Thursday, June 14, 2018

Watercolor Swatching

Over the past few months, I've tested several brands of professional, artist quality watercolors in an attempt to find an affordable alternative to Winsor and Newton semi moist half pans.  My findings have been interesting, and a little surprising, and I hope you'll join me on Youtube to see the results.

Because I use watercolor for comics and illustration, I think my needs are a little different from your average watercolorist, and I test based on my needs.  For some types of watercolor, such as Chinese watercolor, or gansai watercolor, knowing the origin and intended use helps me determine whether these watercolors will suit my painting needs.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Swatch
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Swatch


Brands I Have Tested:

Daniel Smith
M Graham
Sennelier
Turner
MozArt Komorebi
Holbein
Mijello Mission Gold
Shin Han Professional Watercolor
Kusakabe
Da Vinci
Winsor and Newton
Kuretake Gansai Tambi
Kissho Gansai
Kuretaken Shin Gansai
Caran D'Ache Studio Gouache
Caran D'Ache Fancolor
Derwent Inktense Sticks
Cotman

Da Vinci Mud Test


All this testing means I have swatched A LOT of watercolor.  And I think I've found a method that gives me the gist of the information I'm looking for.

What I Test For:


  • Opacity
  • Sediment
  • Lifting
  • Gradiation/washes
  • Consistent performance from tube to pan
  • Brilliance after drying


I also swatch out of spite.  If your company makes big promises (Most Brilliant Watercolor!  Only Semi Moist Half Pans to Reconstitute Well!  Colors are Most Translucent) I will specifically test those promises out.

St Petersburg White Nights Mud Test


My Swatch Process:

  • Draw 3 lines using pigment black ink on paper of choice- this will provide a test for opacity.  Allow to cure 5-10 minutes, so it won't run and muddy the paint.
  • Apply masstone (solid, saturated color) to top line.
  • At top of second line, begin graduated wash swatch.  This will help test for granulation, color shift, saturation
  • Allow to dry before judging.

Mud test:
  • Can apply lines of black pigment ink to paper.  Allow to dry.
  • Wet into Wet- Layer on a myriad of colors, both transparent and opaque.  Allow to dry fully, or at least dry to the touch.  Can still be cool.  Put on another layer.  Allow that layer to dry- judge color vibrancy, how well colors layer, translucency, lift up and displacement.  Apply third layer.  If colors are still vivid and brilliant when dry, these watercolors will probably not turn to mud in an illustration.


Individual Brand Swatching:


Da Vinci




Da Vinci Swatch Test
Da Vinci Swatch Test

Da Vinci Opacity Test
Da Vinci Opacity Test

Mud Test



Kuretake Gansai Tambi

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Swatches
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Swatches


Kuretake Gansai Tambi Swatches

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Opacity Test
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Opacity Test

Kissho Gansai

Kissho Gansai Swatches
Kissho Gansai Swatches

Kissho Gansai  Opacity Swatches
Kissho Gansai  Opacity Swatches

Kusakabe
Kusakabe Swatches
Kusakabe Swatches

Kusakabe Swatches

Derwent Inktense Blocks and Color Pencils

Derwent Inktense Block Swatches
Derwent Inktense Block Swatches

Derwent Inktense Block Swatches

White Nights:

White Nights Mud Test and Swatches
White Nights Mud Test and Swatches

White Nights Mud Test

Multi Brand Swatches:

Awhile back, a Winsor and Newton rep at the local Hands on Creativity claimed that only Winsor and Newton semi moist half pans are truly designed to reconstitute with water.  Since then, I've made sure to test my tube watercolors as tubes and dried half pans- as I prefer to work from pans.  I have found his claim unsubstantiated by experience.  I now swatch tube watercolors straight from the tube, as well as from dried half pans.  Generally, most brands reconstitute quite well, although some colors (particularly Daniel Smith) are best when fresh.

Tube Tests:


M Graham, St Petersburg White Nights, Sennelier, Qor, Daniel Smith, Holbein HWC, Mijello Mission Gold
From Left to Right:  M Graham, St Petersburg White Nights, Sennelier, Qor, Daniel Smith, Holbein HWC, Mijello Mission Gold

Swatches from Left to Right: M Graham, White Nights, Qor, Mijello, Holbein, 

This was part of the M Graham Unbox and Swatch.  M Graham makes big claims about having the most brilliant, true to life, saturated watercolors on the market, due to their honey binder.  I wanted to see if this was true, so I tested seven professional watercolor brands against M Graham, in both tube and half pan format.

Colors Tested:
M Graham
White Nights
Qor (uses Aquazol)
Mijello Mission Gold
Holbein
Daniel Smith
Sennelier (also honey based)

Half Pan Tests:
M Graham, White Nights, Qor, Mijello, Holbein, Daniel Smith, Sennelier
Swatches from Pan Dried watercolors, from left to right: M Graham, White Nights, Qor, Mijello, Holbein, Daniel Smith, Sennelier

Same paints tested above, but in dried half pan form.  Tests were conducted on Blick Premiere cotton rag watercolor paper.

I Swatch On:

Cellulose Papers:
Canson Bulk Watercolor Paper
Canson XL Mixed Media Paper
Fluid EZ Block

Cotton Rag Papers:
Blick Premiere
Fluid 100
Arches

For some brands, I will test on both cellulose papers and cotton rag papers, as I frequently use both in my work, preferring Montval (cellulose) for 7" Kara pages, and cotton rag (various brands) for my standalone illustrations.  Many artists say the paper is the foundation of the paper, and while I feel paper contributes strongly to the success of techniques, I also feel knowing which paints are suited best for which papers can help make any painting a success.

Cotton Rag Vs Cellulose
Fluid 100 VS Fluid EZ Block


Setting Up The Swatch Sheet

Left:  Fluid 100 Cotton Rag Watercolor Paper.  Right: Fluid EZ Block Cellulose Paper

I apply a series of lines (alternating thick and thin, five of each total) going down the page.  These represent the color families that I will swatch today.

For this swatch test, I'm swatching based on the families represented in the M Graham Test set- a warm yellow, a coolish red, Ultramarine Blue, Sap/cool green, and burnt umber, when available.  Not every set has the same color palette, so I'm not testing for color similarity, just testing how each brand handles on these two papers.


Brand 1: M Graham, from half pans.


Brand 2: Sennelier, from half pans.

Brand 3: Daniel Smith, from half pans.


Brand 7: St Petersburg White Nights, whole pans.


Brand 8: Mijello Mission Gold, from half pans.


Brand 9: Da Vinci, from whole pans.

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans), watercolor swatches

From Left to Right:  M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

Cotton Rag Swatches Close Up:

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

Cellulose Swatches Close Up:

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)

Lift Test:

In this test, I use a damp synthetic brush with fairly stiff fibers to 'scrub' out a portion of the dried watercolor swatch.
M Graham, Sennelier, Daniel Smith, White Nights, Mijello Mission Gold, Da Vinci, Holbein HWC, Qor (from half pans)


Field Tests

There's so much that swatching can't tell me about watercolors, which is why I value fieldtests.  Field tests are a real world demonstration, utilizing subject matter and techniques I frequently use, to determine if a watercolor product is right for me.  Swatches are often brilliant, dazzling, full color, and deceptive, promising things the watercolors cannot do in my standard style.

Da Vinci Test/Demonstration:

 Da Vinci Test/Demonstration:

Derwent Inktense Watercolor Test (2nd Try)

Derwent Inktense Watercolor Test

Fancolor Field Test 1 and 2:




Kuretake Gansai Tambi Etegami Test

 Kuretake Gansai Tambi Etegami Test

Qor Watercolor Fieldtest
 Qor Watercolor Fieldtest

 Qor Watercolor Fieldtest

Studio Gouache Gouache Fieldtest 

I hope you found this swatching explanation and demonstration helpful!  If you haven't yet, please take a moment to check out my other tutorials reviews, and demonstrations in my Watercolor Basics series!  Demonstrations like this are made possible thanks to my Artnerd community on Patreon.