Watercolours: Derivan Watercolours (review)

Disclaimer: I was not paid to do this review, however the watercolours were provided to me for free by Derivan for the purpose of review.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a representative of Derivan through my artdragon86 Facebook page, who asked if I would like to review their range of watercolours. I have used their acrylics in the past and quite liked them but was unaware they also made watercolours, so I was looking forward to trying them out, especially because a) I’m always on the lookout for reasonably priced Australian art supply brands and b) we were in lockdown again here in Melbourne at the time and I was bored to tears (I started the painting for this review back in June when I received the paints, but due to illness and uni workload didn’t get around to finishing it until August, when we’re in yet another lockdown). The representative was kind enough to send all the colours I use in my standard palette.

The Derivan watercolour range consists of 24 colours. I believe the range is relatively new, as the earliest references I can find to their materials online are from early 2019. This probably explains the relatively small colour range compared to other established watercolour brands, as it makes sense to start with a small range and then gradually expand once artists are buying the product. Here’s a chart for the colours I got.

One of the first things I noticed when I opened the box and saw the tubes was that the paint in the tube is swatched on the packaging, so you can see exactly what the colour looks like instead of having to rely on printed or online colour charts, which don’t always reflect the actual colour. Just be careful you don’t get the tube wet, though; the smear of paint is in watercolour (not in the matching colour from their acrylic line as I first thought) so it will come off if you get water on it. It also has the pigment information, lightfastness rating and opacity clearly indicated on the front of the tube. This is something I find important as I like to know exactly what pigments I’m using, and it’s annoying to have to either look up colours online before going to the shop or squint at tiny text on the back of the tube. 18 of the 24 colours are single pigment, and all the colours in the range are rated I or II (the highest two grades) on the ASTM scale. Though I haven’t had a chance to conduct my own lightfastness tests yet, this gives me confidence that the colours will be stable and won’t fade in a short time.

For the size of the range, there is a pretty good selection of colours that will allow most artists to put together a complete palette that suits them. The only noticeable absence that jumped out at me was Paynes Grey, as this is a colour that most watercolour lines include and is a staple in many palettes, although it is easy enough to mix up with a blue and brown pigment. There are also no genuine cobalts or cadmiums – the cadmium yellow, cobalt blue and cerulean blue in this range are hues – but as the real thing would push the price up considerably, it makes sense to omit them until Derivan’s watercolour line is more established. Artists who dislike opaque watercolours and only use transparent ones won’t miss these colours anyway.

The tubes are sealed with foil when you take the cap off, so I found it a bit odd that the plastic cap doesn’t have a spike for piercing it, though it was easy enough to puncture it with the tip of a greylead instead. Though most of my tubes had the standard screw-on lids, one tube had a lid similar to those used for acrylics, where you can just flip the lid up without detaching it. I’m hoping these flip lids will become more common for watercolours as I always manage to lose the little screw-on lids, dropping them under my desk where they hide until they’re presumably hoovered up by either the vacuum cleaner or the dog.

Happily the paint across most of the tubes was consistent in texture and I was able to squeeze some into a palette where it would dry reasonably quickly or, if it took a day or two, would still retain its shape without running and leaking everywhere if the palette was turned on its side (as might happen if you put it in your back to go out field sketching). The only exception was the Yellow Oxide, which appeared to have separated in the tube, as it was almost liquid when I squeezed it out and, three days after I put it in the well of my palette, still isn’t completely dry. Still, this happens from time to time with paints from all lines, so it wasn’t a huge issue. Once dried, the paint rewets easily and still allows for a concentrated application of the colour without being gritty, so in that regard it behaves as I would expect an artist grade watercolour to behave.

As far as pigment concentration goes, the Derivan watercolours are equal to most other artist grade brands on the market, making it easy to produce intense washes of colour. The colours seem fairly active when used wet in wet, allowing for some pleasing mottled effects and graduated washes. I generally found it easy to lift up most of the pigments while they were wet, although the pigments in many of the colours I had chosen (such as Phthalo Blue and Magenta) are usually staining, and therefore were a challenge to lift off the paper if they’d started to dry, even with a bit of scrubbing.

In terms of price, the Derivan watercolours are definitely among the cheapest available at $6.50-$7 per 12ml tube from art supply stores, which makes them even cheaper than Art Spectrum’s watercolour tubes (those range from about $8.50 to $18 per 10ml tube, depending on the pigment). I’m not sure what the price is like overseas or if you can even get them outside Australia, but for those of us down under, the price is extremely competitive, especially if you’re a beginner or intermediate painter looking to move up from student grade paints but are balking at the cost of Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith and the like. They seem to be easily available in-store and online at the Melbourne-based art supply stores I usually shop at, which is another aspect I value in art supply brands; if I run out of something half way through a project, I like to be able to go out and just buy another one instead of having to wait a week or two for an online order to arrive.

Here’s a painting I did using the Derivan watercolours, based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent (you can follow along with a demo here). I do have an idea for another painting I want to use these paints for, so when I do that, I’ll add write a demo post for it as well and add the link to this post.

Derivan watercolours might be a relative newcomer to the market, but they deserve their place among other artist grade watercolours. While availability overseas may be an issue, they are easily available and very affordable for Australian artists, without compromising the overall quality or performance of the paint.

This entry was posted in Materials, Reviews, Watercolour and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Watercolours: Derivan Watercolours (review)

  1. Jenneke says:

    How interesting! Enjoyed your in depth review. I’ll have to be on the lookout for this brand. Watercolour paint is so expensive in Canada, too!


  2. Annette says:

    I’m so glad you reviewed these as I’m wanting to move from el cheapo watercolours to a better quality brand and the price is right. I used derivan artists acrylics before I moved to Matisse (their more expensive brand) and I found I actually still used their derivan artist paints quite a lot. The pigments and range are almost identical so now I have the confidence to buy them and hopefully have a more fun experience with watercolours


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