Monday 28 March 2016

Student versus Artist Watercolours - Cotman versus Professional Water Colour

Per my last post, many new to watercolouring are advised to use the most expensive paints they can afford, based on high-quality paint yielding high-quality results and thus making it easier to enjoy what one is doing early on. I established in my last post that the Cotman brand of watercolours from Winsor and Newton were, in my experience, superior to the Aquafine brand from Daler and Rowney, as far as student-grade watercolours go. But what about professional watercolours? Well, before I even think about tackling a comparison of a range of brands of artist-quality paints, let's start by comparing student grade and artist grade.

My comparison of Cotman and Professional Water Colour, both from Winsor and Newton, are in Episode 2 of my YouTube series. I compare two paints both based on the pigment dioxazine violet (PV23) - Cotman 231 Dioxazine Purple and Professional Water Colour 733 Winsor Violet (Dioxazine). In terms of the actual colour, they are chemically identical - why they differ is the binders used, the presence of fillers in the Cotman paint, the pigment load (grams of pigment per gram of paint) and how much (if any) humectant is present and, sometimes, what that humectant is. A lot of artist quality paints use honey rather than (or as well as) glycerol, for example. I compare the paints in terms of their properties alone and when mixed with a yellow (which will desaturate the purple to give a grey/black) - I used Professional Water Colour 108 Cadmium Yellow, which is a two-pigment paint, made up of cadmium yellow (PY35) and cadmium orange (PO20) - in the Professional Water Colour range, the single-pigment cadmium yellow (PY35) is 118 Cadmium Yellow Pale.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Student-grade watercolours - Cotman versus Aquafine

Anyone starting out with watercolour painting is usually advised "to buy the most expensive paints [they] can afford" - the idea being that using high-quality paints will mean painting is easier and you'll progress faster. Personally, I don't like to invest loads of money in something new when I don't even know if I like it yet, so a lot of folk will buy cheaper paints. My advise is to start with student-grade paints if you can. From the two main suppliers available in big-box art stores in the UK, the grades they offer have different names - I've summarised them here:

Winsor and Newton
Basic Grade: N/A
Student Grade: Cotman Water Colour.
Artist Grade: Professional Water Colour.

Daler and Rowney
Basic Grade: Simply Watercolour.
Student Grade: Aquafine Watercolour.
Artist Grade: Artists' Watercolour.

So where do you start? I don't recommend Simply Watercolour and at some point in the future I'll do a post reviewing them - they're cheap and it shows and I think they'd frustrate someone trying to get into watercolour. So that leaves you with Cotman or Aquafine as the main student-grade options - are they both the same? Are they different? Which one is better? In a future post, I'll be tackling the differences between student and artist grade watercolours but for now, let's examine Cotman and Aquafine.

Firstly, both are available as tube and as pan formats. Personally, I never use pans (except rarely en plein air) - I use tubes. Some people (I'm not sure who!) paint from the tube - I do what most people do which is to squeeze the paint into an empty palette and leave it in a cool room for about a week to dry down. You then mist it with water 10 minutes before you want to paint and it works just fine. This is much more economical - you can get 2-3 half-pans from 1 tube yet they're priced about the same! A key difference between professional and student grade paints is that humectants are often omitted to keep the cost down. These are substances like glycerol (aka glycerine aka propane-1,2,3-triol) or honey, which draw in water from the air and keep the dried paint in your palette nice and moist. Without a humectant, it will dry too much when you dry it into your palette and that will cause it to crack and fall out easily - it's still usable, it's just annoying! You can get around this really easily! All you have to do is mix a humectant back in - when setting up your palette, dip a cocktail stick in glycerol and mix it into the paint - that's all you need. You can buy glycerol as "Glycerine" from most supermarkets in the UK in the baking aisle (as it's used as a humectant in cake decorations to stop them from cracking too!). It comes in little bottles for about £0.90-£1.00 and you can buy nice big bottles of it on Amazon - which I've linked to below. What's the best palette to use? Well, you need one with separated pans for the paint and probably 20 or so wells. You might want a folding (portable) one or a "desktop" palette - that's down to personal taste and I'll be reviewing palettes in due course.

My review of Cotman and Aquafine watercolours is in my YouTube video below - to me, Cotman is better, but really it comes down to partly personal taste and partly which colours you want to use - personally, I buy Cotman if I can or Aquafine when it's either on offer or when I can't get a particular colour in the Cotman range. 

As is usually the case, this post is not sponsored by any manufacturers, but I've linked to the supplies used in the video just under the post on YouTube itself and in some affiliate links below from Amazon UK that pay me a small fee if you buy something through them.
Happy painting! The Spindoctor