Wonderful Watercolor

4wellsEverybody loves watercolor.

Now, before you start thinking that you don’t because of how difficult it is, and what a mess you can make if you don’t know what you are doing, here’s more what I am thinking.

Everybody at least loves to look at watercolor.

There is something so wonderful about all those brilliant colors tucked in a box like candy – eye candy for sure.

And watercolor is the most portable of paint mediums so it is very popular with sketchbook and journal people.

And it’s transparent so any white page is going to backlight it and make the color even more beautiful.

But watercolor is fickle.

It is not something you can throw around casually like you can some other types of paint because it has a mind of its own, because it demands respect.

Watercolor is NOT too difficult if you just take the time to understand it. Because it has a mind of its own, it demands that you give it the respect it deserves, or it will punish you by making a nice mess.

Brand and Quality Really Matter

With acrylic paints, and even oils, you can go a long way with student brands and not get in too much trouble. With little exception, even inexpensive brands behave well enough. They may not last or hold their color over a long period of time, but when you are painting with them, you pretty much get what you expect.

Not so with watercolor.

The pigment load (how much color is in it), staining and lifting qualities, flow and blending results vary tremendously between cheap student brands and more expensive professional brands.

For this reason, when learning watercolor, you are much better off with just a few tubes or pans of good quality paint than lots of colors of a cheap brand. You can mix most colors from just red, blue, and yellow, in fact.

And even among high end brands, there are very noticeable differences in behavior. These are not good and bad differences, however, because all the big brands are great, and only someone with lots of experience would notice the differences.

Most practicing watercolorists have favorite brands based on how the paint behaves in their own working style.

These are some very good brands, and the difference between them is a matter of personal preference (what works best for the way you do things).

Winsor-Newton, Daniel Smith, Schmincke-Horadam, Maimeri Blu, Holbein, Old Holland, Sennelier, and M. Graham.

Most artists have one or two favorite brands, and a few tubes of other brands in special colors that are not available in their favorite brand.

All brands can be used together in the same painting and mixed together on your palette.

After 40+ years of being a professional watercolorist, my favorite brands were Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, and some Daniel Smith.

When we were in Tubac for the retreat in March, I realized I had forgotten my tube of Yellow Ochre, which was absolutely necessary for painting adobe walls.

There is just one small art supply store in Tubac, and they carry just one brand of paint – one I had never tried – M. Graham. Their claim to fame is using blackberry honey as a binder.

Because I had no choice, I bought a tube.

After that, it was a good thing that art supply store was only a half block away from the inn, because I bought five more tubes.

I could not believe that a watercolor brand could be that different!

2greenwellsThe paint is ultra creamy and stays moist so it wets instantly.

There is so much pigment that you need to use very little paint.

It blends like heaven, and lifts beautifully.

LUSCIOUS  is the best word I can think of.

I came home from the retreat and starting filling out my palette – 33 tubes so far . . . and counting.

I got the best pricing by buying sets on Amazon:

M. Graham Watercolor Sets

This is hands-down my favorite, and because it is so different, it makes my “Most Amazing Art Supplies of the 21st Century” list. So far, we have Inktense and M.Graham Watercolors on the list.

I needed a new palette, so I got this one from Amazon

closedpaletteThey have 6 left in stock, more on order . . . ($23.39 – Prime Shipping)

Martin Mijello  33 Well Palette

Open, it looks like this . . .

openpaintboxThe trays lift out, so you have three big mixing palettes if you need them.

I keep my watercolors this neat by doing all my mixing on a separate palette. Some folks like a big messy, muddy palette, but I much prefer pure color – to look at and to use!

Looking at a box of color like this makes my heart leap.

But, it takes more than a beautiful paintbox to make beautiful watercolor paintings.

You also have to know what you are doing. You know what you are doing by learning all about what to expect from this medium and adjusting for it. Because watercolor is doing its own thing while you are trying to make it do your thing, it’s a lot like trying to herd kittens.

There is VERY LITTLE adequate watercolor instruction available for beginners, although there are hundreds of books and workshops on the subject.

Many of those books and workshops have great tips and techniques and sample paintings. Some even have step-by-step, but they are more like “leap-by-leap” instead, leaving the beginner wondering how on earth step B got to Step C. And forget about Step D!

And half of every book is devoted to introducing supplies and materials, providing a bunch of information the beginner is not ready for until they get their brush wet, so to speak.

What you really need is something that tells you to “do this” and then “do that” and “here’s what happens” when you do.

I wrote a workshop like that, and I think it’s the best beginner workshop there is.

You learn how the paint behaves and why, and exactly what you need to do – and why. And even how your own studio environment affects what you can expect from your watercolor.

If I had to rank my workshops according to progress made by the students who have taken it so far, this would be right up at the top.

Read lots more about it here:

Watercolor for the Journal and Sketchbook

Summer is an awesome time for learning watercolor and painting in your little Nature Sanctuary.

25 thoughts on “Wonderful Watercolor

  1. Nan Daly

    FYI: Because the M. Grahams are made with honey they are not as stable as some other brands. They can develop mold. Now, all watercolors can develop mold if the conditions are right and they are left sealed up with moisture in the palette, but the fact that the M. Grahams never really dry out, means they are a bit more susceptible. Be careful of leaving your palette closed for a long time.

  2. jessica

    Thanks, Nan. I was informed of that and don’t keep the palette shut tight for long periods of time – mostly because I am using it all the time.!

  3. Jeanne from Austin

    Those colors look good enough to EAT! :-D Luscious indeed! So, if the paints do get mold, can you just scrape it off, or must the whole pan be tossed? I’m assuming the tubes don’t get moldy, right?

    One of the many things I like about your postings, jessica, is that you let your readers know exactly what products you like and why. I have several things I bought because you recommended them.

  4. jessica

    This can happen with any brand of watercolor if it is closed up in a palette with moisture. What happens is that little white mold shows up on the top of the cake and it can be cut away or soaked and dabbed away.

    The paint does not mold in the tube, nor in a painting of course.

  5. Timaree

    I have mostly M. Graham’s. I bought what I needed for a class and am just now expanding after about 4 years. I just don’t have the bright yellow green I need at times or the turquoise I want. Living in Kingman these stayed usable for me and now that I am in Hemet, CA I find they are still great as it’s still a desert terrain although we have a tad more humidity and a tad cooler summer nights. I agree about the professional colors. Everyone talked about how great the Prang sets were so I got one. Guess I’ll be refilling it with good paints at some point. I bought my granddaughter a set too (she took a couple of your classes on journaling and realized she could draw a house, a complicated house in your class and is now taking art in college). I love watercolor. I don’t know if I have all the basics down. I’ve been taking Laure Ferlita’s Imaginary Trips ( my husband surely isn’t going to letting me travel anytime soon for real) and doing all my journaling there with watercolor. I wonder if your class would be suitable for me being not a beginner but not fine art trained to watercolor either?

  6. Diana in Texas

    Thanks once again, Jessica, for informing us of a newly discovered product by you and what you think of it – pros and cons. Will love to see what you post with your use of it.

  7. jessica

    I think you are well past beginning, Timaree. All the “doing” will make you better and better.

    I saw those new Golden watercolors, Jacqueline, but having just invested as much as I have in the M. Graham, I think I shall sit tight for awhile!

  8. Nancy Kvorka

    These are beautiful Jessica. And thanks for posting the palette. I need to get one for the Winsor Newton I recently purchased. Now of course I want some of these and I bet the Golden paints are great too!

  9. Bonnie

    Well, I went and bought two boxes and that pallet and I don’t even need any watercolors. You were my teacher and when you say jump, I jump! You haven’t steered me wrong yet. :-)
    Can’t wait for them to get here………Hey Timaree, you were in one of my classes.

  10. Ernie

    I just discovered some new (at least to me) watercolors that have made me switch from my beloved M. Graham’s – Mission Gold. They are incredible. I consider them the Inktense Pencils of the watercolor world. Extremely pigmented, super transparent and incredible colors. Even the cobalt blue is transparent. Now I’m running two palettes, one with Mission Gold and one with M. Graham.

  11. suzanne b

    Why did I read this thread!? Oh my……..how I want to get a set! Waving hi to Nan and Ernie……..and everyone else too!

  12. Nan

    Waving back at you, Suzanne and Ernie! The years pass but isn’t it great we are all still involved in arty stuff?!

  13. Toni

    i live way down in Key West and unless I go to Miami the couple of supply shops here are high priced. I am a beginner, could you please recommend some top picks for economical online shopping? Thank you!

  14. Liliana

    Hi! I’m brazilian and I’ m having watercolor classes. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’ve never seen somebody on internet explaining why the expensive brands are better. Here professional brands of watercolor are imported and very expensive, so i’m using Cotman for my works (here it’is considered a good cost benefit and very better than the not professional cheaper brands we have). I have some HWC watercolors and they are realy good. If you’ve ever tried i recommend it. I’ve some guitar watercolor too and I discovered they are kinda ‘vintage’… cause they’re not produced anymore. I really wanted too know about how permanent it is, but i coudn’t discover yet.
    Sorry about my bad english.

  15. Cassandra

    I would love it if you could share the colour you use as I can’t see them very well in the picture and I would love to start getting some watercolours, but it is hard to know where to start.

  16. Stephanie

    Hi Jessica,

    Can you tell me the specific M graham colors you have in your 33 color pallet? I use many M Graham colors as I live in Oregon half the year where they are manufactured. They are a very good price in Oregon. The art stores will often sell them at a 40% discount with free give aways ( buy three get one). I really enjoy h.our blog. Thanks for writing.


  17. Beulah

    C’est la fusillade la plus meurtrière de l’histoire des
    USA : elle a éclaté dimanche à deux heures du matin dans un evening-club gay, à Orlando,
    en Floride.

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  20. Liliana Mattler

    Wow, superb weblog structure! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging glance easy. The total look of your web site is excellent, neatly as the content material!

  21. Valerie VanOrden

    I have tried m. Graham gouache as well as watercolor with excellent results. I get a bit overwhelmed with options and upgrades when shopping online for watercolor. I’ve tried Daniel Smith recently also with good results. Thank you for your blog. I do house portraits and calligraphy. I get chances to try all kinds of brands in class at Kalamazoo Institute of Art in Michigan.

  22. marion g.cohen

    After painting with watercolor, taking classes, and reading books, I realized that eventually, water color will tell you what NOT to do !!I It is a beautiful medium .

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