Watercolours: Art Spectrum (review)

For a long time, the only local art shop I had access to sold only Winsor & Newton and Art Spectrum watercolour paints. I tended to buy my W&N paints from the UK (they were significantly cheaper even including postage) but I thought it might be nice to have a brand I could pick up locally if I needed a colour in a hurry, so I grabbed a few interesting Art Spectrum colours just to see what they were like.

Art Spectrum watercolour tubes

The colours I picked were mostly Australian landscape colours, since I already have the colours I normally use in other brands. They are quite strong and vibrant, as my colour chart shows, and when used wet into wet, they don’t tend to run or ‘bleed’ into other colours as much as some other brands can do (which may be a good or bad thing depending on your painting style). Australian Red Gold is a particularly beautiful colour, as is Tasman Blue. Also, nearly all of the colours I picked were mixtures of multiple pigments, which can impact lightfastness if one of the pigments used is fugitive; my lightfastness tests showed that some of the paints (most notably Coral) suffered some fading. The pigment combinations are listed on the tube so you can check them in the store before buying.

Art Spectrum watercolour chart

Even though the colours were pleasing, consistency was all over the place with these paints. Some colours seem to dry out much faster than others, making me seriously consider bashing the tubes with a hammer just to get some paint out (I had to exchange two tubes of Coral before I got one that wasn’t rock solid inside the tube, and even the replacement one I got dried up within a month or two), while other colours were like water and poured out as soon as I took the lid off, making a mess everywhere. Naples Yellow Reddish was particularly bad in this regard, as it almost seemed like too much binder had been added to the mixture (once I added water it was fine to paint with). Sometimes I was able to ‘fix’ the paint by adding a drop or two of water (for the dried paints) to the tube, and then sticking a stretched out paper clip or toothpick into the tube and wiggling it around to mix it together (for both dried tubes and those where the pigment and vehicle had separated), but it was annoying to have to do it in the first place. My Flinders Blue Violet also had some strange flaky substance that came out when I squeezed paint out, as if whatever it was had been stuck to the inside of the tube before the watercolour was poured in.

I poured some of each colour into a small keyring palette I have to see how they set up for those who like to use half pans or dried paint, and Naples Yellow Reddish, Australian Red Gold and Australian Leaf Green Dark both maintained a sticky, gloopy consistency for days after the other colours had set. Other colours, though they set properly, did not rewet as well as other brands I’ve used, and some set so hard that they cracked in their pans; though mostly they are still usuable (at least the colours I have), these are best used fresh from the tube like the Winsor and Newton watercolour tubes, rather than being allowed to set in a half pan or palette (Winsor and Newton do make watercolour pans which rewet nicely, but they are formulated differently to their tube paints).

Art Spectrum watercolour Palette

I should probably note that pretty much all the Art Spectrum paints I have are novelty or convenience colours, and as such these tubes probably sat on the shelf for a long time before I purchased them, unlike palette staples like Ultramarine Blue or Burnt Sienna which would have a much higher turnover thanks to more artists buying them. I would assume (and hope) that these more commonly used colours would have fewer quality and consistency issues as a result, but I can only review based on the colours I have. If anyone who reads this blog does use more ‘staple’ Art Spectrum colours, let me know how your experiences were with these paints.

Given the limited selection of Art Spectrum colours I have (I wanted to do a painting using only these paints for the review), I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver in terms of subject matter, so I did this little painting of Uluru/Ayer’s Rock just for fun.

Uluru Art Spectrum Watercolours

Overall, I think Art Spectrum watercolours are okay, but they are not the best out there. If you live in Australia, you will find that Art Spectrum watercolours are competitively priced compared to other well-known brands like WN and Daniel Smith (and easier to obtain; most art supply shops around me only seem to carry Art Spectrum, WN and maybe one other brand if I’m lucky). The 10ml tubes range from just under $8 for series 1 to about $15 for series 4, making them about half the price of WN watercolours in terms of price per ml. If you use them straight from the tube, you shouldn’t really have any issues (unless you get a colour that is already dried in the tube). Just be wary about trying to make pans out of these colours or trying to get them to set in your palette; more than a week after making my own palette, the Australian Red Gold and Leaf Green Dark are still almost as moist as they were when I poured them out of the tube, while Coral has dried so hard that getting decent colour out of it requires a lot more scrubbing with my brush than the other colours do.

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4 Responses to Watercolours: Art Spectrum (review)

  1. Kinestra says:

    Gorgeous painting. Eye catching and a great use of limited colours!

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  2. Vivien says:

    I wish I had read this…only googled Art Spectrum after my issues! I received three tubes, one Pthalo Blue which was fine. Mars Violet poured out of the tube in a watery mess and Indian Red had virtually dried out. I got replacements sent but they had exactly the same problems. In the end I just stuck a thin skewer in and tried to mix the paint a bit. As you suggested, I think my “novelty” colours have sat around for perhaps years, which obviously wasn’t the case with Pthalo Blue. These colours are lovely but I think I would be too wary to try any more, which is a shame for Art Spectrum.

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    • artdragon86 says:

      Thanks for your comment, Vivien 🙂 It’s a shame you also had bad experiences with some of your colours. I will also note that the Australian Leaf Green Dark remained sticky in the little pocket palette for more than a year. It is dry now (though still soft), but even in January this year, when I opened it I accidentally touched the green and it got on my finger. I like Art Spectrum’s other products but like you I doubt I will ever buy their watercolours again (I ended up selling the ones I had on eBay as I now mostly use Winsor & Newton, M Graham and Daniel Smith).

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