Fact or Fiction: The Quality of Your Paint Matters

Many new watercolor painters experience sticker shock when they go to purchase their supplies.  Paper, paint, brushes, palette….etc. etc. etc…it’s overwhelming!  It’s natural to look for deals, coupons, and cheaper products.  However, paint is one of the supplies that impacts the quality of your painting the most.

I’m always sad when I see people discouraged or give up because they’re unsatisfied with their work and it’s not because of their skills or talent, it’s because of their materials.

So let’s take a look at the most common paint dilemma – Winsor & Newton Cotman or professional quality paint like Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolors and Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors.

The quality of paint depends on the ratio of pigment to binder and the quality of the pigment itself.  Most student grade paints, colored pencils, and pastels have more binder (wax, Gum Arabic, etc.) than the professional products, which create less vibrant works.  Cotman watercolor paint is no exception.  As you can see, the Cotman paint is lighter and less vibrant.  There is visibly less pigment in the paint.

The tomatoes in the example on the right were painted with the exact same colors (Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian or Phthalo Green, and Burnt Umber).  I also used the same amount of paint, same amount of washes, and same techniques.  The Cotman paint is more difficult to control and the vibrancy of the paint does not even compare to the professional quality.  If this was your first painting and you got the result of the first tomato, you may be frustrated and give up, believing painting is too hard or you don’t have the skill, when it was really just the quality of paint that created the different results.

Also, keep in mind that when you're beginning supplies are one investment that will last you a very long time. Brushes and palette will last you years.  You can buy new paper after each painting is completed rather than in bulk.  Paints will last through many paintings.  Future purchases will be small and voluntary.  Invest in your paints.

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Debunking the Myth that Watercolor is Unpredictable

There's a common belief that watercolor is difficult and unpredictable.  Admittedly, it’s fluid and errors are difficult to correct because it’s transparent.  However, I disagree with the idea that it’s unpredictable.  Let me explain why…it’s all about the water.

1.       Paint Follows the Water

This sounds like such a silly thing, but it took me a while to pay attention to the fact that the paint will follow the water.  If you put water on the paper and you’re not careful with where you put the water, you may not like where the paint goes.  If you’re careful when applying the water, especially with edges, the paint will go exactly where you want it to go.

2.       Water Follows the Path of Least Resistance

Water loaded on a brush will flood damp paper.  On the flip side, if there is too much water on the paper, a dry brush will soak up the excess water.

One common problem with watercolor is unintentionally creating “blooms,” which are funky splotches of color that look like a tie-dye shape with weird blurry edges.  They're commonly created by putting more water on a spot that isn’t dry.  Resist the urge to keep working and wait until it’s dry to add or lift paint.

By controlling the amount of water on the paper and on your brush, you can predict what the water and paint will do and take the unpredictability out of the painting equation.

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