Cheapskate or Paint Smart?
My world of watercolor has changed. Not long ago I thought I had a grip on what watercolors were. The major brands like Winsor & Newton and Schmincke were familiar to me and had been the staple of my palette for more years than I care to remember. I felt I was being adventurous when I added a tube of designer’s white gouache to my arsenal, and when Quinacridone Gold came along (only available via Art Spectrum at that point) things began to get more exciting.
But that all sounds like ancient history now.
Since the bulk of paint manufacturing shifted to our Chinese friends’ factories, many more options have emerged – nay, flooded – on to the market, covering every possible imaginable characteristic of paint and paintbox.
To say it is now difficult to choose is to understate the problem facing any new watercolor wannabee artist.
Because it isn’t just a case of choosing your paint brand and go for tubes or pans. You now have to decide whether to opt for the big brands or handmade niche manufacturers, or from a plethora of smaller companies in between. You can choose between European traditional paints or Asian traditional paints (Gansai Tambi). You can choose between traditional European paints with the normal binder or Qor paints with their modified binder, or even those which contain honey. Then there are liquid watercolors in bottles which you can squirt or use like ink, colors containing mica which makes them sparkle, highly granulating paints which makes them irregular, powders like Brusho to get color into the atmosphere, sets containing graphite and other inclusions – the list really does go on almost to infinity.
So how on earth to choose your watercolor brands?
With the advent of Artificial Intelligence to the internet, it is now almost impossible to obtain correct information about anything. Where does the pigment come from that is used in this or that paint? There is a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that the vast majority of pigment powders come from China, possibly from a few manufacturers of pigment for the larger manufacturing base of consumer items.
In this case, if that is true, the brand name on your tube of paint is relatively irrelevant.
It has long been stated that one of the main advantages of choosing top name brands is the quality of the paint. That these paints use high-quality pigments and binders, which can result in more vibrant colors and longer-lasting paintings. However, the truth is possibly not quite what it used to be – if it ever was the truth.
Big brand name paints can be quite expensive, which is partly due to the cost of maintaining the brand as a market leader, and all the associated advertising, and nothing to do with the actual contents of the tube or pan. Just look at how many adverts for Daniel Smith or Winsor and Newton you see on Instagram and Facebook and ask yourself what portion of the price of those paints goes into the tube and what portion into the pockets of Facebook and Instagram.
Now that Winsor and Newton belongs to a huge European conglomerate more interested in producing dyes and colors for the construction and consumer appliance market than in piddling little tubes and pans of paint for you and me, you cannot trust them to be worth the money.
When I received the set I swatched all the colors and compared them to my traditional palette. I was unable to detect any difference in the behaviour or color intensity of the paints. As well, the Meeden set was identical to the Paul Rubens tubes I’d also been sent.
I have painted using these paints for the last six months and feel that they are as good as anything I‘ve ever used from any other brand. Fewer colours to choose from, but so much cheaper for a beginner there is no hesitation in my mind about recommending them.
They allow artists to experiment and learn without worrying about the cost of the paint. Plus, as beginners develop their skills and preferences, they can always switch to more expensive paints if they choose to.
Whether you choose to go with expensive or inexpensive paints, the most important thing is to keep creating and experimenting with your art.