Tuesday 26 December 2017

St Petersburg watercolours

St Petersburg by Yarka label
Nevskaya Palitra label

White Nights watercolours in are made in Russia by Nevskaya Palitra, who also make a cheaper student range called 'Sonnet' and another range called 'Ladoga'.

The naming gets confusing though, as White Nights are called 'St Petersburg by Yarka' in the US where they are rebranded by Jack Richeson & Co Inc, but as far as I am aware, the colours and pigments of the different labels are the same. The full pans of both White Nights and St Petersburg are embossed with 'St Petersburg' so they would seem to be simply different names for the same range, with White Nights being the name in Russia and Europe and St Petersburg better known in the USA.

I received 24 of the White Nights colours in 2015 and wrote about them here.

Richeson & Co sent me the full range of St Petersburg colours and I painted out all those and will show them here. All are identical, except for Cerulean which looked and behaved differently in each range, but that could simply be a different batch. Another 9 colours were added to the White Nights range the Northern Spring this year, which I don't have, but have created a swatch card for each of them, including the pigment information.

These are the most affordable 'professional' watercolours available, priced in some markets all the same and in others in two series. In Australia they are just AU$4.95 each. However I do need to qualify that I would suggest caution if using these for works that will be framed and exhibited as there are many fugitive pigments in the lists that may fade on exposure to sunlight. While they use genuine pigments, some are not as strong as higher cost watercolours and they seem to contain some binders or fillers.

For those starting out, working in a sketchbook or just playing with a new medium, buying for children or class sets, they are a very simple and affordable way to start - better than using student grade colours - without having the problem of what to do with the tubes, or how to make up palettes or pans. And since they are all full pans, there is good brush access and plenty of colour to paint with.

Note - twelve of the colours are also available as tubes. The full information can be found here.

Here are the colours, colour matched as close as I can, but as always matching the yellow/oranges and oranges and some reds is a difficult job.

Most of the yellows look fine, and PY1 looks lovely - it's interesting to see PY1 and I don't think I know of any other versions of it in watercolour. I'd tend to suggest trying that or ASTM I Cadmium Yellow Medium in this range as it is not as opaque as it can be - not so opaque that they cover drawn lines completely -  or Lemon for a definite cool yellow hue.

Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Zinc White, Lemon, Cadmium Lemon, Hansa Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Medium.

It's always difficult to show yellow oranges and orange reds accurately. Indian Yellow and Indian Gold were released by White Nights in the Northern Spring 2017 so I am guessing they will also appear in St Petersburg. Made with PY150, Indian Yellow should be a very transparent mid yellow - a good primary yellow choice. Adding PR101 will make it warmer like a quinacridone gold hue. Golden and Golden Deep are really verging on orange rather than yellow.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Indian Yellow (not shown), Indian Gold (not shown), Golden, Golden Deep,
Cadmium Orange.

Orange Lake is very bright and Titian's Red (actaully just called Titian's on the packaging) is a lovely rich orange and the other warm reds are very clean and bright.  Cadmium Red Light is made with PR108 - a reliable warm red pigment. Scarlet is a mid fire engine red.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Orange Lake, Titian's Red, Cadmium Red Light, Vermilion (Hue), Scarlet.

I'd be interested to see the new PV19 colours as I suspect they will be excellent primary red and violet hues, with better lightfastness than the current crimson and rose colours.

Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Ruby, Madder Lake Red Light, Carmine (Hue), Quinacridone Red,
Quinacridone Violet Rose.

PR122 is most often called Quinacridone Magenta and is an excellent choice as a primary red in a limited palette. I've not seen PV2 anywhere else.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Quinacridone Rose, Rose, Quinacridone Lilac, Claret, Violet-Rose.

PV55 is the pigment used in Daniel Smith Quinacridone Purple and Ultramarine Violet is usually a gently granulating pigment. Hopefully I'll be able to add these samples at some stage. I've never seen PV3 (Violet) or PB1 (Blue Lake) in other ranges. Both are beautiful, but not very lightfast.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Quinacridone Violet (not shown), Ultramarine Violet (not shown), Violet,
Blue Lake, Indanthrone Blue.

It's a lovely version of ultramarine - an essential warm blue watercolour as far as I am concerned -  being useful for mixing, for skies and on its own. The new blue would probably look like a phthalo blue red shade.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Blue (not shown), Blue (Russian), Indigo.

The Cerulean is not a strong as I'd like to see, and interestingly is slightly different from the White Nights Cerulean Blue, though the same pigment. I prefer PB36 Cerulean to the generally warmer  PB35, but it is still a useful non-staining cool blue for painting skies. Bright Blue is normally known as phthalo blue - this is the green shade - a useful cool blue.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Prussian Azure (Blue), Ceruleum Blue, Bright Blue (Brilliant), Asure Blue, Turquoise Blue.

Emerald Green is usually known as phthalo green - a very useful mixing green, though I'd very very rarely use it alone. Russian Green is a lovely colour, though not especially light-fast so best in the protection of a sketchbook. The new Sap Green is made from chrome green and a transparent mid yellow so I'd expect it to be granulating and rather olive.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercoloursEmerald Green, Green Original, Green Light, Green (Russian), Sap Green (not shown).

There are some interesting mixed greens in this range. Either Green Earth or Olive Green might be a good convenience foliage green. Green Light is better knows as phthalo green yellow shade and oxide of chromium is a rather fascinating granulating pigment.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercoloursOxide of Chromium, Yellowish Green, Green Earth, Olive Green, Yellow Ochre.

I like the earth colours Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna best in this range as they are single pigment earth colours - always my preference if possible. The Red Ochre is interesting too, though not essential. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has managed to get a better colour from the Shakhnazarskaya Red?
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Naples Yellow, Raw Sienna, Red Ochre, Shakhnazarskaya Red, Burnt Sienna.

I like to see raw umber as a cool deep brown, but prefer it as a single pigment colour. Venetian Red is usually made with PR101.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - English Red, Venetian Red (not shown), Burnt Umber, Mars Brown, Umber (Raw)

And the darks. I prefer to pre-mix my own, but since these come in full pans in this range I'd tend to include Neutral Tint even though is has black pigment. The Sepia is a rich cool dark brown.
Yarka: St Petersburg watercoloursSepia, Voronezhskaya Black, Payne's Gray, Neutral Tint.

Antique Gold and Silver Deep are also available, but I haven't tried them. If you have, or any of the others not shown here, please add comments below.

Yarka: St Petersburg watercolours - Antique Gold (not shown),  Silver Deep (not shown).

I think these are a remarkable range for the price, with some great colour choices for those who want nice large pans of colour for an excellent price.

Here is my suggested sketchbook set of 12. It is intended for plein air, travel or urban sketching in a sketchbook, where liftable blues are useful for the sky, and where lightfast ratings are less important. It includes Payne's Grey, which I don't usually recommend (since it is not possible to pre-make my usual Jane's Grey) as a convenience grey is really useful when sketching. It also has Sepia, which has black pigment, another I usually avoid - but this is a cool dark brown which is also useful for sketching. It has cadmiums, which I also usually avoid, but they are less opaque in this set and fill the spots nicely for a primary yellow and warm red.

White Nights Plein Air Set painted out clockwise from top left - Cadmium Yellow Medium, Golden, Cadmium Red Light, Carmine, Ultramarine, Cerulean, Emerald, Green (Russian), Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Sepia, Neutral Tint.

I suggested this set back in 2015 (before the new colours were added), and it has been put together as a Plein Air Set, available from Larrypost.com.au for less than AU$50, which is excellent for a watercolour set. The palette is white plastic with good mixing spaces. They are all full pans so plenty of paint to splash around!
Yarka White Nights St Petersburg watercolours - Plein Air Set.
(photo from Larrypost.com.au)

There are also 24 and 36 colour sets, in much larger studio palettes, or the full pans can be purchased individually.

Happy painting :-)


  1. Their "cheaper" - student version is called "Sonet". They do not make Yarka.
    White Nights are professional watercolors used by several generations of professional artists. They are colorfast and used in the highest quality art works. http://www.nevskayapalitra.ru/eng/production/watercolor/

    1. Thank you for your clarification. I have added photos of the labels for the White Nights and the St Petersburg pans to show why it is confusing.
      I agree that many of the colours are colourfast, but if they are rated III they really should only be used in a sketchbook. I have experienced seeing my paintings fade, within half a lifetime, as I was not made aware of lightfast materials as a teenager. It is not a happy sight :-( I look for ASTM ratings of I or II for watercolour to give my paintings a better chance of survival, especially as I live under the vicious Australian sun.

    2. Jay a pigment list from white nights. Thanks for this.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I'm from the US and have been practicing with the Yarka set of 36 full pans. The folding palette was worth the price alone. I really appreciate all the work you put into your reviews. Thanks again.

  3. I had been looking at buying some pans of these as an inexpensive way to play with some cadmium colors. Seeing this has moved that higher on my to-do list!

    1. They are so well prices that you can afford to splash them around.

  4. Hi! I use a lot of brands and White Nights one of my favourites, because of price on it in my country. I live in Ukraine and full pan costs here near 1,3$, also I bought the 36 full-pan set for less than 40$. A lot of colors marked *** - it's 100+ years lightfastness. I made my own lightfast test in summer: for 2 month on the direct sun only colors that marked with one star * faded a little, also Golden, marked ** and Prussian marked *** (but we know that Prussian recovers in dark place after fading). So I think they are pretty lightfast, the minus is that they haven't ASTM control, stars are their own mark for lightfastness. I also have all new colors and happy with them a lot! They are 3 stars lightfast and beautiful colors!

    1. It's always great to be able to get good materials locally, and support local manufacturers.
      Yes I think the new colours will add nicely to the existing range.
      It would be interesting to see how they last over many years - where I used watercolours that were less than ASTM I or II I have seen them fade in my lifetime, which is why I am so careful now.

  5. Thanks for the review, nice to see all the pigments spelled out! Do need to clarify that the ASTM is an American/ a UK standard for the lightfastness rating system. These watercolours are from Russia - three asterisks equal to 'excellent' lightfastness (at least for the ones that contain non-fugitive pigments). It's the opposite of the ASTM rating really, and you will see the same with Holbein's.

    1. Yes that is true. I've used the information from the US site where I is more lightfast and III is less. Thank you - on the Russian site Excellent would be ***.

  6. Hello! Thanks for sharing this review! I was wondering, though: does this line of paint have an AP or CL rating?

  7. I just received my Yarka St. Petersburg "Ultimate" 36-pan set (Jack Richeson) and noticed that the sticker on the bottom of the set had some discrepancies from your blog (both Payne's Gray and Turquise Blue are listed on my label as having a lightfastness of (I) Excellent but are III on your blog). Also, the PDF from St Petersburg's web site www.richesonart.com/pdfs/stpeteswatercolors.pdf has a half-dozen other discrepancies, my label shows mostly improvements to the lightfastness but for one color (Olive Green) it's slightly worse (from I to II).

    In your experience, have you ever seen the manufacturer reformulate colors to improve lightfastness? I'm not sure what to make of these discrepancies, do you have any thoughts to help understand the differences?

    1. It is tricky Jerry - it may be that the labels and website for the US market are using a different scale from the labels and website for the Russian market so even though the pigments are the same, the labels of the White Nights and St Petersburg are different. In some cases I know the pigments are not lightfast - as in Payne's Grey - PV3 is not lightfast. Turquoise blue is surprising though as those pigments are lightfast. Then again - I may have made a mistake so will check that too.
      It can be very difficult to know whether the website information or the label information is the most up to date. I tend to work with the label where possible, but you may have a newer formulation. In the end, that's why I do my own lightfast tests with the colours I've chosen to use.

  8. My Yarka St Petersburg says Titian's

  9. @lolzan - YES! I found the cerulean granulizes and haven't figured out if I like that or now. I also found if you mix it into another color it granulates that too. Someone told me there is a Windsor Newton binder that helps.

  10. I really like the way you create your swatchbook, Jane. It would be AWESOME if there was a template of sorts that we could pop on and draw the boxes for doing this. I wonder if there is something out there that would work. Ideas anyone? About how big do you make each box?

    1. You're really consistent in the way you get the top box to have that lighter area in all the swatches. How are you doing that?
    2. Are you creating a book of these, or do you make a palette sized version that fits into the pan? I'm toying with getting a specific sketchbook to use with the swatches of each palette that I have.

    Thanks for sharing your great stuff.

  11. just tried these out of curiosity, love the (Russian) green, yellow ochre seems weaker than my winsor newton artists quality the rest of the colours are excellent

  12. I think there might be a few more to add Jane. I noticed that the St St Perersburgwatercolours.com site has a couple of cadmium free alternatives. Yellow (PY154) and Scarlet Light (PR188 this one in tube only). There's also a single pigment yellow ochre, Ochre Light PY43 which is different from the Yellow Ochre which is PY43 and PY1. I found an updated colour chart where I got the pigment info but the link seems to have disappeared. It was in the page header which no longer displays on my phone.

  13. Can children use the White Nights pan sets? Are they toxic? Could you kindly advise.

    1. Don't give small children professional paints since there's pigments like cadmium which are in large doses, really toxic. Up to you but I don't really recommend it. Also I just don't know any kids who need professional grade colors, that's just me though.

    2. Children can use these, but I agree with above - I wouldn't give them to young children who stick brushes in their mouths etc. Train them young not to do that and also how to look after the paints and brushes and they can have fun.