The Safety of Paint Vehicles
Shopping and Caring for Your Watercolors
In the Garden of Hesperides
Shopping and Caring for Your WatercolorsBehind the Art
by Annie Rodrigue
I had this very interesting encounter with a lady in an art supply shop. I was looking at the watercolor tubes rack and I think she was a little confused on what she had to buy for her watercolor class, so she asked me for some information. She had a list of colors in hand but no information as to what brand to buy and what to look for when shopping for watercolor. Somehow, her watercolor teacher had managed to give her wrong information on the product too, so she was also very confused with the terms on the panels and tubes. After seeing how a little thing like buying watercolor material could be such a big deal when you know nothing about it, I thought it would be a great idea to write a column on the subject! I hope this will help some of you readers interested with watercolor!
Tubes or Pans?
Let's start with the first question that we probably ask ourselves when we arrive at the watercolor section of every art store. The thing is, I don't think the answer is anything more than a matter of taste. I have heard some great artists use pans (like Stephanie Law) and others swear only on tubes. I have tried both and have come to prefer tubes because they just last longer. A pan will run out of paint rather quickly. (For me, it only took a few paintings to run out of white) Another con: you will not have a large range of colors in pan format, and not every brand sells watercolor in pans either. But I love to use my small pan palette when I go paint outside. It's easy to carry around. Tubes, in other hand, have such a wide variety of colors! Don't be fooled by their size either. I have a box full of 5 mL tubes with me and have been using the same tubes for 2 years and I have yet to replace a tube because it is empty. I have painted well over 50 paintings since I started watercolor. The pigments in the paints held in tubes can be diluted to make a great deal of watercolor paint. I was surprised myself! The downside of tubes: you have to keep them in a box and keep track of what colors you have. I actually put a tag on my palette with the number of the tube so that when I run out of the color while I paint, I can easily know which color it was by looking at the code. So I guess that the best solution for an artist who would want to do both outdoor and indoor painting would be to have both pans and tubes. A note for those of you who are checking your wallets: pans will cost less to start, but you will need to come back often, while tubes will cost more to start but will last much longer.
There a quite a great number of brands available in stores. I have asked many artists which brand they were using and somehow, no brand really stands out from the crowd. What you will have to keep in mind when buying watercolor is the quality of the pigments. Only a few brands will offer artist-grade pigments, while others will offer student-grade pigments. Why care about the difference? Artist-grade paints will have a bigger concentration of pigment and they also offer pigments that will last for years to come, while student grades might not stand the test of time. Of course, if you are starting with watercolor, I strongly suggest going for student-grade watercolor: they are much cheaper and some will even come in nice little kits. No one wants to pay a fortune for a hobby you're not even sure you will like, and that is perfectly normal. On the other hand, if you know you want to create and even sell your work, I strongly suggest going for the artist-grade watercolor.
Some Artist-Grade Watercolor: Holbein (this is the brand I use), Windsor & Newton. Some Student-Grade Watercolor: Cotman (which is also made by Windsor & Newton, so make sure you don't mix the two), Yarka, Pelikan
Reading the labels
Reading the labels will save you a lot of trouble when buying your tubes. Some watercolor pigments will cost more than others to produce. Often these pricy pigments are the more permanent ones. If you look at the picture, you will notice a series with a letter next to it. This will tell you how much your tube will cost. Letters range from A to F, A being the cheapest and F the pricier tube. Usually, the art store will have a list of prices for each series. A tube from the F series can literally cost you double the price of the one in an A series, so be careful what you pick. If you have a low budget, take the time to see if similar colors are of a different series. Sometimes going for the cheaper version is the best solution for your wallet and you will not really see the difference on the canvas.
A pricier tube might also mean that the paint in it is dangerous for your health. Don't worry, it doesn't mean it's a bad idea to paint with it. But eating it might be. And I am not saying this because I think that everyday artist literally eat their paint! But I know that some of you readers are parents and we all know how kids like colorful paints. Some even like to put random things in their mouths, and since we never know when an accident might happen, a concerned parent will be happy to take the time to read that health label! I'm aware that the picture I provided isn't exactly clear. The big X is hard to miss, but under it I can read the clear words "harmful" on my Vermillion paint tube (which we cannot see on the picture). I think that by law, it's obligatory to write if a product is dangerous or not, so if you cannot see this information clearly stated on the tube, it might be a bad idea to buy this certain brand of paint.
Building up Your Own Palette
Knowing what brand to buy is a nice start but one might be overwhelmed by all the choices of colors they can find. That's perfectly normal. Remember that you do not need to buy every single color available in the rack. You can always mix colors to get what you need. So starting with the basic colors is always a good idea. Black, white, blue, red, yellow. Maybe also take orange, purple, and green. If you have extra money to buy a few more tubes, pick only 2 or 3 colors that you really like. (Honest! That's how I pick my own. I just pick a color that appeals to me and that I think I will be using in my work!)
I know some art stores hate it when people do this, but if you can, open the tube to see the actual color. That little colored label on the tube just isn't accurate. Most of the time, colors are just brighter in the tube. Sometimes, the art store will provide painted samples. That's another nice tool to use when choosing a color. I also like to keep track of the colors I have so that I don't buy the same tube twice. Most brands will provide a free pamphlet of the color codes with colored samples. Pick one up and mark the tubes you just bought on it. Keep it safely with you every time you shop.
Tip on How to Keep your Paint Wet for a Long Time
It is possible to keep paint that came out of a tube wet for a long time. All you need is a good palette system. I'm sure a lot of you know what about these paint containers that come with numbered paintings? Most craft and art supply shops sell these containers empty too. Acrylic paint can stay wet for quite a long time in these containers; this also applies to watercolor paint. Keep each color you bought in its individual container and identify each container with the color code of your tube. You are set! If you see that the paint in the container starts drying, just put a drop or two of water and close the container. The paint will become wet again like it was fresh out of the tube!
I sound like I am repeating myself, but reading labels when buying any art supplies is important for so many reasons. Knowing what you are buying will always save you a lot of trouble. Don't buy cheap supplies just because they are cheap, especially if the labels are unclear or unavailable. Take the time to ask questions about the products if you aren't sure. Ask artists friends for information or suggestions too!
I'm thinking of doing a nice step-by-step tutorial of a watercolor painting, but also covering some basic watercolor techniques to achieve certain effect while painting!
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