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

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