What I've Learned from Testing Watercolors

I began testing professional grade watercolors in 2017.  I'd hit a wall with Winsor and Newton watercolors- I'd used the semi moist half pans years when painting 7" Kara, and found that I had difficulty justifying paying $7+ for a single half pan that might last half a chapter.  I wanted to find alternatives that had similar working properties and professional qualities (archival, lightfast, ability to layer and glaze) and hoped to find a price break.

Recognizing that watercolor comic artists don't have many resources tailored to their needs, I decided to share my experiences in two forms, both primarily on YoutubeUnbox and Swatch videos focus on the initial product reaction and swatches, Fieldtests focus on how the paints handle in an actual illustration.  Frequently, Fieldtests double as tutorials- a chance to demonstrate techniques or explain a process.

I've begun collating my experiences and findings into a single ranked document, mostly for my own amusement.  Eventually, I'll make it available to others, and it might be fun to do a tournament style ranking of watercolors, with input from other watercolor comic artists and illustrators.

illustration painted with Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections Tropicals
Prima Marketing Tropicals Fieldtest
  • Swatching isn't really enough to give viewers the information they need.  My Unbox and Swatch process has evolved over the years, from straight swatches to graduated swatches that test opacity, granulation, and lifting properties.
Illustration painted with White Nights watercolors
St Petersburg White Nights Fieldtest
  • Fieldtests have taught me how to make the most out of individual brands' unique working properties.  To get the most out of something cheap like Artist Loft or Reeves, I have to have a variety of techniques and skills to draw from- fieldtests have helped me develop these problem solving skills.
Illustration painted with the Daniel Smith Ultimate mixing palette
Daniel Smith Ultimate Mixing Set Half Pan Palette
  • Good watercolor paper solves a lot of wrongs.  Arches padbound cottonrag paper is a great fairly affordable surface for a wide range of watercolors. You can use cheap watercolor on nice paper and nice watercolors on cheap paper, but cheap watercolors on cheap paper is usually a struggle many beginner artists aren't ready to deal with.
watercolor illustration painted with MozArt Komorebi watercolors
Mozart Komorebi Field Test
  • Testing watercolor is just as expensive as testing alcohol markers, a niche I've been eager to leave in the past.   However, you can do fairly thorough testing with just a few colors, as watercolors are far more mixable, so there's less waste.  Still, my testing is only possible thanks to support of my Artnerds on Patreon.
watercolor illustration painted with the Sakura Koi CAC palette
Sakura Koi CAC Fieldtest
  • Testing watercolor has really broadened my horizons.  Before I began testing professional watercolor brands, I stuck pretty closely to Winsor and Newton, as it was what I was familiar with, and is commonly available.  Now my daily driver palette includes Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Holbein, and more.  I'm much more comfortable with color mixing, and with making the most of the palette I'm currently using.
watercolor illustration painted with the Derwent Inktense travel palette
Derwent Inktense Travel Palette Fieldtest
  • While recommending specific watercolors is fun, people are most likely to purchase what they'd already had in mind.  If they've already decided on Reeves, Cotman, Artist Loft, or Arteza, that's probably what they're going to end up buying.  
watercolor illustration painted with Boku Undo E-Sumi palette
Boku Undo Fieldtest
  • Everyone's journey into watercolor is different, everyone handles it differently, and ever artist has different needs.  Maybe the theoretical artist described above is the Avatar of Watercolor, and can bend those cheap art supplies to great effect.  Maybe they want to do loose watercolor florals, and need blendability, but not layer-ability.  Or maybe they just want to color their sketches, and don't need professional quality watercolors.
MozArt Komorebi Etegami Fieldtest
MozArt Komorebi Etegami Fieldtest
watercolor illustration painted with the Qor Mini Palette Fieldtest
Qor Mini Palette Fieldtest
  • Only adjust one variable at a time.  If you're testing unknown paints on an unknown paper, it's difficult to know which working properties are the paints, and which are the papers.
watercolor illustration painted with the Anthesis Arts Meadow Palette
Anthesis Arts Fieldtest
  • Tubes are generally more economical than half pans.  Depending on the size of the tube (often ranging from 5ml-15ml) you can get 3-5 half pan refills per tube of paint.  You can get empty half pans through Amazon, and fill your own half pans.

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