Watercolour notes and reflections

A few personal reflections on watercolours, and other things.

My little obsessions fluctuate, and I am in the middle of a watercolour peak at the moment. It is always my go-to medium for any project sketching beyond a quick doodle with pencil and/or pen. It has something in common with enamel that perhaps attracts me: nice enough results when left to chance, but high difficulty to actually control the outcome. And perhaps also brilliance and transparency!

Needless to say I am nowhere near the level of control I have with enamel when it comes to watercolour, not enough hours of practice on my back. I still love it, however, and admit to give in to chance sometimes, and let it do its unpredictable thing for fun, but I also like to sit down with a little more time (difficult to come by more than 30 minutes at the moment) and shoot for a target.

My first watercolour palette, in the 90’s, was a 12 pan W&N Cotman. That was amazing in comparison with whatever round-pan monstrosity I had encountered in my youth (even though I tested the remnants the other day and I found it pretty terrible). Later in the naughties I got a Schmincke 24 pans Akademie palette. That is also their student line but I think the quality is the same than the regular line, but with a very limited choice. That again was a great revelation!

I don’t even know what prompted me a few weeks ago, something on the internet, but I forgot. I started reading about colours and pigments (this information was very difficult to come by in the 90’s, the internet really is awesome), and I unearthed the palettes again. I think I had not used them since I doodled some rooms for our house renovation a few years ago. I also like to use watercolour to mix colours and then try to match them with wall paint swatches, I get nicer choices that way I think!

I learnt that some colours are single pigment, and some two or more, how those “convenience mixes” can indeed be convenient, but you should at least know what you are working with. I already knew some colours to be fugitive, but I learnt much more about why and how, and that nowadays you can build a palette out of exclusively permanent colours that is not only as good as those of old, but much better.

I learnt of entirely new to me pigment families. Some discontinuation prompted me to order some tubes… always a bad reason! With my lack of familiarity I managed to order the wrong thing, haha! I chose and very nicely managed to not get upset. It is easy. I brushed up a few samples of my current palette (some of the old colours removed, new ones added) and was amazed at the improvement. So many possibilities! The “wrong” shades (all multiple pigments!) are brilliant on their own right and a fantastic addition to my palette. I now have a lot of paint and a much better idea on how to choose better once my Schmincke half pans run out.

This is not only a choice to look on the bright side of life. That sounds too much like self-deception. It is a choice to focus only on what is under your direct control (not the future, not the past, nothing external, not the actions of others… not much really) which has had a transformative effect on me of late. So liberating, I do recommend this book and also this one. And Seneca.

My current, transitional palette. * > my old Schmincke, the rest are new Daniel Smith stick or tube. Two (cadmium I think) yellows*, Hansa yellow medium, Indian yellow*, a cadmium red I believe*, carmine*, quinacridone gold (new), quinacridone deep gold, Italian burnt sienna, light ochre*, burnt umbra*, emerald*, may green*, sap green (new), cerulean blue chromium, ultramarine*, Prussian blue*, French ultramarine, mixture of Italian burnt sienna + French ultramarine, Payne’s grey*, Lunar black.

Schmincke really does have a very weird selection on their premade palettes! I removed a lot of colours. I bought some Daniel Smith tubes (tubes are new to me!) and sticks. DS does not make pans, but the sticks are apparently the exact same pigment than used in the tubes, the cured stuff of pans, but onna-stick! I cut them up and put them in double and single pans. I think I prefer working from pans, there are several pros*, but not all DS colours are available in stick form, and I wanted to make a custom convenience premix of Italian burnt sienna and French ultramarine (I find I need more of this sienna than ultramarine to get as neutral as possible). There were a couple more sticks I wanted to order but I messed my shopping cart up I think! Really getting old here :)

I also got paper, an Escoda travel brush (I am now wondering why not get all brushes in travel format? If the brush is as good, there are no disadvantages), a Pentel water brush and a hake brush. I just ordered a few more brushes (I mainly have some ox hair brushes which are not brilliant, and I am also using my sable enamel brushes which I shouldn’t!), then I’m set for a long time.

I am however not willing to share my sad watercolour attempts :)

Well… it took me so long to post this that the new brushes arrived. I tested them very quickly and I am so far very happy with them! I got a couple of them thinking of enamel, but we’ll see. The tiny pointy one is not short enough I think.


R9 Pocket Pure Squirrel Hair Mop ( MED )
Series 36. Japanese Pointed Bamboo size 1
R12 Pocket Sable/Nylon Blend Dagger – Size 1/4″
Series 344. Designer Rounds Golden Synthetic size 6
R0 Pocket Pure Kolinsky Sable Pointed Size 4
Series 22. Pure Kolinsky Designer size 2
Series 307. Spotters Golden Synthetic size 3/0

The pocket brushes are delightful! And so it that Series 22 brush, wow!

*That I can gather:

  1. Pans/sticks are already dry, so drying out of tubes, punctures etc are of no concern. Particularly important for very occasional users like me.
  2. No waste of packaging (metal tube, in the case of sticks, also the pans).
  3. More economical, I read somewhere that the stick has 50% more weight of pigment per gram, which makes sense since there is much less water content. You can get 4 to 5 half pans out of one stick. All DS sticks are of the same price, while the same colour in tube can be of a more expensive series.
  4. Related to the above, a possibility of less binders or fillers (even if just water).

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