Watercolor Paint

Here's a review of some kinds of watercolor paint, with info on colors and pigment qualities. Some pigments are really transparent, others have a certain opaque quality. For watercolor, the transparent ones are closest to the nature of watercolor: you can make really light and translucent colors with them. I'll focus on W&N and Schmincke, because I used these the most.

Watercolor paint is simple paint: it's mainly pigment with only a minimum of binder (usually arabic gum) and sometimes a stabilizer. It's the pigment quality that defines the paint. In cheaper paints, fillers will be used as well, they look more chalky and matte - while Winsor and Newton or Schmincke are pure pigment paints, that are ground really, really fine. They seem expensive, but you dilute your paints with water to make them lighter - so one little tube can still provide you with a lot of paint.

When you just start, you'll probably get small tubes - but once you know what colors you need most, you can get bigger tubes (and get more paint for your money).

Using ink or acrylics as watercolor paint

It can be done of course, but you can't expect the same quality from drawing ink or acrylic paints. Drawing ink has the pleasant feature of being waterfast once dry, but the lightfastness is much less good - even if it says so on the jar. I suspect drawing ink is meant to use in drawing books, only to be exposed behind UV-glass.

Acrylics can be used in a watercolory way, but only on good paper. And if you use good paper, you probably want to use good paint too. But it can be good to work thin at first - then you can explore your composition, light and subject matter without fixating things right away. It can be a way to do underpainting, or create a background. For pure watercolor techniques though: use watercolor paint.

Watercolor paints per color

Most below colors are of Winsor & Newton - if not I'll mention it.

  • blues; for a sky on a sunny day, the best color is "cobalt blue light" by Schmincke. Night skies can be best painted with indigo blue. French Ultramarine can bridge the gap between them - it's exactly that blue glow things get when the sun sets.
  • Neutral tint is a good option for black - it's absolutely neutral, so you can tone it towards warm (with brown) or blue (with indigo blue)
  • New Gamboge is a semi-transparent, warm and friendly yellow. Cadmium yellow is more cold and strong.
  • There's a subtle difference between cadmium scarlet and scarlet lake: cadmium scarlet is a fierce, orange-ish, outgoing red while cadmium scarlet is a little more magenta-ish and balanced.
  • For magenta, I highly recommend "rose madder lake". It smells like roses and is a totally natural magenta (magenta easily gets chemical).
  • Earth colors are good to have too, they'll have the same pigments as in oil paint (check here for a pigment list).
  • Winsor violet is dioxazine violet, very good for combining with yellow and/or orange (take cadmium orange). Another option for violets: both the Brilliant red- and blue violets by schmincke - very transparent colors.
  • If you want to try out other colors: permanents and quinacridones are known to be transparant pigments. The "brilliant"-line by Schmincke, and phtalo pigments are very transparent too.
  • Turquoise is difficult: cobalt turquoise often is a bit opaque, which easily looks smudgy. For watercolors, you can't mix it either. I'ts been a while since I bought turquoise - I picked a Rembrandt (turquoise blue), because only that one (at the time) was really transparent. It's a mixture of phtalo's (green and blue), good pigments for watercolor (lightfast and transparent).
watercolor painting

White watercolor paint

White watercolor paint doesn't really exist, because watercolors look their best when put on transparent. Adding white makes them more opaque, and then they turn into gouache or tempera paint.

White is a big issue in watercolor techniques. Not using no white requires a good deal of thinking. Everything that has to be light, has to be spared out. That may take some practice, and at first you might feel awkward. When you switch from acrylics or oils to watercolor, you might feel like having to learn to walk all over again. But it's really worth it: only whithout the white you can get the etheral translucent colors that make watercolor paint so beautiful.

Watercolor with white paint

That doesn't mean you can't use white at all. This picture shows what you can do with white. When your paper is an ivory white instead of pure white, a new spot of white paint can contrast with the background very nicely. On this watercolor painting, the white also contrasts with the background because it has form, while the violet background colors are hazy. It's like a play with perception.


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