Which Watercolor Paints are right for you?

With so many watercolor out there on the market today - it can all be a bit confusing to say the least. Everywhere you turn there are new art products and companies jumping into the world of watercolor - it's so popular - which makes me very happy! But, also, makes my head spin when I think about all the colors I don't have... ha!

So let's explore a little... paint, after all, is my favorite topic of discussion!

Student Grade vs. Artist Grade

If you're just starting out, or just want to have fun, there are some GREAT 'student' grade paints out there. In fact, there is one color I cannot live without that IS a student grade paint. It's 'mauve' by Cotman, the affordable, student grade paints by Winsor and Newton. I use this particular color in almost all of my moonscape and galaxy painting. It works perfectly to blend with other colors to tone them down or add shadow... try it with a green! You'll be hooked too.

So what's the difference between artist and student grade? Quality and Cash, of course!

Student grade paint is made with less pigment and more filler and binder resulting in less saturated colors. It is also why you will sometimes see strange stringy things in your paint on your palette. These colors can easily produce a muddy effect. BUT DON'T let all that scare you off - for the most part, if you are using a higher brand of student grade paints, like Cotman, these things are NOT an issue... if you pick up some crayola colors at the grocery store - then you might run into some issues :) Student grade paints cost less and are a perfect way to get started.

Artist grade paints are just what you'd think - more pigment and less binder/filler. This results in more vibrancy in color. These paints are easier to work with when you are trying more 'advanced' watercolor techniques (like glazing or lifting).

Tubes or Pans?

To me, this question comes down to preference.

Pros of tube colors: It's much easier to mix up larger quantities of color. They're ready to go straight from the tube and dissolve quickly in water.

Cons of tube colors: The only con I can really think of is portability - if you're out sketching or traveling, pan sets are much easier. However, Stuck caps are the WORST.

Tube colors are my preference - I feel like I work better with them, probably because it's what I learned with... but I love my pan sets too, especially for traveling or journal work.

Pros of pan sets: Easier portability. Hands down. A selection of colors, ready to go.

Cons of pan sets: They require more work to get started - lots of wetting and fussing about to get the cakes moistened - and some colors are really tough to get going. They can be rough on your brushes - I typically use a spray bottle to wet the pans, let them sit a while and then begin. It's a good trick!

Don't make the mistake of thinking that tube paints are for the 'real' artists. Quality is found in both. And, many famous artists (including one of my all time favorites, J.S. Sargent) preferred pan colors to tube paints.

It's all about what you prefer!

Brands - which one is best??

Good question. Not sure if you'll like the answer...

It's preference.

Brands of tube paints that I use are: Daniel Smith, Winsor and Newton, Cotman, Holbein, Mission, and Qor

For pan sets, I mostly use: Prima and Schminke

There are certain colors that I absolutely love by Daniel Smith - and I couldn't paint without them, but then, there are certain colors that I absolutely do NOT like in their brand. For instance, I use Burnt Sienna, a lot - the DS variation I find to be grainy and hard to work with, so I prefer Winsor and Newton for this color.

Another example - Prussian Blue by Winsor and Newton is a gorgeous shade and does just what I expect it to. The same color by Qor is what I like to call an 'exploding' watercolor - once it hits water it EXPLODES and is highly uncontrollable. It's fun to play with - extremely hard to work with.

This is why I create all my little planets - I am exploring my colors and getting to know them... and also creating some wicked cool journal pages! (shameless push for my online class - learn how to create some cool cosmic effects with me here!)

Paints I can't live without? Here are a few...

Mauve by Cotman, like I said before - one of my all time favs.

Green Gold by Daniel Smith. It's magic paint.

Serpentine by Daniel Smith - a really good, earthy green.

Pthalo Blue by Winsor Newton or Daniel Smith - it's my go to blue

Quinicridone Sienna by Daniel Smith - bright bright bright, check out this fox - impossible without that color...

Opera Pink by Daniel Smith or Winsor Newton - fluorescent, need I say more?

The Indigo in the Decadent Pies set of Prima Watercolor - it's delicious

All of these were created with just that color alone!

Those are just a few of my favorites - and the favorites list will continue to grow and change, I'm sure. Right now, I seem to be stuck on this palette:

Rose of Ultramarine, Hansa Yellow and Pthalo Turquoise by Daniel Smith

Permanent Rose by Winsor Newton

Marine Blue by Holbein -

All in all - what it comes down to is what YOU like. What your color preferences are - how you like to paint and what you can afford. For many years, I worked with a very limited set of color because it's all I had the time or money for. I cherish those years now because they taught me how to create with little. I relied heavily on instinct and imagination instead of the newest art supply.

All you need are a few colors - and you can create a rainbow of art.

If you're just starting out - I suggest getting some primary colors. A yellow, red and blue will give you tons of different color combinations. Experiment, play, paint and have fun.

I'm off to paint!




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