Sunday, 22 November 2015

Daniel Smith 'try it' dot cards for watercolour

I have been cleaning up my studio, and I found a number of dot cards that I had filed away to play with some time. These are a terrific way to try new colours and I really appreciate the companies that make them. Daniel Smith were the first, and they make a fabulous series of four sheets with 238 of their colours to try. These have been invaluable for deciding which colours to buy in full tubes. Colour charts and websites are great, but nothing beats getting a brush to the paint yourself.

I have used up a few of these sets to create the watercolour swatches found on my website, to test colour mixes and just to play :-) but with this one I painted the colours out on the chart. It can be very helpful to compare the colours side by side like this.

Daniel Smith have also created dot cards of the Primateks, a number of individual artists' palettes and other sets over the years. I've painted them out and I thought I'd post a few here as it can be hard to track them down if you are interested in finding them.

Winsor & Newton created a dot card of a few limited edition colours and QoR created a few for their watercolour launch, which I wrote about here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Brush Pens

I have had a Pentel brush pen for decades. They come with ink cartridges that are pretty much waterproof when dry and the tip lasts remarkably well. As I have been doing more and more sketching with pen rather than with pencil, I have been using a brush pen more often - as you can see in this sketch done at the Coal Loader in September. This has led me to want to try some others. There are loads of disposable brush pens available but I always prefer refillable pens where possible.

Parka did a comprehensive review of a number of disposable and refillable brush pens here with links to individual pen reviews. I am only looking at the refillable Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, the Kuretake No 13 Fountain Brush pen and the Kuretake No 40 and Platinum natural weasel hair brush pens. They are quite different in price and as always you get what you pay for, but the Pentel is a good entry level refillable brush pen.

The Pentel costs US$13.50 at It is also available from Kinokuniya in many cities. It is a synthetic hair tip, with a pretty fine point. You can also lay down some hefty broad strokes. That's what I used for the sketch above.

Kuretake No13 brush pen

The Kuretake No 13 Fountain Brush Pen is available in a black or red body for US$28 from Jetpens. It is a little more expensive than the Pentel and a little more 'classy' to look at. The brush nib is also finer so it creates a lovely delicate line.

The ink that comes with it is not waterproof. It can be fitted with a Platinum converter but I haven't yet explored other inks in this pen. Non-waterproof inks can be interesting to explore for special effects :-)

The Platinum natural weasel hair brush pen is available from Goulet pens for US$64. Since it is a Platinum pen, I have loaded it up with Platinum Carbon Ink in a cartridge and so far it is flowing very nicely.

It comes in a presentation box, and interestingly is fitted with a cartridge with a clear fluid in it when it arrives, I suppose so the hair doesn't dry out in storage.

Platinum Natural Weasel brush pen.

It's tip is exquisite. It is finer in diameter than the Pentel or Kuretake pens, and will make the most gorgeous delicate lines. It looks heavier than it is - it is 18gms, just a little more than a Lamy Joy pen, but the kuretake No 13 is only 11gms.

The only disconcerting aspect is that while the cap does close snugly, it doesn't 'click' or screw into place. It is available in black, blue or red marbled colours.

If you are interested in genuine hair brushes without quite such a hefty price tag, there are also Kuretake sable hair fountain brush pens available from Jetpens for US$36 for the No 40 and US$46 for the fancier looking No 50.

This is the #40 version and is 16gms. The tip is very similar to the Kuretake No 13 above and a little wider in diameter than the delicate Platinum. The cap posts firmly and closes with a satisfying 'click'. It has a dull finish with a nice feel in the hand.

Much as I love the fine Platinum brush tip, based on price, weight and closure, this is the natural weasel brush pen I would recommend, though I have not tried it with either the Platinum Carbon ink or De Atramentis ink. If anyone has, I would welcome your feedback :-) The ink that is supplied with it is not waterproof.
Kuretake No 40 natural weasel brush pen

I haven't tested the De Atramentis inks that I like so much in any of these brush pens - I don't know if it might be too hard on the hairs. Hopefully the carbon ink will be fine. I intend to try a water-soluble brown or grey ink in the Kuretake pen once I use up the black ink cartridge that came with it.

Mission Gold watercolours

I have continued to test various brands of watercolours and add all the samples to my website here so you can compare them side by side.

Some of the latest I have tried are Mission Gold watercolours from Korea, which were launched a few years ago. They are made by Mijello, who have also created some very innovative palettes. Initially they had a number of fugitive pigments and have reformulated many of their colours. They now have a range of 105 colours, some of which are lovely, but you would have to pick and choose what you might try and read not only the colour name but also the pigment numbers as otherwise you'll get a number of surprises!

Take Burnt Sienna for example. This should be made from PBr7 - though often the transparent PR101 is used - and should be a neutral orange that is useful alone or mixed with Ultramarine to make a huge range of hues, including great greys and deep warm browns.

Mission Gold Burnt Sienna looks like a deep Quinacridone Gold hue - there's no way this would make greys with Ultramarine! It is made from PBr25, PR112 and PY150 - all perfectly good pigments but not burnt sienna PB7. Why? No idea.

On the other hand - Prussian Blue, also picture left, is exactly what you'd expect - a cool, slightly neutralised blue, made from PB27.

I scanned these in a fairly random order, but you can see Permanent Red (PR112), Permanent Yellow Deep (PY65), Prussian Green (PB27 + PG7), Crimson Lake (PR202), Cobalt Blue #2 (PB28) - this is Genuine cobalt blue, Cobalt Blue #1 (PB29 +PB15:3) - this is a hue that doesn't resemble cobalt blue in any way. Why? Once again, no idea.

Then there are two versions of Ultramarine: Ultramarine Light which is a regular PB29, and a slightly warmer version with PV15 added called Ultramarine Deep. They are not different enough to need both though I prefered the single pigment version.

I've also tried the Lemon Yellow PY3, Vermilion PR112 + PO73, Permanent Magenta PR122 and these all painted out beautifully. The last of this set, Cerulean Blue PB15:3 is a standard phthalo blue and should be called Phthalo Blue - it's nothing like a Cerulean.

Permanent Red Deep is a gorgeous deep red - almost a crimson - that also painted out beautifully.

Looking at the colour chart, there are very few earth colours that are not a mixture of pigments. Once again I don't understand this. Earth pigments are wonderful and not expensive - why fiddle with them?

What I found interesting though is that these paints claim to have a small drying shift, and they do dry very bright. It makes me wonder exactly what binder is being used as there is normally quite a large drying shift in watercolours.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Daniel Smith Essentials - a great set to get you started with Artist Quality watercolour

Daniel Smith Essentials Set
I think it is terrific that Daniel Smith have put together a couple of sets of 5ml tubes of colours. These are available in many countries, even where the full range of 88 5ml tubes may not be available.

The 'Essentials' set contains six tubes, a warm and a cool red, yellow and blue. It's a great mixing set, or starter set for those getting into artist quality watercolours.

It contains Hansa Yellow Light as the cool yellow - a great choice as it is transparent which suits most people better than the more opaque cadmium yellows. New Gamboge is the warm yellow - a lovely hue. It will mix wonderful oranges with Pyrrol Scarlet, the warm red. It will also mix lovely earthy greens with French Ultramarine, the warm blue. The cool blue, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, will mix bright greens with Hansa Yellow light or slightly more neutral and useful sap greens with New Gamboge. The cool red is the very pure and bright Quinacridone Rose, which will make the most beautiful purples with either of the blues. Start mixing three colours together and you can create all sorts of yellow ochre, raw sienna, Indian red, light red, burnt sienna and grey hues if you know what you are doing. Brenda Swenson has a wonderful demonstration using these colours on her blog here.

Many people who are new to watercolour struggle a little more with three-colour mixes and it speeds up your painting if you have some neutrals already in your palette so the next question might be - what to add to these essentials?

The answer depends on what you are painting.

Daniel Smith Primatek Set
It might also depend on whether you have also purchased the Daniel Smith Primatek set ;-)
This is another Daniel Smith set, containing six of their Primatek colours - they are all created from ground up minerals or stones. Rhodonite Genuine, Jadeite Genuine, Amethyst Genuine, Mayan Blue Genuine, Hematite Genuine and Piemontite Genuine.

If you have this set, you may choose to use the green and the purple in your palette as convenient secondaries, the blue as an additional cool blue, the Hematite as a dark grey/black and the Piemontite as an earth red. I love this for painting rusty surfaces too. These will all add granulating texture to your paintings. You can see a wonderful demonstration, again by Brenda Swanson, using both of these sets here. She is a fabulous painter :-)

If you don't have the Primatek set, you might like to add some other convenient colours, perhaps a 'landscape' or 'urban sketching' extender set. Here are some suggestions.
  • An earth yellow is useful - shown is the semi opaque Yellow Ochre but I also love the granulating Goethite (not available in 5ml tubes) or the slightly more orange and transparent Raw Sienna. Mont Amiata Natural Sienna is a transparent yellow ochre colour, though also not available in 5ml tubes. An earth yellow is useful for mixing olive greens and for use in landscapes. 
  • I find Burnt Sienna invaluable and use it with ultramarine to make a huge range of colours, or alone and watered down to make a skin tone. 
  • If you are doing landscapes or urban sketching you might like to add a couple of wonderful convenient greens such as Sap Green and Undersea Green, pictured. 
  • I like Cerulean Chromium as a sky blue, often mixed with Ultramarine. It is not as staining as Phthalo blue so is an excellent third blue option. 
  • Buff Titanium is another very useful paint for Urban sketching and landscapes, though it is also useful in portraits.
Daniel Smith earth and landscape watercolours - Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Sap Green, Undresea Green, Cerulean Chromium, Buff Titanium along with Moonglow and Jane's Grey (custom mix).

  • If you choose to add a neutralised orange (burnt sienna) and one or two of the neutralised greens (such as Undersea Green), you might also like to add a neutralised purple. The one shown is a three-pigment mix called Moonglow and it is another lovely granulating colour. It is also a useful shadow colour. Bright secondaries are easy to mix with the Essentials set; more neutral oranges, purples and greens may take three pigments to create. 
  • You may wish to add a dark - this is my mixture of Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine, but you may choose to add a Payne's Grey or Neutral Tint or make a mix of your own as a convenient dark.
  • Indian Red - an earth red not shown above - is another useful urban sketching colour but it is very opaque and powerful and can be difficult for beginners to use. Watered right down it is a lovely soft earthy pink - suitable for lips and cheeks in portraits. You can mix the hue with Pyrrol Scarlet and Phthalo Blue GS.
The essentials set is also a good start if you wish to get my Ultimate Mixing Palette set in 5ml tubes. Use the Hansa Yellow Light instead of Hansa Yellow Medium, use New Gamboge instead of Quinacridone Gold, then add 5ml tubes of Buff Titanium, Yellow Ochre (instead of Goethite), Burnt Sienna, Indian Red, Raw Umber, Cerulean Chromium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson (instead of Pyrrol Crimson), Phthalo Green BS and make a grey from Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine.

Happy painting :-)

The Perfect Sketchbook, B5 version

The pocket version of The Perfect Sketchbook was a very successful Kickstarter campaign. This is the B5 version, with 200gsm Italian watercolour paper. You can see the project here.
Looks gorgeous :-)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

My smallest palette - great for urban sketching

I have posted all sorts of interesting limited palette ideas, but I thought I'd share the limited palette I actually use at times. These are set up in a miniature keyring palette - shown here about life-size - that I made from a lip balm tin. You can see a photo of it here. I sprayed the lid with enamel to act as a mixing area. If I had room for one more colour it would probably be Cerulean as I tend to use Ultramarine + Cerulean Chromium for skies. In this little plein air palette I could probably use cerulean instead of Quinacridone Rose as I use so little red of any form in landscape/urban sketching, but that is too limiting for me. I always like to keep my options open, and want to be able to paint an orange or purple flower if the occasion arises :-)

Here are the colours painted out in a couple of colour wheels. There are so many earthy colours that can be mixed with this palette, along with lovely purples, oranges and greens. I really like the slightly neutral greens that are created with Quinacridone Gold and Ultramarine. Hansa yellow medium is a more pure mixing yellow, and was my original yellow in this palette, but I use Quin Gold more when I am urban sketching and the earthy greens can be mixed very quickly from just two colours. 

So many building materials can be painted with the earthy Buff Titanium, Goethite and Burnt Sienna colours mixed with some Jane's Grey.               These are less than half the colours from my Ultimate Mixing Palette set, but they generally represent the colours I actually use up fastest in my palettes when urban sketching, apart from Quin Rose which is only occasionally used. I was out with the San Francisco Urban Sketchers in September and one of the group arrived with a huge bunch of purple orchids. I painted one of them. I couldn't have done that without Quinacridone Rose in my palette. Creating a limited palette without limiting your subject choices is the key I think.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Zorn Palette exploration.

I remember coming across a reference to the Zorn palette some time ago. I looked up what it was - a palette of just 4 colours used at times by Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860 - 1920). It's an oil painting palette, but the gorgeous flesh tones many have created using this palette for figure and portrait work intrigued me. I made a note to test them out some time and finally did, using gouache.

Zorn is said to have used ivory black, titanium white, cadmium red and yellow ochre. His paintings often have other colours as well, but it is this quartet that is named after him.

I chose to use Schmincke Ivory black, Titanium white and Vermilion tone gouache, and Winsor & Newton Yellow ochre. Not identical but similar.

In the oil paintings, the ivory black mixed with white created a slightly blued grey. I tested the Schmincke black and white and there was a slight hint of blue in the mix. I then tried Winsor & Newton Ivory black but that didn't look blue. I tried mixing with M.Graham Titanium white and still not really blue. But I also have Schmincke's Neutral Grey, made from a red (PR 255), orange (PO62) and blue (PB60) mix so I tried that - quite nice blue undertones and I escaped the dreaded black pigments :-)

Using the Neutral Grey rather than black, I mixed up a range of colours with the yellow ochre and vermilion tone. Lots of interesting flesh tones.

I then wanted to see whether I could actually get some greens with this mix, so I made a colour wheel with the yellow, red and grey. Purples wouldn't be possible but very neutralised greens were. I explored some random mixes using these three with white.

Translating these colours into watercolour, I switched to DS Yellow Ochre, DS Cadmium Red Scarlet (discontinued but I still have some) and my Jane's Grey to keep away from black.
In watercolour the white of the paper is usually the white and adding water rather than adding white creates the tints, though with this palette I would probably add white watercolour if I were actually using it for flesh tones. It makes some interesting mixes and might be fun to paint with but since there is indanthrone blue in the gouache mixed grey and ultramarine in my mixed grey, I'd rather add a blue than a grey and be able to make an even greater range of colours.

Fun to explore - maybe more later if I try painting with this palette :-)