant drawings as a means of really “seeing” the plants that she works with as a professional gardener. She uses her own illustrations for her garden designs if her customers are redoing beds/borders/whole gardens, and they need help envisioning what it might look like.
You can view all of our artist grade watercolours here, including Schmincke, Daniel Smith and Jackson’s Artist Watercolours.
The student grade watercolours we offer are available here.
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