by Paul Worrall June 21, 2021
The short answer to that is that there is not one, there is no single best watercolour that surpasses all others. No two watercolour brands are made the same as some are made to be as cost effective as possible and intended for use in a school classroom, while others are made to exactingly high standards using only finest resources available.
Nowadays there are more than just half pans and tubes to consider as watercolours come in all manner of shapes and sizes in the form of pencils and marker pens, to sets focused on portability or luxury presentation. To that end we' will be taking a look into the variety of watercolour products available to artists today and suggesting some of our top picks on which we think are the best in each category.
Nowadays most paint manufacturers offer a more cost friendly alternative to the traditionally more expensive artist quality paints for the more budget minded artist often referred to as "student quality".
These paints strike the best balance possible between cost and pigment load, using the same pigments in some colours (i.e. Burnt Sienna) and synthetic mixes of genuine colours (usually called hues) have comparable performance to their artist quality counterparts. These ranges tend to be smaller however and lack some of the colours that cannot be directly substituted for. We offer our own studio watercolours in sets of 24 and 48 half pans that come with options to include a high quality synthetic brush set that altogether still cost much less than equivalent artist quality sets. These sets provide an assortment of the most commonly used colours and a metal tin with integral palettes. Highly recommended for their cost effective nature and excellent quality.
Due to the ease of accessibility watercolour lends itself well to use in the classroom and at home with children of all ages. Often one of the first paints many of us use in school are solid tablet watercolours, being made of solid dry pigment and often set in a plastic tray. Like most watercolours all they require is a little water to activate them and function as a great introduction to painting for young children and are easily cleaned with a damp cloth if there is any spillage.
For slightly older children we suggest looking at the Royal & Langnickel Watercolour Zen set which features a comprehensive set of equipment for getting started with watercolour including paints, brushes, a palette and a pad to paint on. It is important to nurture the talent of young artists and providing them with the right set up will a long way to help them explore and express their budding artistic skills.
Artist quality watercolours set the bar when it comes to colour, strength, vibrancy, stability and mixing. Each brand has its own unique recipe but few are quite as noteworthy as Sennelier's L’Aquarelle Artists Watercolour, since they use honey as an additive to reinforce the colour vibrancy and to make washes smoother and more fluid. Each Sennelier watercolour paint is available in either tubes or half pans and come in a variety of sets.
These sets include a superb pocket set which is handy for artists on the go, and also a beautifully presented walnut wood box set which comes with sable hair and squirrel hair brushes to get the most out of the paints it comes with. When compared with other brands Sennelier stand out for their increased colour intensity making them particularly eye catching.
At some time or another many artists feel the desire to head out into the field with brush in hand. For these intrepid artists they will find themselves spoilt for choice when it comes to portable watercolour sets. Two sets that we would like to spotlight are both from Winsor & Newton's excellent Cotman range and are prime examples of such sets.
The Cotman Brush Pen set is a particularly fine example of a highly compact travel set, being small enough to fit in most coat pockets and coming complete with a refillable water brush pen. All that is required is a sketchbook and this set is ready for painting in urban environments, the countryside, cafés or even on the bus; anywhere with space enough for you to sit down.
Secondly we have the Cotman Travel Bag which is a go-to set for anyone looking for a painting set suitable for the long haul, with a robust design and plenty of space for additional kit it is a perfect choice for the holidaying artist. Offering more room and utility than the smaller pocket sets, the addition of the bag allows for a wider array of tools to be carried along like markers, drawing aids and masking fluid etc.
Liquid watercolour is a slightly misleading name as technically they are not watercolour paint in the traditional sense but a highly concentrated water-soluble dye. This means they lack the same lightfastness of traditional watercolour and will fade with time but they make up for it with an immediate punch of strong colour. Liquid watercolours are exceptionally intense right out of the pot, highly transparent and dilute easily with water to your desired consistency. They arre inter mixable and allow you to put down large areas of vibrant wash very quickly. Liquid watercolours work brilliantly when put into a brush pen and are used frequently by calligraphers for brush lettering. Versatile, vibrant and best suited to work not intended for prolonged exposure to direct light. If you are considering looking at liquid watercolours we stock a fantastic selection by Dr. PH Martin in an area of assorted colour sets that should get your creativity flowing.
Due to the transparent nature of watercolour paints working with them on dark toned paper like dark blue, brown and black usually isn not an option but with metallic watercolours this now presents some interesting painting opportunities. Metallic watercolours include a tinted metallic colour which catches the light and creates a shimmering finish once dry. When painting with these colours on black paper you get an intensely glittering finish which is particularly eye catching and can be used over other colours and techniques to add additional depth. Derwent make a fantastic travel set of metallic watercolours which comes with it's own palette and refillable waterbrush which gives you swift access to a whole palette of 12 rich glittering colours to help add a sparkle to your work.
Watercolour pencils represent the best of both worlds when it comes to drawing and painting, as such they find their way into the repertoire of many artists. Featuring a water-soluble core that can be used like a standard coloured pencil and blended just the same way by overlaying colour, however you can then apply water to these pencils with a brush to activate them. This turns the dry pencil into a watercolour wash which can be used to help blend layers together and create smooth transitions and gradients. Faber Castell, famous for their Polychromos range of colour pencils make an equally outstanding range of watercolour pencils called Albrecht Dürer. Named after the German watercolourist of the same name, they are a pencil which handles amazingly as a coloured pencil and creates a particularly smooth grit free wash once activated with water.
These are the theoretical next step along from watercolour pencils. Whilst there are plenty of water-soluble ink pens intended for use with water and brushes there are a few pens quite like the Winsor & Newton Watercolour Markers and Watercolour Promarkers which use the same pigments used in their watercolour paints. This gives you access to a trim palette of watercolour paints in the form of an easy to use, two tipped pen, including a bullet nib for detailed work and a brush tip for broad expressive strokes. Use these markers like traditional pens and add water as you would with watercolour pencils to create washes, or apply these markers directly to wetted paper to use them like traditional watercolours with a brush. The convenience of watercolour in a pen allows for new and interesting opportunities for sketchbook artists and urban sketches, having a handful of pens and a waterbrush to hand with a sketchbook allows you to set up nearly anyplace, anytime.
With that we hope this article has given you a little more to consider when thinking about what watercolours to invest in when it comes to pursuing your creative endeavours. If you are interested in more information regarding watercolour paints, paper or techniques, we have a whole host of blog posts that cover a wide variety of topics relating to watercolour.
Links can be found below.
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