Watercolours: Schmincke Pearl Metallic Watercolours (review)

While bumming around on Instagram one day, I saw a post from Jackson’s in the UK saying they had a hefty discount on watercolour paints, and since I can never resist art supply sales, I decided to see if there was anything on their site I wanted. One of the products on sale was a set of Pearl Metallic watercolours from Schmincke, and since I had some extra money from assignment marking that week, I decided I might as well splurge.

Basically, I felt like wasting money, and sparkly watercolours were a good excuse to do that.

This is the colour chart for the Schmincke Pearl Metallic watercolours, as well as the Gold and Silver pearlescent pigment watercolours that are available in Schmincke’s regular Horadam line. I bought those separately. The colours are actually a little more vivid than they appear in the photo, but I had to photograph them at an angle against the sunny window so I could show their pearlescent effect, which in turn made the colours look a little washed out.

These Pearl Metallic watercolour sets are limited edition and come in the 12 half pan set that I have and an 18 half pan set, in the same sort of box I got my original Schmincke watercolours in. By the time I learned of these sets, the 18-colour boxes (which apparently contained a few varieties of gold and silver in addition to the colours included in the 12 set) were no longer available, so I bought the 12-colour set from Jackson’s for about $90 AUD. At the time of writing this post, Jackson’s site indicates they only have one of these sets left in stock.

Unlike some metallic or pearlescent paints I’ve come across, which only contain mica as the pigment, Schmincke’s Pearl Metallics are made with regular watercolour pigments as well as the mica. This means the colours are denser and more vibrant. However, this only applies if you use the Pearl Metallics in a single layer. I found that if I tried to build up multiple layers of the paint, the coloured pigment sank to the bottom, while the mica built up over the top, creating a denser layer of light-reflecting particles that made the colours look washed out. The way to get around this is to mix up a thick puddle of it in your palette before applying it to the paper, so you can get the concentration you want on the first layer. Alternatively, lay down the base colours in regular watercolours before applying the Pearl Metallic watercolours over the top.

Given the hoops you have to jump through to achieve a rich colour with these paints, is it worth spending the money on them? To answer this, it might help to look at the available alternatives for those who want iridescent watercolour. A number of brands (including Kuretake and Coliro) produce palette sets of various sizes of coloured iridescent paints, and all of them are a fraction of the price of this Schmincke set, though I’m not sure what pigments are included in those paints aside from the mica pigments (and all of them will likely have the same issue with multiple layers building up a light-reflecting layer that makes the colours look washed out). In that regard, Schmincke Pearl Metallics are probably better, because aside from one or two colours, all the colours in this set have a good lightfastness rating.

However, the Schmincke Pearl Metallics colours are only available in these sets; you can’t buy the colours separately, whereas you can buy separate pans of Coliro Pearlcolours, or individual tubes of Daniel Smith Luminescent watercolours (the latter are not cheap, but you can get Duochrome ones that change colour). Many art supply manufacturers also sell an iridescent watercolour medium, so you could just paint with normal watercolours and then add some iridescent medium over the top (these are generally just silver-white, though, so if you wanted coloured sparkles or duochrome colours, the medium won’t be enough). Using a medium over regular watercolours also removes the problem of pearlescent watercolours not being lightfast. Also, if you only want gold and/or silver, quite a few manufacturers of artist grade watercolours actually include these in their regular line anyway, and they’re generally inexpensive.

In terms of performance, the Schmincke Pearl Metallic watercolours rewet fairly easily in the pans, though not quite as easily as non-metallic colours. They were a lot easier to rewet than the Kuretake Gansai Tambi metallic watercolours, which I had to scrub the bejesus out of to even get a small amount of glittery paint in my brush, but the pans you get in those Kuretake sets are so big (and cheap) it’s hard to feel that worried about wasting them. I have also found that most metallic or pearlescent paints resist being lifted once they’ve been applied to the paper, and the Schmincke Pearl Metallics were no exception (you can get some of the colour off by wetting and scrubbing but you’re basically just going to smear sparkles everywhere, so you’re probably better off leaving it alone).

On a side note, if you do use pearlescent or metallic paints with regular watercolours, make sure you use a different jar of water and different brushes for your metallic watercolours. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how careful you are, all your brushes will be full of glitter, and then all your paint will be full of glitter, and then your house will be full of glitter. You will be full of glitter. Everything will be glitter.

You also need to consider how often and for what purpose you want the pearlescent or metallic paints. While they would be quite fun to use for crafting or scrapbooking projects, fine artists are unlikely to have much use for them unless you paint a lot of fantasy-themed art. I like to paint dragons, fairies and other magical things, but if I didn’t, I suspect I would probably not bother getting any metallic paints, and certainly not a $90 set of them. That being said, I will enjoy using these to paint an upcoming dragon series I’m working on.

Here’s a sea dragon I painted using the Schmincke Pearl Metallics watercolours over some traditional Schmincke watercolours.

Schmincke Pearl Metallic watercolours are fun to play with, but there are better and cheaper alternatives out there for those who want to add some shimmer and sparkle to their paintings. Though they’re nice to use, the price and the fact they’re now nearly impossible to find online (aside from potentially overpriced used sets on eBay) and can’t be replaced once you use up the colours makes it hard to recommend them. If you’re on a tight budget, I’d suggest going for the Coliro or Kuretake pearlescent paints or a bottle of iridescent medium, or if you’re happy to spend a bit more for the specific colours you want, just get a couple of Daniel Smith Luminescent tubes.

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Watercolours: Hummingbird (demonstration)

Any time I get new art supplies, I’m always looking for an excuse to use them in a painting. After I bought a limited edition Pearl Metallic box of Schmincke watercolours, I wanted to paint something sparkly but couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t look tacky. Then I stumbled across a photo by Linda Olsen of a hummingbird I’d saved from a Facebook group I’m in (Photos for Artists) and thought its iridescent feathers would be a perfect excuse to get out my new paints. Since I took photos of my progress, I decided to compile a demonstration post. Note that if you don’t have any sparkly paints or just don’t want to use them, you can stop after Step 4.

Schmincke Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow
-Purple Magenta
-Phthalo Green
-Yellow Ochre
-Spinel Brown
-Burnt Umber
-Payne’s Grey

Schmincke Pearl Metallic Watercolours
-Yellow Light Pearl
-Red Pearl
-Magenta Pearl
-Green Pearl

Lukas Gouache
-Chinese White

Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Escoda Grafilo Kolinsky Tamyr size 4
Jackson’s Raven synthetic mop size 10/0

Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Hi-White Cold Press (180X250mm)

Step 1
After drawing the outline of the hummingbird and the branch, lay in a pale wash of Payne’s Grey over most of the bird, leaving a few areas to the left of its eye and on the upper right part of its chest white, as well as the top of its beak. While this is wet, work in some more Payne’s Grey around the bottom of the belly, blending this up to create the soft round shape. The circle around the eye should be painted with a medium concentration of grey, while the eye and underside of the beak should be almost pure paint to get a deep dark. The underside of the tail and the feet should also be very dark (but not completely black), leaving some areas around the outside of the tail, the centre of the tail feather and one edge of each toe lighter, to serve as highlights. Put a very light wash of grey over these light areas in the tail, just to bring it down from a stark white. Add a few slightly darker areas on the left of the face and then, using a fine brush and light strokes, lay in the dark areas of the hummingbird’s face.  By using overlapping crescent-shaped strokes, you can create the texture of feathers; just be sure to keep the direction consistent and follow the contours of the bird’s head and neck.

Step 2
Continue building up the feather texture using Payne’s Grey. On the left side of the bird’s head and back (and on the part of the right shoulder that’s visible), use a mixture of straight strokes and crescent strokes to create feathers, again making sure to follow the shape of the bird and leave some highlights. Darken the area above its tail and blend this up into the side. Using a lot of crescent strokes (this stage will take a while), create the feathery texture of the bird’s belly. Make the strokes more concentrated under his belly to show the darker shade, and spread them out a little more as you go up its chest. Finally, shade the branch and create bark texture using long strokes, leaving the top of the branch white (except for under the bird’s belly) and making sure the underside is darker.

Step 3
This step is basically more of the same from Step 2: keep using Payne’s Grey to build up the feathers, both the straight ones on the head, back and shoulder and the rounded ones on the chest and face. Put lots of dark strokes on the lower belly and on the neck area directly under the beak, and fill in a lighter grey above the eye. I also darkened the ring around the bird’s eye except for the lower left corner, which I left lighter, and I darkened the mark to the right of the eye. The top of the beak needs a very light wash, leaving a pure white highlight in the top centre. Add another layer of almost pure grey to the underside of the branch, particularly under the hummingbird’s belly.

At this point I got out some white gouache to restore a little of the highlight areas around the edge of the tail and on the right side of the feet. I also created the fluffy texture of the belly by using light feathery strokes and following the contour of the bird’s shape. I also used a thin mixture of the white gouache to define some of the shapes in the bird’s tail.

Step 4
Now that we’ve build up the texture and tone of the hummingbird and the branch, it’s time to add some little bits of colour. For the branch, mix a thin wash of Yellow Ochre and Spinel Brown and wash this over the top half of the branch, then wash a medium concentration of Burnt Umber along the bottom half, letting them blend. This will give you a natural gradation between the colours, with the grey underpainting providing the texture. Let this dry, and then wash some more burnt umber over most of the bird’s tail, leaving the centre of the tail feather and some of the edges light.

If you haven’t saved highlights here, use white gouache to create a few white feather strokes in the dark area of the bird’s neck just above the shoulder and directly above the beak. Mix up some Lemon Yellow and add a tiny amount of Phthalo Green to get a bright acidic yellowish green. Use this to add some light accents along the left side of the bird’s chest and belly, just above the eye and on the right side of the neck and shoulder, over the new gouache highlights.

Mix some Purple Magenta and Mauve for a rich fuchsia colour. Wash this from the top of the beak up to the top of the head, letting it blend out into the grey, then create a brighter shape of this purple to the left of the eye, with a smaller, uneven shape just below and to the right. Let this dry, then mix a little more Mauve and some Payne’s Grey in and use this to make some crescent strokes over the fuchsia colour to create the feathers.

At this point, I signed the painting under the branch with Payne’s Grey, and then scanned it. While paints containing mica or other sparkly pigments look lovely in real life, they often either look awful or don’t show up at all when scanned. I wanted to have a scanned copy of this stage before I move on to add the Pearl Metallic colours. As mentioned above, if you have no iridescent paints or don’t want to use them, you can call the painting finished at this point.

(yes, I know there’s a dog hair in the top right corner. It gets into everything in our house, including our scanner, apparently :/ )

Step 5 (optional)
Mix some Red Pearl and Magenta Pearl together to create a reddish fuchsia colour. Using a fine brush and crescent shaped strokes, add some shimmery accents to some areas of the fuchsia feather on the cheek and on the face, starting above the beak and moving up along the outer edge of the bird’s head. Add a little Violet Pearl to this mix and use it to create some iridescence in the darker areas of the bird’s face (just a few; most of the shimmer should be on the cheek or the outer edge). Next, mix some Yellow Light Pearl with a small amount of Green Pearl to create an acidic yellow-green, and add this to most of the yellow-green feathers on the right side of the neck and some of the yellow-green feathers down the left side of the hummingbird’s body, again making sure your brushstrokes follow the direction of the feathers.

This concludes my hummingbird watercolour demo. I hope you had fun painting it, and remember, if you don’t have the exact supplies I’ve used, you can use whatever similar colours you already have in your palette.

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Field Sketching Kits: Expeditionary Art Pocket Art Toolkit (review)

I watch a lot of art channels on YouTube and recently one of them – Mind of Watercolour – had a review of the Expeditionary Art Toolkit, along with an interview with its creator, Maria Coryell-Martin. I’m always looking for nice and compact painting sets but so far have mostly had to rely on shoving a Cotman box or Derwent Inktense pan set into my uni bag along with a sketchbook and hoping it doesn’t get jostled around to damaged, so when I saw the Expeditionary Art Toolkit, it seemed to be just the thing I wanted. Steve Mitchell also had a discount coupon for the box, so I decided to get one.

There are two sizes of these kits available: the standard one, which measures roughly 25cm X 16cm, and the pocket one, which measures about 19cm X 13cm. You can get them in all all black or black with blue trim, or grey with purple trim. I chose the Pocket Art Toolkit in grey with purple trim.

All of the Art Toolkits come with a Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (in the closest size to whichever Toolkit you buy), a waterbrush, a clear plastic ruler, a black Sharpie pen (waterproof black ink), a plastic syringe for refilling the waterbrush and a Pocket Palette (which you can have in silver or black; I got a black one) with a little cloth bag, as well as a small pamphlet that includes some sketching tips. The full sized one has an additional pocket on each side and also comes with a greylead pencil and a little spray bottle.

The Pocket Palette itself comes with 14 full pans, as you can see in my first photo. However you can buy different sized pans, as well as any of the other components of the Art Toolkit, separately. When I ordered my Pocket Art Toolkit I also bought some different sized pans (half, double and a large mixing pan with a white enamel finish) and a spray bottle.

After a lot of tinkering, I eventually settled on what colours I wanted, and rearranged the various pans accordingly (including the large mixing pan, as I like lots of space for mixing). The colours I used are as follows:

  • Winsor & Newton Winsor Lemon
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold (genuine)
  • Daniel Smith Yellow Ochre
  • Daniel Smith Pyrrol Orange
  • Winsor & Newton Winsor Red Deep
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Rose
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Daniel Smith Transparent Red Oxide
  • Daniel Smith French Ultramarine
  • Winsor & Newton Cobalt Blue
  • Winsor & Newton Cerulean Blue
  • Daniel Smith Cobalt Teal Blue
  • Rembrandt Vidirian (this colour seems quite weak and I’ve already used up a large chunk of it, so I’ll probably replace it with a Phthalo Green)
  • Art Spectrum Neutral Tint
  • Daniel Smith Buff Titanium

The Pocket Palette itself is tiny; at only 7mm thick and with the surface area of a business card, it weighs almost nothing. The beauty of the Pocket Palette is that it’s so easy to rearrange the pans, which are held in by the magnetic base of the Pocket Palette itself. For colours I use a lot of, I have a full pan, and for those I don’t use much of but still like to have, I just use the little quarter pans. I did buy some of the square pans that are the size of two full pans next to each other but so far haven’t used them.

My Pocket Palette filled with watercolour, closely guarded by my trusty studio supervisor, Rosco.

The case itself is pretty sturdy, so it protects all the contents even if it gets shoved into a backpack, bounced around and squashed by other heavy stuff (as mine did). Though the Pocket Art Toolkit includes less stuff than the full-sized version, there’s enough room in the pockets that you can still add extra tools (I ended up putting in a greylead, eraser, sharpener and the spray bottle). The little plastic ruler included feels pretty flimsy, but it’s handy if you like to put borders around your sketches. The syringe is handy for refilling the waterbrush, and the spray bottle makes it easy to wet the whole page at once or create interesting wet-in-wet effects, and the spray is fine and even, unlike some spray bottles that spit out big ugly blobs of water.

The waterbrush itself (which I believe is a Pentel Aquash) is also of good quality; some waterbrushes I’ve had are difficult to regulate how much water comes out through the bristles (ie. you either get no water or a flood, with nothing in between), but this one responds well to varying pressure. The brush point is a medium size, I think, but it still comes to a good point. I like that the barrel is large, as most of the other pocket painting kits I have only included a waterbrush with a small barrel, which means I usually run out of water after one painting.

The Sharpie pen serves as a useful black ink fineliner, though if you’re an artist who draws in pencil, then goes over it in fineliner and then erases the pencil, you may run into issues, as this pen seems to be less resistant to being erased than the Sakura Pigma Micron or Faber-Castell PITT pens I normally use. It’s still perfectly serviceable, and if you just draw straight on the page with ink, it won’t bother you.

As I mentioned in my review, I wasn’t overly fond of the Moleskine, even though a lot of other artists love them. Mostly I just find the paper too flimsy for the way I like to paint and sketch; when I lay down a dense wash of colour for a sky, for example, the paper curls up into the foetal position. I’ll keep the Moleskine aside and use it for things like character sketches and illustrations, and I’ll replace it in the Art Toolkit with a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. I do like that the Art Toolkit has a pouch for the sketchbook, as I’ve often had sketchbook pages get damaged in the past by being in my backpack unprotected.

It should be mentioned at this point that the Art Toolkit is not cheap; for the case including the Pocket Palette and starting accessories, it’s $115 AUD, not including postage; by the time I added postage and the few extra accessories, it cost me close to $150 AUD, and that was with the discount code from Steve Mitchell’s YouTube channel. You could probably find a case of a similar size and put your own accessories in it, and just buy the Pocket Palette to save money, but I liked how the Art Toolkit has tidy compartments for everything, to prevent your tools from bouncing around (I’ve had a number of pen lids get knocked off and pencil lead points snap when I’ve put them in a regular pencil case). Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t mind paying more to get something that was basically exactly what I wanted, rather than trying to cobble together a solution that I wasn’t really happy with.

Here are a couple of sketches I did with my Expeditionary Art Toolkit, in the Moleskine included in the set.

Even though it’s pricey, the Expeditionary Art Toolkit is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants to have a more portable sketching kit to encourage them to go out and paint in the field. Even if you just buy the Pocket Palette on its own and a water brush, you’ll have a nice compact painting kit you can take anywhere. The ability to easily mix and match the colours in your tin by simply swapping out the pans is another plus. I keep my Toolkit in my bag when I go to uni and I love being able to just take it out and start painting, without having to dig through my bag or a pencil case to look for my pens or pencils.

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Sketchbooks: Stillman & Birn Beta Series Softcover Sketchbook (review)

Since I often don’t get much time to sketch when I’m out and about, I prefer to work in small sketchbooks when I do have the opportunity. As I’ve mentioned previously, I found that the Moleskine sketchbooks – even the ones supposedly designed for watercolour – don’t really stand up to more than a very light wash, which is not ideal for me as I prefer to sketch in watercolour rather than other media like inks and pencils (though I do use pencils in some sketches).

A while ago I saw that Jackson’s in the UK had a gift set of six Stillman & Birn pocket-sized softcover sketchbooks on sale, so I thought it was a cheap way to try all their different papers at once. The first book I tried was the Beta series, with the blue cover.

Of the six types of paper, three of them are called “Heavyweight” at 150gsm, while three are “Extra Heavyweight” at 270gsm. Most are white but there are a few ivory papers, and there’s a range of surfaces from smooth to medium grain to cold press. The Beta series paper is Extra Heavyweight white paper with a cold press surface. The Heavyweight sketchbooks seem to have nearly twice as many sheets as the Extra Heavyweight (46 sheets versus 26 sheets) but of course the trade-off is that the paper is not as thick or sturdy. The ones in the pack I got were all portrait orientation but you can get landscape ones as well. Also, it seems Stillman & Birn have recently brought out a Nova Trio book that has three colours (black, grey and beige) in one sketchbook, though sadly these seem to be hard to find in stores anywhere (which is a shame as I’d like to get one). You can buy these colours in separate sketchbooks, though.

The first time I took my Beta sketchbook out, with the intention of using watercolour pencil and washes, I accidentally left my waterbrush at home. However I figured it was still a good opportunity to test how the paper handled dry media. Given that it’s a cold press paper (the ‘roughest’ of the Stillman & Birn sketchbook papers), there was some nice broken texture that resulted from using the pencils dry, though I was able to smooth it out by pressing down harder. That being said, it’s not as textured as a regular cold press watercolour paper, so you are somewhat limited to how many layers of pencil you can put down (in some places in the drawing below, I did find myself running out of tooth so the paper wouldn’t take more layers). This wasn’t a big deal as I usually only do a large number of layers on proper finished pieces, whereas sketchbooks are a few layers at most due to time constraints/general laziness etc.

“Sunlit Leaves”. Based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent.

At a point in time, I did a sketch of the beach while on a research retreat, using watercolour pencils and watercolours. I had coloured the blue areas of the sky in with a pencil and then washed over it with a waterbrush, but it did take a little scrubbing with the brush to remove the visible strokes from sky. The paper did start to pill a bit, but I still think it did well to stand up to as much abuse as it did before it started to pill (the book also got dropped in the sand and stood on by a dog and came through unscathed).

“Mount Eliza beach.” Sketched on location.

The sketchbook is so small it fits easily in my school bag or even my pocket, so I’ve got into the habit of taking it to uni, along with a small box of paints (lately I’ve been enjoying my Derwent Inktense paint pan travel set). When my students have a class where they just work on their assignment (and therefore there are no tutorial activities for me to run), it gives me time to do some sketches.

“Royal”. Sketched from imagination.

I’ve done a few sketches in this book now, and I’m happy to say the paper is pretty resilient when it comes to washes. Even for paintings where I covered the whole page and washed several layers of colour over the background, the paper buckled very little, and even then, only really on one edge when I’d inadvertently drenched the paper by squeezing my waterbrush too hard. As I mentioned above, it will pill a bit if you scrub at it too much, but as long as you’re careful with the brush, you can put down several layers of watercolour (or probably ink as well) quite easily. Another thing I liked about it is that, unlike with normal watercolour paper, I was able to use a rubber eraser to make corrections without affecting the surface paper; I find that when I use watercolour paper, I need to use a kneadable eraser or it damages the texture.

In terms of price, these sketchbooks are in the low to middle of the range as far as buying a book of a similar size goes, but this doesn’t take into account the type of paper. Yes, some other sketchbooks are cheaper, but they also use thinner paper, so it’s worth paying a few dollars extra for a Stillman & Birn Beta; in fact, some of the more expensive ones still used inferior paper that would only be suitable for drawing, not for any water media.

Here are some other sketches I’ve done in the Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.

“Indigo”. Based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent.

“Grace, sketch”. Based on a photo by Lesley Charlesworth.

I haven’t had a chance to try the other Stillman & Birn sketchbooks yet, but so far I’ve been very happy with the Beta series sketchbook. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a durable paper for sketching out in the field, especially anyone who may have been somewhat disappointed with the Moleskin. With the variety of sizes available, you’ll be able to find one that fits in your sketching kit, and you won’t have to worry about the paper curling up like a pretzel if you use watercolour.

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Watercolours: Da Vinci Artist’s Watercolours (review)

I thought it was time to review the other American watercolour paints my parents brought back from their overseas holiday, so I finally dug the tubes out of my drawer, where they’ve been languishing for the last few years.

I wanted to get a red or a magenta but unfortunately the one I’d written down for my parents to buy was out of stock in the art shop they visited, so I don’t have as wide a range of colours here to test as I’d like.

EDIT: I just remembered that some time last year, I discovered I could order a dot set from Da Vinci’s site, which I did, but then promptly shoved it in a drawer and forgot about it because I was busy with uni when it arrived.

I’ve just dug it out and painted another chart with the 24 colours in the dot set and the two tube colours I had that weren’t included.

In terms of pigment concentration, they’re up there with other reputable watercolour brands, although perhaps at the lower end of the artist grade scale. They rewet reasonably well (I found the Cobalt Blue Deep was sometimes a little reluctant to budge but nowhere near as stubborn as Winsor & Newton colours after they’ve dried out), and the colours I tried were generally easy to lift off the paper without leaving much of a stain. They also seem to be slightly less ‘active’ when used wet-in-wet than other brands I’ve tried. What I mean by this is that when you drop a Da Vinci colour into a wet area of another colour, it spreads a little, but not as far or as quickly as my Golden QoR or my Daniel Smith paints. If you’ve used Holbein watercolours, the Da Vinci ones behave in a somewhat similar manner to those, though slightly more active. This may be good or bad depending on how you like to use wet-in-wet techniques.

While there are quite a few multi-pigment mixes in the range of just over 100 colours, there are still a decent number of single-pigment colours as well.

If you live in America, Da Vinci watercolours are among the cheapest brands available (for example, a 15ml tube of genuine Cobalts or Cadmiums will cost about $16AUD), but otherwise the currency conversion and postage costs mean you’re better off buying a brand that’s available locally.

Here’s a painting I did with the Da Vinci watercolours (and a few Blick watercolours). For a step-by-step demonstration of this painting, click here.

The price and difficulty of obtaining them outside the US means that Da Vinci watercolours probably won’t be viable for a lot of people, but if you can get them, they’re a solid performer, and they’ll happily fit in with whatever other paints you have on your palette.

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Watercolours: Hot Air Balloon (demonstration)

I was supposed to be testing the final version of the system I need for my PhD’s data collection, but somehow in the process of being moved from my office to a new open floor office, my computer went missing! Along with the software and peripherals I need to run the tests! Since I didn’t have anything else to do but rock back and forth under my desk crying, I figured I’d do another art demonstration.

I wanted to do a review of some more of the watercolours my parents brought back from their trip to America a couple of years ago, and I decided to paint a hot air balloon. I felt it would make a good project for a beginner, so I turned it into a demo. You could use a reference photo if you have one, but since it was a fairly simple subject, I just drew it from imagination.

Da Vinci Watercolours
-Cadmium Yellow Medium
-Cobalt Blue Deep
-Viridian Green

Blick Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow
-Cerulean Blue

Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Silver Black Velvet Round size 8
Silver Black Velvet Quill size 100

Masking Tape

Arches Rough Press Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (260X360mm)

Step 1
After drawing the hot air balloon and a rough outline of the cloud shape, lay in a strong wash of Cerulean Blue for the sky area. Before this dries, add some Cobalt Blue Deep to the top right corner of the sky and along some parts of the edge of the cloud. Using a tissue, gently drag out some faint rays of light from behind the large section of the cloud at the top left (as you can see in my progress shot below, I probably left it a little late to do this, as the streaks aren’t all that visible). Another good thing to try would be to moisten the edges of the cloud with a spray bottle of clean water and dab it slightly in some areas (while the sky is still wet) to create a few lost edges, rather than having all the hard edges like I do.

For the cloud itself, create a fairly strong wash of Cobalt Blue Deep and a pale orange mix of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Magenta, in addition to another wash of Cerulean Blue if you need to. Lay in some Cerulean Blue to cover most of the cloud except the highlighted edges, and then darken some sections with the Cobalt Blue Deep. For the really dark greyish areas, add some of your orange mix to the Cobalt Blue Deep and drop this in as well to create a variation of shades within the clouds. Don’t worry if some orange-ish areas remain visible in the clouds; this creates the look of reflected sunlight. I also dabbed at some sections with a tissue to increase the fluffy texture of the cloud.

Step 2
It’s time to start colouring the balloon. Starting with Lemon Yellow, colour the main section of the balloon and let this dry. Go over the right edge of each panel with Cadmium Yellow Medium. Leave more of the Lemon Yellow showing on the left of the balloon, and as you move towards the right, cover more of the panels with Cadmium Yellow Medium, as the light in this picture is coming from the left of the balloon (behind the cloud). Paint the bottom rim of the balloon with Cadmium Yellow Medium as well.

Paint every second pattern on the balloon with straight Viridian Green. Wait for this to dry, and then make a darker red mixture of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Magenta to colour in the remaining patterns on the balloon (don’t forget the part inside the balloon at the bottom, and the scoop, which can be any colour you want but ideally should be a colour that matches another part of the balloon; I chose to make it red). Wait for this to dry, then take some of your red mixture and add some Cobalt Blue Deep to make a dark and dull purple. Add a glaze of this to the inside of the balloon, over the red, green and yellow, to create the shadow.

Step 3
Now it’s time to shade the red and green parts of the panels to match the shaded yellow sections. For the green bits, mix Viridian Green with a little Cobalt Blue Deep and Magenta for a dark purplish green. Lay in a reasonably dark line of this down the right side of the green sections, then wash your brush and get most of the moisture out of it (by dabbing it on a tissue) and lay in a stripe of clean water right beside the dark stripe. The dark colour will gradually blend over into the clean water, but you may want to feather it with your brush to avoid any hard lines forming. I’d suggest working one panel at a time (rather than doing all the dark stripes, then doing all the clean water stripes etc) so the shading doesn’t dry before you’ve blended it. The stripes on the right should be almost completely in shadow, while those on the left will be mostly light. Repeat the same procedure with the red stripes, adding a bit of Viridian Green and a little Cobalt Blue Deep to make a dark, dull purple for the shading. Add a glaze of this over the area visible inside the balloon (including on the yellow rim), and on the outside of the scoop on the right. Add a more watered down version of this glaze to the yellow rim outside the balloon.

Given the strong sunlight on the hot air balloon, the shading in the yellow areas also needs to be made stronger. Using a combination of Cadmium Yellow Medium, Magenta and Cobalt Blue Deep to create a dull, more brownish purple than what you used to shade the red and green parts of the panels. Repeat the technique used above, laying in a stripe of this dull brownish purple along the right of each panel and feathering it out with your brush and some clean water. The right side of the balloon should be almost entirely in shadow.

Now it’s time to paint the basket. Shade the underside and right hand side with a light-medium glaze of Cerulean Blue and let this dry. Make a pale orange-yellow (should be mostly yellow) and wash this over the whole basket. You may want to go back and add a tiny glaze of Cobalt Blue Deep to the right side of the basket. To paint the figures in the basket, make a dark grey-black mixture (I think I used a bit of everything that was on my palette up til this point, but Viridian, Magenta, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Cobalt Blue Deep mixed together should give you a good dark colour). With a small round brush (I used a size 1), draw in the people; given the lighting and the scale of the picture, they will be little more than silhouettes anyway. Also draw in a few cables going from the basket and connecting to the scooop. Now all that’s left to do is sign your name; I used a mix of Cobalt Blue Deep and the dark grey mixture.

I hope you enjoyed this watercolour demo. As always, you don’t have to use the exact colours I have used; whatever equivalent colours you already have in your own supplies will be fine.

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Brush Care: Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap (review)

A few years ago, I reviewed The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. It’s a good brush cleaner, but it is slightly abrasive (so I’m reluctant to use it on watercolour brushes with natural hair). Also, I found that if I had to use it more than once within the space of a day or so (which I did sometimes), it dried and irritated the skin on my hands, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for a gentler alternative. A little while ago I was looking for a new paint palette or something on one of the online websites and stumbled across Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap.

It was about $10, but I’ve paid that much for fancy scented shower soaps in the past as a self-indulgent treat, so I thought I might as well try it.

Last weekend, I attended a watercolour workshop by Alvaro Castagnet (I’m hoping to post about it soon). In the interests of trying to reduce the size and weight of the gear I was lugging to and from the workshop all weekend, I took a small empty tea jar for use as a water container, instead of the big Vegemite Jar I usually use at home. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t really have enough room to wash my big brushes properly, as I couldn’t swish them around. I’m also lazy, so the dirty brushes continued to sit in my brush case until today.

The Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap works much the same as other brush soaps and cleaners, as you’d expect. Wet the brush, swish it on the soap, lather it in your hand. Rinse and repeat. Unlike the Masters Brush Cleaner (which has a mild but still noticeable citrus smell), this soap has almost no odour. It also doesn’t have any abrasives in it, so it’s much gentler on the brush, and on your hands. I’ve spent the last two days (on and off) washing some of my brushes, and so far I’ve suffered no skin irritation. It also seems to be just as effective at cleaning the brushes as the Masters Brush Cleaner was; before using the soap, I rinsed the brushes out with plain water, squeezing and rinsing until the water ran clear, but then when I used the soap, I got even more colour out of them.

If you’re looking for a brush cleaner or artist soap that will be gentle on brushes and won’t irritate your skin, Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap is worth checking out.

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