Watercolours: St Petersburg White Nights (review)

A month or two ago a set of expensive pastels and pastel pencils came up for sale on an art supply website for a discount as it was on clearance. When I bought it, I decided I might as well add a few other things to the order and one of those items was the 12-colour set of Saint Petersburg White Nights watercolours.

White Nights watercolour box

Only available in whole pans (as far as I know; if there are tubes I’ve never seen them around), the White Nights watercolours are very reasonably priced; many of the sets are only about half the price of similar-sized or smaller sets in other brands. The plastic palette box the paints came in was reasonably sturdy and well-designed, compact but with two large areas in the lid for mixing. There’s room at the top where the hinge of the lid goes to put a travel brush in there (either that or cut the handle off a normal brush). The rubbery clear plastic frame the pans themselves sit in is a bit annoying though; when you lift it out of the box, half the pans slide out and fall into your lap. Most palette boxes are metal and have metal rows the pans can ‘clip’ into, so perhaps this cost-cutting is how the paints can be sold so cheaply.

White Nights watercolours

Here is my the chart for my set.

White Nights Watercolour chart

The 12-colour set I got included a nicely balanced range, although both of the yellows were cadmiums; I think it would have been nice to have a transparent yellow as well as an opaque one (either a light lemon yellow or maybe a warmer Gamboge or Indian yellow hue). I was impressed with the strength of the colours, and the ‘staple’ colours here look the same as they do in other brands. That being said, I found it odd that a number of colours that are typically single-pigment mixes (black, yellow ochre, umber) were mixtures of two or three pigments. Also, while some other pans can take a bit of scrubbing to get going, the White Nights watercolour lifts easily from the pan at the touch of a wet brush. They dissolve and spread easily when used wet into wet and can be lifted out leaving very little colour remaining on the paper, yet they can be applied in glazes without making the underlayer muddy.

Not long after I bought this set, I came across a number of forum posts discussing the lightfastness of the White Nights paints; opinions were pretty mixed, to say the least. The wrappers of each individual half pan have a lightfastness rating on them and oddly enough, Carmine (a colour typically known to be fugitive) has been given a 3 star rating. Though I haven’t had my paints for very long, I did make a swatch chart and put it in my front window, with half of each swatch covered with a strip of cardboard. It’s only been there for a fortnight or so, but I’ll update this post after it’s been there for a few months to see how the colours fared. I will say that Carmine and Russian Green are already showing slight signs of fading. (UPDATE Jan 20, 2017: Today I took the Saint Petersburg watercolour swatches down from my window. Russian Green shows slight fading, while Carmine has faded extensively; the lighter tint has completely disappeared. The other colours have all survived without alteration.)

Here’s a little sketch I did with the Saint Petersburg White Nights watercolours.

White Nights Painting

If you’re after a good student quality brand or a watercolour set just for sketching, I would recommend these over the Winsor & Newton Cotman or the Sakura Koi watercolours, as you will get strong, bright colours that handle like artist grade materials. However even though these are marketed as artist grade, I think the issues surrounding the lightfastness – colours incorrectly labelled as lightfast and odd mixtures of what are traditionally single-pigment colours – mean you are better off going for something like M Graham, Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton if you’re looking for a truly professional quality product.

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