Sunday, September 06, 2015

Walmart Art Supply Review: Crayola Washable Watercolors

This post is one of a series of posts that feature art supplies I purchased from my hometown, Luling, Walmart while I was in town for Mechacon.  It was inspired by the fact that kids, teens, and 20 somethings don't have many options for quality and affordable art supplies in the New Orleans area (and yes, I AM aware that there are art supply shops there, I've shopped at several of them, and they're greatly overpriced given their lackluster stock).  So I wanted to see what I could get at Walmart, put what I buy through its paces, and let you guys know how these supplies fared.  As almost always, I purchase these materials out of my own pocket, and one of the ways you can show support and appreciation is to give me a tip in my Paypal (sidebar right) or to consider buying YOUR materials through the affiliate link I post on relevant posts  This affiliate link is for Crayola Washable Watercolors.

As this blog is completely unsponsored, and I receive no financial compensation from companies to write these reviews, nor do I receive donations from manufacturers, I really depend on the goodwill of my readers.  If you benefitted from this post, please consider contacting Crayola with a link to this post and your thoughts.  I would also sincerely appreciate it if you sent me an email with your thoughts, questions, or thanks.  The only way I can write content that you enjoy is if you let me know what works for you, and what you want to read.

It's a great sign for artists when the package touts "washable!" so proudly.

I think there are few sights more 'back to school' than the basic pack of Crayola Crayons and the plastic, self contained packaging on Crayola Watercolors.  Crayola Watercolors (or one of their market competitors like Rose Art, or CraZArt) are a first introduction to watercolors for many aspiring artists. 

The package has changed very little in the 30 years I've been kicking around this planet- 8 poured patties of color, 1 plastic brush, a case that doubles as a small palette.  At the start of the school year, those little patties of color are all so perfectly distinct in color, by the end, they're all a muddy mess.  Unfortunately, few brands are as snidely referred to by professional, practicing artists (myself included) as Crayola, and I decided to find out if this first brand for many was really as difficult to professionally paint with as we'd all assumed.

So as familiar as most kids (and adults) are with Crayola, what do we really know about the company, or about the product I'm testing today, their Washable Watercolors?  I must admit, as ubiquitous as the brand has been in my formative artistic years, I know very little.

If you can't find Crayola watercolors at a store near you (which would be surprising), you can find them for sale on their site-the same set I used for this demo.  The site claims that these are formulated for easy clean up (what, 100% soap?  What pigments/dyes are they using that don't stain and are non-toxic?), promises vibrant colors for mixing and blending (more on THAT in the review), more paint than other comparable brands, and 8 colors and a paintbrush.  I can't verify whether or not Crayola is really offering more paint per pan, and I don't really want to paint all over my clothes to see if these do or do not stain, but I can vouch that Crayola did indeed include 8 watercolors and one brush in this set.

Crayola has a Portfolio series that I may check out in future reviews, and at a glance, it looks like it's aimed at teenagers who aspire to become artists.  If you would like to see some of these products reviewed here, I recommend you write to Crayola with links and request that they send samples.  You can do that here.

Crayola has been owned by Hallmart since 1984, and is best known for it's crayons, although they make a wide variety of other products, including Silly Putty.  The company was founded by Edward Binney and C Harold Smith in 1885, and the original products sold were industrial colorants like carbon black and red iron oxide.  Crayola introduced their line of wax crayons in 1903.  Crayola's Portfolio subbrand is not their first foray into professional artist materials, in 1903, Crayola also launched it's Rubens line, and intended to compete with the Raphael line of European crayons. (Information via Wikipedia, as I can't find historical information on the official site)

The cleanup instructions on these are pretty simple- dampen a sponge with water and wipe stain from outside to center, for that hard to clean carpet.  I assume you can pretreat affected clothes and just pop them in the wash.

My first real surprise came from the fact that the included brush no longer features plastic bristles splayed every which way, but actual hair in a metal ferrule.  When did THAT welcome change happen?  The plastic bristled brush was one of the features I dreaded- it was pretty much impossible to paint with when I was a kid, you mostly just smeared paint on the paper using the brush like you would a basting brush.

The Package


 Isn't this nostalgic?  The packaging Crayola Watercolors comes in has changed very little over the past 25 years.  The cakes are still contained in a plastic tray, which is housed in a reusable plastic case.  The labelling is all on a cardboard insert, the package itself contains no information.



The cardboard insert is removable, leaving us with just the basics- a plastic package that doubles as a palette, a brush, and 8 cakes of poured watercolor.


The brush is natural hair, and fairly soft, with no glue to help preserve its shape during transit.


 The tray the cakes are on is completely removable, and I suppose you could use the bottom of the package as a large wash.

The Brush

Crayola's included brush has changed a fair amount over the years.  When I was a girl, Crayola Watercolors looked like this:

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Note the stiff plastic bristles set directly in the stiff plastic handle.

Now Crayola makes a wide variety of brushes:

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 And the one included with my watercolors looks like this:



This brush is remarkably improved over the brushes of my childhood!  Real hair fibers (maybe even squirrel), real metal ferrule with a couple crimps.  Same plastic handle though.

The Paints


So the paints appear to be poured cakes, and I'm guessing they're bound with glycerin.  I'm not sure what Crayola uses for color, because dyes tend to, well, dye, and pigments also have a tendency to stain, and remember, class, these paints are WASHABLE! 
Swatch Test

Top row is straight from the palette, no water added, bottom row is after water has been absorbed for a few minutes.





Straight from the palette, using Crayola included brush, water hasn't had a chance to be absorbed
Colors handle like they include...soap?  What on earth is the binder for these?  I know they're non toxic, so they're probably dye based, not pigment based, and I assume since they dont want kiddos om nomming these, they probably don't have a sucrose based binder like many real watercolors.
Some colors perform better than others- yellow, green, and blue are all ok, red is fine, 'black', orange, purple, and brown are disappointing. 

When wet, these colors tend to blend with a little persuasion and additions of water, and dry a little glossy, which I find disconcerting.

Included colors appear to be:

Sepia, Crimson Hue, a really bad orange that is closer to yellow, Lemon Yellow, Sap Green, Pthalo Blue, Red Violet, Burnt Sienna

Colors are actually listed as:
Not listed on package.

After water has settled in, but straight from the palette:

Colors are slightly more intense, but still handle like they're bound with soap. After the cake has absorbed water, sepia becomes black, orange still handles poorly, purple is much more vibrant, and burnt sienna is more intense as well.

These are going to be a  joy to work with for the field test.

When dry, paints seem to sit on top of the paper, rather than soaking in, which is troubling.

Note:  I'm going to clean and condition the included brush, and try to use that exclusively for the field test.  WISH ME LUCK.

Washing and Conditioning the Brush


Here is the brush with conditioner in it.  I let it sit overnight for the conditioner to work it's magic.


And here's a shot of my Crayola brush hiding amongst the Royal Langnickel brushes.  I used both types for this review.



The Field Test

I drew Kara cranky as a pre-emptive.  If this turns out badly, Kara will have a reason to be angry.





So let's start with a wash!  I decided to use the large wash brush from the Royal Langnickel set to apply a very watered down orange wash.


The orange for the wash (left) and the skintone mixture of yellow, red, and brown (right)


The Crayola Washable Watercolors seem to take a very long time to dry (perhaps because they just sit on top of the paper)


What they paints look like once they've been activated.




You can see where the color pooled and dried darker- like the rings soap bubbles make.




Perhaps surprising to no one, it's hard to predict and control how these watercolors will dry, where they pool up, and what colors dry darker in what situations.  It's difficult to mix colors dark enough, and they don't really layer very well, although, as shown above and below, you can soften some of the lines with gentle scrubbing with a wet brush.





As time passes, pigments/dyes settle to the bottom of the palette and can't easily be reintegrated with the color.





The top layer of Kara's hair, and Kara's shorts are colors straight from the Crayola cakes.  The best way to get saturated, vibrant color is directly from the cakes, it's very difficult to mix colors this dark using Crayola Washable Watercolors.



To the left: Crayola's included watercolor brush, to the right, Royal Langnickel's size 2 Round. 





Adding freckles was fairly easy, adding cheek blush was much more difficult, given Crayola's long drying times, tendency to pool on the surface on the paper rather than being absorbed, and unpredictale drying habits.

Because these don't include a raw sienna, I have to mix my own skintone.  When I was in highschool, using a good ol' 12 pack of Crayola pencil colors, I would blend a skintone out of yellow, red, and brown.  I decided to try that with the watercolors.  This takes a little swatching and trial and error, as I've become accustomed to judging a skintone based on how it looks in the palette, and this one mixed a lot darker than I'm used to.  These watercolors also seem to take longer than others to soak into the watercolor paper.

These are difficult to work with, don't layer properly, and are hard to blend out.  Crayola Washable Watercolors have very poor pigmentation, and it takes a lot of mixing to get any color, let alone decent color saturation.

Another Opinion:  Art Food Kitty- Cheap Vs Expensive Paint



The Verdict

If you're painting with Crayolas and you're frustrated with watercolor, you're not alone.  These watercolors aren't meant for any sort of serious use, and aren't even really a good basis for learning how to use watercolors.  I expected to have difficulty working with these, and I'm not able to even perform basic layering, which is fundamental to how I paint.  If you're looking for cheap watercolors to learn on, and you're limited in your options, I recommend the Daler Rowney Simply Watercolors I reviewed recently over a box of Crayolas.

If you MUST use Crayolas, I do at least recommend a direct application for best results.

Also, the newer Crayola brushes are VASTLY improved over what they included in the set when I was a kid, and it's not a half bad brush.  The bristles are a natural hair, maybe even squirrel, can be conditioned, and it forms a point when the brush is wet.  So well done on improving your brush, Crayola.

It might seem ridiculous to some of my readers that I'm holding Crayola up to my almost-usual standard, but considering how many kids don't have access to actual art education, many of them enter high school thinking Crayola makes artist quality watercolors, and blame themselves for their inability to get anything out of a basic set.  I wanted to see if I could make anything with them.  There's two fairly prominent trains of thought regarding art supplies- a good artist can make anything work, and bad art supplies really hinder your ability to produce.  Given that I review art supplies for a not-living, I am in the second camp, although I will admit that I am regularly amazed by what people can do with the most sub par materials  I can only wonder how far they could fly with materials that didn't fight them every step of the way.

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