This June we asked three watercolour painters to try out Jackson’s Artist Watercolours. Lois Davidson, Benjamin Sullivan, and Ella Beech tell us about their experiences.
Above image: Lois Davidson’s painting Wildflower Wastelands in progress.
I was thrilled when Jackson’s asked me to try out their own brand of Jackson’s Artist Watercolour tubes, I love paint almost as much as I love painting and am fascinated to see the tiny differences between brands. I selected some of my favourite colours and began by swatching them out with one of the sable/synthetic mix flat brushes they sent, they were creamy and rich with a good pigment load, I knew straight away that I would enjoy using them.
Jackson’s Icon brush was excellent too, comfortable to hold and giving even brushstrokes, as well as holding a large amount of water and paint. I decided to paint one of my Edgelands and Outskirts paintings to try them out, and made some sketches and colour tests in my sketchbook. Now to paint! I used a limited palette of Paynes Grey, Indigo, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Warm Sepia on cold pressed Millford paper. I began with a quick wash of Paynes Grey and Indigo and added a sprinkle of salt to the foreground to start off the flowers, then spattered in Burnt Sienna and Paynes Grey and Indigo for the flowers. Once dry the flat brushes made short work of the buildings and railings in the industrial estate, followed by trees and more flower details with a small Chinese calligraphy brush. Once dry, I added a few white highlights to the trees with a gel pen.
I loved using Jackson’s paint, especially the Paynes Grey which is slightly darker but bluer than my current brand, but I was less keen on the Indigo as it was slightly greener than I expected it to be, but once I got used to it I enjoyed painting with it. All in all I’m very happy with the paint and would recommend it as it is really good value as well as high quality.
About Lois Davidson
Lois Davidson began her journey into watercolour painting in the Spring of 2018 and has never looked back. With a strong background in illustration and photography, she has since amassed a considerable following on YouTube and other creative platforms where she demonstrates experimental watercolour techniques for beginners. She sells her work both locally and internationally through her Etsy shop Owls And Flowers Art.
Her recent painting Edgelands was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2021. Her style is predominantly loose watercolour rural and urban landscapes that explore the haunting ethereal beauty of the English countryside and neglected parts of the urban environment that are often overlooked.
I was pleased to be asked by Jackson’s to test their range of their Jackson’s Artist Watercolour. For this I worked on a watercolour version of my oil painting of the art collector, Michel Strauss. I always use tube colours, nowadays, and was pleased to find that the Jackson’s range include a large size of 21 ml which is bigger than most of their rivals. It’s a substantial amount of paint and is considerably cheaper than other brands.
I’m using 300 lb Saunders Waterford Hot Press stretched and stapled to a board. I squeeze the paints into a Jackson’s Porcelain Palette 19 Well (these are wonderful), the night before so that the colours are semi-hard when I come to use them. The colours themselves are a good consistency with an even buttery look that one would expect. I’m using my normal colour range (Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cad Yellow Orange, Raw Sienna, Cadmium Red Light, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Deep, Viridian, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Ivory Black), which is mostly as I’d expect although the Alizarin and Sap Green look on the light side and the Cerulean Blue looks a tad dark to my mind.
On top of my underdrawing, I use masking fluid and a homemade solution of gum arabic dissolved in water to reserve areas of white paper depending on whether I want a hard edged of diffuse area (gum arabic producing the latter). I used Jackson’s Masking Fluid initially but found it hard to control with my mapping pen so returned to my usual brand, Pebeo.
I like to start by using large washes of colour to approximate areas I will define later. I use Jackson’s Hake Brushes 1 inch and 3 inch and Jackson’s Pure Squirrel Mop Brushes. The latter are simply wonderful brushes that I use regularly. They are, at least, as good as the more expensive options.
I move next to add some definition to the face. I mix a number of thin glazes but find I struggle to achieve many of the subtle colours I would expect. The yellows are okay but the many delicate pinks and magentas aren’t apparent. I think the problem seems to be with the Alizarin which appears muddy but the Cadmium Red also loses its character in a thin wash. For darker washes, I am also finding problems when mixing; A common combination for shadows might be Alizarin with Viridian or Sap Green, but these tend to mix into a muddy brown whereas they normally keep their character – justified toward one or the other.
At this stage, I find much of the colouring to be unsatisfactory, so move on to some large washes on the rest of the painting. These go on fairly well but not with the consistency that I would like. I develop these further adding darker tones to the clothing and chair but the paint is not behaving as I would expect it to.
As a comparison, I use my normal set of paints (a combination of Winsor & Newton, Schmincke and Daniel Smith), to start adding some definition to the hands. The difference is immediately apparent with many beautiful pinks and yellows and greens and no unwanted muddiness. I decide to complete the work using my usual paints for obvious reasons. I remove the masked areas and add many of the delicate tones to the face that were missing, before finishing off the clothes and the chair.
About Benjamin Sullivan
Benjamin Sullivan was born in Grimsby in 1977. He studied painting and drawing at Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 2000. He lives and works in Suffolk. His work has been widely exhibited, including at the Royal Academy and National Portrait Gallery. Among other distinctions, he has received a Carrol Foundation Award, the Kinross Scholarship, and a grant from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation. In 2007 he won the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize.
He was elected a member of the New English Art Club and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 2001 and 2003 respectively, becoming the youngest person to be elected to those institutions. In 2009, he was made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers.
His work is to be found in numerous public and private collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy, Parliament House, Edinburgh, and several Oxford and Cambridge Colleges.
In 2009 he became artist in residence at All Souls College where he undertook a large commission depicting the College staff. The resulting work, The All Souls Triptych, was displayed at the Ashmolean Museum in 2012 and now sits in one of Hawksmoor’s twin towers at All Souls College. In 2014 Sullivan was appointed Artist in Residence at the Reform Club.
In 2016, Sullivan won third prize in the BP Portrait Awards before winning first prize in 2017 for ‘Breech!’, a painting of his wife breastfeeding their infant daughter.
I’m currently studying for an MA in Children’s Book Illustration, and we are encouraged to experiment, explore materials, make mistakes and ultimately play! So, over the last two years of the course (which I am doing part-time) I have played around with a lot of materials, and I often come back to watercolour, as it’s such a great way to lay down paint. But oddly, I had never tried watercolour paint from the tube! So, when Jackson’s Art suggested I try their own brand watercolour tubes, I was intrigued. They also kindly supplied a mixture of paintbrushes, sponges, watercolour blocks, and masking fluid and ruling pen to try apply it with.
So, I have spent the last week or so playing around, and here is what I found…
Firstly, the paper – Jackson’s supplied large (12 x 16”) and small (6 x 8”) watercolour blocks. They are cold-pressed, 300gsm, with 15 sheets a piece. They are ‘blocks’, meaning they are gummed down — each sheet is firmly stuck down — so every piece you make is effectively automatically stretched. I saw the benefit of this when I was out painting one day. Somebody stopped me and asked if I sell my paintings, and because it was on the thick, stretched paper, I would be able to sell it if I wanted to. I gave her my website details, so maybe she will look me up and find the piece and buy it – I hope so! I tend to work with quite a few layers, and lots of water, and I was impressed with how the paper held up to my working methods without tearing, wearing away or bobbling up, which some paper can tend to do.
Interestingly, I found myself automatically making more “traditional” watercolour pieces when working on the block, and I would like to challenge myself to make some more experimental pieces on the paper block too. I also found that to make a more “traditional” watercolour piece, you need lots of time and patience, which I found I was lacking in both – I tend to make pieces in a more energetic burst, but with watercolour, I felt it left them feeling a bit unfinished. But overall, I really loved making watercolour paintings with these paints, the colour payoff is so great, but they also thin down to a very subtle finish, and they bleed out beautifully.
In order to test the paints out in a more day-to-day way, I also worked in my sketchbooks. I like to use the Royal Talens Art Creation sketchbooks — they are good value, the paper is thick enough to take the soaking I regularly give them, and although it buckles, I feel it holds up pretty well.
Working in my sketchbooks, the paints really came into their own and I found myself relaxing into them a bit more. I used them as I would with any location painting, layering them with whatever art materials I had to hand, mainly coloured pencils, soft pastels and ink, which is how I tend to work in my typical location paintings.
So, onto the stars of the show – the paint. Jackson’s supplied me with a small but mighty range of colours: Indigo (I am in love with this colour!!), Ultramarine, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Magenta, French Vermillion (a lovely bright red), Quinacridone Purple, and Viridian (a bright, cool green). I say, ‘small but mighty’, because I reckon, I could get by pretty happily with just these colours. Perhaps a cool blue, such as a Cobalt Blue would have been useful, but I used the Indigo as my cool blue, and it mixed to a beautiful vibrant green with the Lemon Yellow. All the colours are super pigmented, and I love the rich deep colours you can get, without spending hours warming your watercolour pans up. The Cadmium Yellow felt particularly opaque and powerful, so you just needed a tiny drop to get a big payoff. I used the tiniest amounts in the painting of the fading peonies to add a bit of a brownish warmth to the dying petals.
Finally, to the brushes and additional tools. I really love Hake brushes — I already have a 45mm one — and having a smaller 30mm one is really great for watercolour painting. I love that you can get a lovely flat wash, but if you blot a lot on a tissue after loading with paint, you can get loads of different textures. I also love the Chinese Painting Brush, which works similarly, but with the ability to get a nice point to the brush too. I loved the two synthetic wash brushes I tried, the Icon Quill No.2, and the Raven No. 0. I’m very impressed they are synthetic – the fibres are so soft, and I never would have known they weren’t sable if I hadn’t been told. The smaller brushes I tried were great too, they stayed together with no fraying after use, but were firm enough to add small details too. I used Onyx size 0 and 6, which are both synthetic, and Icon size 8, which is a synthetic mix. I am including a selection of marks I made with my various brushes and sponges at the end of this post.
I’m so glad I had the chance to re-familiarise myself with watercolour paint, and to try them in tubes. I am excited by all the mark-making and textural possibilities, and I fully intend to make further experiments with them. Here are a few pictures showing some delicious details.
About Ella Beech
Ella Beech lives in Cambridge, UK, with her husband and fourteen year old son. Ella worked in publishing for 20 years until she left in 2019 to pursue her passion for drawing and painting. She is currently doing an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, which she will complete in December 2021.
Ella runs art workshops, creative mentoring, and is a creator on Patreon. Here she describes what these can offer:
“I love my new life, living and working creatively. As well as the MA, I run art workshops with my side business Happy Sun Arts (@happysun_arts on Instagram). I do Creative Mentoring, and I am a Patreon Creator. My Patreon is ‘pay what you can afford’ in solidarity with struggling creatives after the Pandemic. You can join for as little as £1 per month, going up to £20 per month, for people who would like to support me with a higher pledge. I post several times a month, with sketchbook tours, art materials ‘Deep Dives’ (a bit like this review in video form!) and process videos. I have just started a #100dayproject on my Instagram, where I have committed to draw/create every day for 100 days, and post on my Instagram feed no matter what, even if I am not happy with what I have done. I believe that regularly making work keeps you fluent and more free in your art making, and it’s a great cure for stopping you over thinking your Instagram posts!”
Use or search the Instagram tag #jacksonsmaterials to see more.