Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sennelier pan watercolors, 8 color pocket set

Sennelier mini 8 color watercolor set and small journal with painting of mossy bark.

I collect pocket watercolor sets. I enjoy them and I like having one on me whenever I leave the house, along with my beloved pocket Moleskine Watercolor journal or some other small journal or pad I can paint in. There comes a point where I felt as if I'd overdone it on these and didn't need another one, so I put off buying this one no matter how tempting its size and colors were.

After all, with a Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Box would I ever use a different artist grade pocket watercolor set? That one lived on me, just as its Cotman predecessor did for 30 years. Yet this was alluring, with its tiny pocket brush and intriguing palette. Plus that clear window to see the colors. I didn't stop to think "that means my mixing area is clear." That sort of presentation is tempting and makes me want to paint.

Which is not a bad thing to find in a pocket set. It encourages me to use it with that clear window. Sennelier is a great manufacturer, been around for a really long time, provided supplies to all sorts of famous artists for generations. So their watercolor has to be good, right?

Well, yes it is! It's artist grade watercolor, very pigment rich, dissolves easily, lovely texture and the pans are just as you could want them. The set is compact with only 8 colors - and the palette is the 8 colors I would have chosen. A good clean yellow, a bright red that can mix to get a decent violet, a light blue suitable for skies, a deep blue that goes near black, two greens, a warm dark and a cold dark. Best of all, the cold dark is Payne's Gray rather than black. I think that's what decided me. I can't count the number of times in 12 color sets where I've replaced black with Payne's Gray. 

Greens and a sky blue are convenience colors especially for outdoor painting. Those two dark neutrals can be mixed to do all sorts of on the go sketching and it's much easier to mix muted greens when starting from a bright one than from various yellows and blues. No matter how traditional or classical it is to use mixed secondaries, in outdoor sketching it's much easier to modify the hue you want to the exact hue you want. There are few bright orange or purple things in nature but lots and lots of greens, even in cities. There's lawns. There's trees. There's foliage in gardens. It all does work well and I did get very good mixed purples when I wanted them.

White Cosmos flower on dark multicolor blurred background

I painted this white Cosmos flower with the Sennelier pan watercolors 8 color set as an experiment. The flower's been glazed over with another product that I'll review soon, Finetec Pearlescent Colors, but I posted the example to show how dark I can get a loose multicolored background just using the eight colors in the pocket set. The soft violets in there involve French Vermilion red and the deep blue, French Ultramarine Blue. I used both Pthalo Green Light and Sap Green into the Payne's Grey as well, to get a lot of different combinations. 

The watercolors are pigment rich and strong. Deep colors go nearly to black very easily and the bright Primary Yellow went on very strong as well. I mixed a nice maroon for the tiny pollen spikes with French Vermilion, Burnt Umber and Payne's Grey as well, going over the FineTec colors.

French Vermilion was a bit of a surprise since I thought it would lean too much toward yellow to mix a clean violet, but it mixes beautifully with French Ultramarine about the way Daniel Smith Quinacridone Coral does. It's a good choice for a single red in a small set. 

I did a lot of blotting and lifting and deliberate backruns with this, while the paint performed as well as Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith, any of my favorites. There's a reason this little 8 color set has become so handy and convenient. It's just right for most things I'd want to do on that scale, whether I'm indoors or off on an outing.

The little round brush they included works out well. It has a lovely point, which is the main thing I want in a round brush, especially a small round brush. This one is good enough that I could have repeated my calligraphy stunt, creating an 11" x 14" scroll with fancy lettering using only the pocket watercolor set and its brush. It is a good equivalent to the brushes in either of my Winsor Newton Field Box sets, a little larger than those actually. This makes it a good one for general use in a small journal.

Though I bought this on a whim, it keeps getting into my pocket more often than I expect to use it. Or sits around on my desk and inspires small sketches just because it looks inviting. Don't knock that in an art supply, if something about it makes you feel like going back again and again to paint, it may seriously improve your productivity. With that, up go your skills on more serious painting. Nothing improves so much as constant practice.

This fun, engaging little set is well worth the cost. If you haven't already picked up any pocket watercolor set for urban sketching, seriously consider it. The quality's excellent, the palette is perfect with its Payne's Grey inclusion and enough blues and greens for most outdoor subjects. Inevitably in outdoor painting, blues and greens get used up fast and reds and yellows last and last, probably due to how much space they take up on the page. But this proportion will wear down more evenly, I think. The insert is one piece but could easily be refilled with tube watercolors.

Overall, I like it and it became an unexpected favorite. Sennelier pan watercolors are great. Once again I've come to trust that brand.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Caran d'Ache Supracolor Soft Watersoluble Colored Pencils

30 color tin of Caran d'Ache Supracolor Soft watercolor pencils.

I love these watercolor pencils. I've loved them ever since I got a handful of random colored pencils from a friend that included the stub of a red one. The core is soft, like Prismacolor Premier or Derwent Coloursoft - extremely soft and opaque, a lovely texture for dry work as colored pencils. They dissolve fast and easily, much like Derwent Watercolour or Prismacolor Watercolor. They are much more expensive, running to the high end for watercolor pencils. But then, this is Caran d'Ache. I've come to expect insanely high quality and a price range up at the top. You get what you pay for. I finally got these in a set that's a good size for travel and outdoor sketching.

30 color hinged tin open, showing all 30 pencils in spectrum order. 

The nice thing is that the way they've done the colors, I could have settled for a 12 color set and been assured of a good range to render anything I came across. I just wanted the convenience colors this set includes, the choice of grays and greens and violets helps me a lot. 

The tin is a nice tin. It's hinged, none of this tin lid skittering across the table under a kitten problem. It's a little more convenient and the styrene tray in the tin fits well. That used to be a problem in some tins when pencils would jump out of their tray to bang together and get internal breakage. The tin's well made and will work well for permanent storage. I tend to put a bit of tape on tin lids if I'm going to put them vertically into a portfolio or bag, because if they fall open it's annoying having to fish all the pencils out of the bottom. Not to mention they get internal breakage banging into things.

I did not sacrifice a pencil to testing for proneness to internal breakage. I'm not quite that dedicated and these are lovely pencils. Instead, I trust that anything as soft as Prismacolors is going to be at risk if not handled gently and treat them accordingly. I've got my set in a Niji pencil roll now for portability and usually use those or Global Classic pencil cases for colored pencils - anything with an elastic band holder is the safest thing for expensive artist grade colored pencils and watersolubles.

Once I got these pencils into my eager hands, I couldn't resist trying them. I wanted to see how well they'd handle on watercolor paper. So, out with my Pocket Moleskine Watercolor Journal...

Purple violas with gold-orange centers on blue-green foliage painted in watercolor pencil.

The first thing I painted was a bright, high saturation group of three purple violas on very bright green foliage. All of the greens in the 30 color set are strong and saturated, proceeding from a deep blue-green to a very light yellow green. This is great, if I'd wanted to mute them it would've been easy to glaze over with orange or brown or red. I prefer strong mixing colors to the lack of intense saturated colors when I need something saturated. 

They are intense. Color doesn't shift much at all between wet and dry, unlike Derwent Inktense and some other watercolor pencils. It stays intense and powerful. The wash is strong, a little goes a long way and color can easily be pulled out of heavy applications to spread into lighter ones. They handle beautifully. Laydown is easy and they feel responsive in my hand. 

It was a little startling getting used to the narrow hexagonal shape, since so many good artist grade colored pencils are oversize or round. The hex shape felt like using a 2B but the softness is more like a 6B regardless of color. Once I was using them, that translated to speed of coverage. 

Horse with gold body, dark brown mane and tail, wearing a halter. Drawn and washed.

There's a sketch and wash life drawing of a horse I did while I was out. They were very responsive for sketching, soft and smudgy. It was easy to correct the sketch with a kneaded eraser too and work back into it for texture. I deliberately kept the wash light to keep some linear elements in the final version, but it works well to get all the marks out as I did in some areas on Violas.

Pine Cone and Gum Ball sketched with Supracolor Soft

The sketch and wash style is a little easier to see in my journal page with the pine cone and gum ball. There I used more of the neutral colors and only lightly went into them with brighter colors on the pine cone. It worked well. I got beautiful nuances of color and value and managed in some areas to wash out all of the line elements, then restore them as strokes of the brush. I went for a much heavier application on that and layered more.

Crumbling castle in a weedy countryside under cloudy blue sky, effect is more watercolor.

In my last sample, I went for more transparent effects and moved color around more. I used color on the brush to create little patches and glazes, dark streaks and edges in this and that. I wanted to see how close I could come to traditional watercolor with it and that worked out very well. Some marks remain for texture but most of them are washed out. The shifting colors on the tower itself were created in layers of very light dry applications and then washed together.

They do rewet easily. In the castle painting I lightened several areas by lifting and moved color from one patch to another. I worked over the road shadows a lot, shoving color around and lightening it. They are very, very workable. Opposite of the Derwent Inktense that will dry waterproof if completely dissolved. This makes these a good choice for scribbling patches in a journal cover to add color to sketches too. That's a useful trick when you want minimal kit but like having color available.

The full range is 120 colors and I do plan to get the full range set eventually when I've got studio space. That's one that should be spread out in the studio and used often. The palette in the smaller sets is well designed for mixing though, it's got warm and cool primaries and strong mixing secondaries. The white is reasonably opaque, about like Chinese White watercolor.

Overall, these are high performance, very pigment rich and soft watercolor pencils. They're worth the money. Watch for sales or coupons, check prices at different outlets, snap them up if you see them at a good price. Like the rest of my Caran d'Ache products, they're extremely high quality and have become favorites already. I trust them to be more lightfast than the Prismacolor Watercolor.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Toned Pads

I got these back in October out of curiosity - toned mixed media paper? I might be able to have fun with gouache or white media on that. I like working on mid value paper. The weight attracted me - the paper in these pads is anything but flimsy. It's 140lb, my usual weight for watercolor paper. Therefore it might not curl as much under heavy washes. 

I liked the hues of the paper. The gray is just a touch cool, the tan is muted and a lot like kraft paper or the wonderful Brown Paper Grocery Bag that would be great if it wasn't something that would disintegrate in a relatively short time. It's a good color. Light colored elements stand out great, the value is just right to go both directions with Conte or anything else.

So naturally I tried it with water media. Mixed water media. Pens and wash and gouache.

Twisty Kitty 6" x 8" gouache, ink and watercolor

I was pleasantly surprised by the texture. It felt smooth, allowed me to get very fine pen details without fuzzing the line or breaking it. I used opaque and transparent watercolor, did pen work over that and had no problem. With the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, paper texture matters - it's very pressure dependent and the fine tip goes extremely fine if handled right. This paper was smooth enough I could control it perfectly. I got lighter washes of white, wasn't limited to "white" or "bare" for values. 

The paper is very stiff even for 140lb watercolor paper. This proved to be a very good thing when it came to those background washes. Despite its being a pad, I didn't see any cockling at all. That rocks. I hate dealing with cockling and the way it moves color around.

The smoothness is convenient for pen work, but that can be a problem with colored pencils or pastels if the color won't lay down heavily or won't stick. I thought a mixed media paper should stand up to anything I wanted to put on it. Here's another wet-media example:

Sekhmet, cat portrait long hair tortie, watercolor and pen

It's easier to see the effect of the smooth paper on Sekhmet because she has so many swooping strokes with pointed ends, very fine lines with the black Pentel pen. This one also features whiskers done with a white gel pen and some gouache highlights including a gouache glaze over dark and black areas. The paper performed great. 

Sketches in colored pencil on gray, a rock, a leaf and a pear

The first thing I tried were some sketches with oil based colored pencils. The smooth surface was toothy enough to get good saturation. I was able to build up plenty of color, the bright colors on the pear didn't mute so much that they weren't intense. So I knew it'd handle colored pencils well enough. The oil based ones I used were comparable to wax ones for translucence, though I would expect Coloursoft to shine more than Lyra Rembrandt any colored pencils would work well enough on it. The paper was surprisingly toothy.

But was it toothy enough for pastels?

Doe in the Snow, pastel pencil on toned Strathmore 400 mixed media paper.
Photo reference used with permission from DAK723 on

I loved how the paper performed with pastel pencils. It felt like working on the smooth side of Canson Mi-Tientes. I knew I could easily go to softer pastels or use Pan Pastels on it with no problem. This mixed media paper lives up to its name. It's tough, it stood up to a lot of erasing, lifting, washing, correcting and changing in a couple of those cat pieces. It's smooth and heavy, allowing fine detail or rough heavy applications.

I wouldn't worry about putting texture paste or gesso or primers on areas of it either if I were doing something multi-media. The price is decent and the paper is versatile. It's everything I wanted for mixed media. 

Many of the mixed media pads and sketchbooks I've had only had 90lb paper, sometimes with enough texture elements that clean hard inked lines or hard edges were difficult. This paper is great. What's interesting is that while it's buffered and acid free, it has 30% post consumer fiber. So I've finally got a good quality recycled paper that's got the look of brown grocery bags and the feel of brown grocery bags... and the sturdiness of heavy watercolor paper. Good stuff. I'll definitely keep this in stock, there's way too many good uses for it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pentel Arts Color Brush Set with Aquash water brush

Product photo Pentel Arts Color Brush Set in box

I tossed this into my last Blick order on a whim. I had meant to try the Pentel Aquash water brush and see how it stands up to Niji, Sakura and other favorites. It's included in this sketch pens set - so I thought, well, let's see how convenience works. A black, sepia and gray sketch brush prefilled would be handy for sketching.

Wow. I didn't realize how good the Pentel Arts brush would be or how great a point it'd have. The color pens come with cartridges, when they're used up you can get black refills. The gray and sepia only come in sets. Still the set was moderately priced at under $18 at Blick, so it's not that bad for a water brush and three pens. Comparable to other water brushes, certainly.

The color pens unscrew clockwise and screw back on counter-clockwise. This was the case with some water brushes I've had in the past. The Aquash works in the other direction. Get used to it, these things aren't going to be standard in screwing and unscrewing. It's fairly easy to tell if you get it wrong. They come with a little plastic protective collar to keep the cartridge from fully engaging till you unpack it and remove that, which probably keeps the points from getting gunked up before you even use it. I liked that.

The brushes on the color pens are actual brushes with hairs, like a proper water brush. They aren't fiber tip brush tips like the Pitt Pen Big Brush or the Tombow Dual Tip brush tips. They hold a lovely fine point. I got wonderful expressive details with them and did a little lettering on another practice sheet that came out well. 

But their real joy came in the painting!

Painting done with product: shaggy dark goat on a hollow log in a dramatic pose as if it just knocked another goat down.

I had a good photo reference and thought, let's see how these do for illustration. Wow wow wow. Beautiful points. Beautiful expressive strokes. They are very juicy. Before I added the black strokes I had some interesting effects when the gray puddled and lightened in some areas. It handles like watercolor or thin ink, and the pens are good and juicy. I got dry-brush effects sometimes though. 

It's very delicate and the ink dries semi-washable. It's not fully dissolved when I run water over it - when it's dried, as the lines were in the brown part of the sawn hollow log, running water over them created only a very light wash. This can be really handy for sketching. Do loose strokes very close together and it will start acting like a wash, color flowing in the direction the paper's slanted. 

They are extremely expressive. How they feel in the hand is a delight. They invite expressive strokes and experimental techniques. I rate these pens five star. They don't have the flat effect that the Tombow ones do, because the color does run lighter or darker depending on moisture. This makes them much more like sumi-e painting (Japanese ink painting) and allows for some gorgeous effects. 

I loosened up using them, but still got as much detail as I wanted in tight areas like the animal's eye or the contour of the ear. 

The brush on the Aquash water brush is excellent, with good flow and a lovely point. I'm sure this will become one of my favorites. Slightly sharper point than the Niji and I like the way the ginger-jar handle shape keeps it from rolling off the desk. It's compact and handy. The one included is a size Medium but they also come in large, small and I think there's also a flat one. Similar to other water brush products in pricing, the handle doesn't have the flow regulator in it so filling is very fast and easy - the regulator's up in the tip.

Urban sketchers should really love these. Throw them into your kit and see what comes out in your journal!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Conklin "Merlot" Fountain Pen and Monteverde Ink

Today's review is a little different, because I bought these products at Goulet Pens online. I subscribed to their newsletter ages ago because I used to own a beautiful Mont Blanc fountain pen with a gold nib in the 1980s. A very large person sat on it and broke it, I think I still have the pieces somewher. I loved that pen. I actually used it for sketching and drawing. To my delight, so do many of my friends who are urban sketchers or pen and ink artists.

They carry a fun range of products for calligraphy, drawing and writing. Colored inks, many different brands of fountain pens in price ranges from (sometimes) under $10 on sale on up through over $1,000. It's pot luck what gets featured in the newsletter. This time their holiday sale item coincided with my holiday budget and was just too great a bargain - a $65 pen for $35 with a free bottle of ink on top of that! So after getting the kids' presents and grownups' presents, I treated myself to the first time an affordable pen came up in one of my favorite colors. Usually the less expensive ones are clear or pink or lime green or something, not really my style of Old Male Author style, tweed jacket and all. (Yes, my daughter got me a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. I'll model it sometime. Like next time I publish a novel.)

But this was irresistible. "Merlot" is a beautiful cool red, very purplish, a lot like Quinacridone Red or Violet. It shimmers with little iridescent flakes of lighter and darker reflection. It has a sober black cap and silver trim. Good and fat in my hand, it feels like the old Mont Blanc one did (it was black with gold trim). Definitely a "turn back the clock" type of pen suitable for writing, drawing or signing autographs on published books.

Edit: This is the Conklin Duragraph "Merlot" color. It was limited edition and has sold out but I think they have other Conklin Duragraph pens in other colors. Just checked and they do, including forest green and purple nights, amber, cracked ice - lots of good colors. Merlot is sold out but there are other great colors.

To my happy surprise the free bottle of Monteverde ink wasn't a tiny litlte couple of milliliter sample bottle at all, but a big solid old fashioned glass ink bottle suitable for use as an old fashioned inkwell long after I've used it up. Wide at the base, so cats don't flip it over easily. It takes effort for a cat to spill this ink, none of them have succeeded yet. Otherwise I'd have photos of little blue footprints to add to this review. The ink is waterproof, a lovely shade of blue closer to Ultramarine than Pthalo Green Shade but a little closer to center spectrum blue than French Ultramarine. That doesn't always come through in the photos but in person it's a gorgeous blue. Perfect for monochrome drawing. I've always loved blue monochrome sketches and ink-wash painting.

They were out of the Fine point and I didn't want to wait to have them back order it, so I got a Medium point. I've been used to broader nib pens for some time anyway and thought Medium was good enough, it'd make me sketch a little larger and looser. Much to my happy surprise, the Medium nib was pretty fine - more comparable to an 05 Pigma Micron than to a bullet nib or something. Memories of broad-nib pens were distorted. I do also have some Sheaffer chisel nib cartridge pens, cheap and serviceable calligraphy tools that I used much more before I got dip pens for that.

It came in a beautiful presentation box with a blue cartridge, a black cartridge and a piston fill converter that let me use the free bottled ink. Great gift package. Sat there nestled in white satin like a sort of artistic vampire, tempting me to let out my inner creativity in notes and sketches and novel ideas scribbled on illustrations that gave me starting points... so of course I tested it by drawing!

Sissy the Fluff Girl cat drawn in blue ink with Conklin Merlot fountain pen
The long hair color point cat is laying slightly curled on her side looking to the left.
She has some text around her including title, date and materials used.

The nib was a little more stiff than the $150 in 1980s Mont Blanc pen, but that's only to be expected. I got used to it pretty fast. It skipped a little at first till I got the feel of it. Fiber tip pens are a little more responsive to pressure, fountain pen nibs vary a bit and over time will adapt to your hand pressure and usual motions. It's subtle but they do that, it's why the 14kt gold nibs are so useful because they adapt a little more than steel ones. But those run to three figures and up. For a modestly priced pen, this is pretty darn good! 

I continued to sketch with it for days.

Tree sketch from life on vertical paper, with some text in block letters.

My first sketch was in a Moleskine Watercolor journal that I love and usually have with me when I'm out. My second one is in a small plain-paper notebook that I got as a freebie for entering an arts competition - the most thoughtful freebie I'd ever seen for that, it inspired sketching! So I started keeping that notebook and the pen in my pocket. I don't know the brand on the notebook or I'd review that too, it's rather nice. Has a small imprint of a tree in the center of a kraft paper cover and no text printed, so if anyone recognizes that, tell me!

Letting it rest for days at a time, it did not dry out. It was capped and rested in my pocket, but still, I've had some pens choke after even one day without use. This is a problem with using waterproof inks, if the point clogs then it takes pen cleaner solution and repeated cleanings to restore it to function. I usually preferred watersoluble inks for that reason, cleaning in the sink is easier. But so far this is going really well and as long as I keep it handy, I might be able to keep it from clogging. It bodes well that it actually sat still for almost a week while I was sick and didn't get used, but didn't dry out and clog.

That tells me the cap is well fitted and designed. It is a quality thing. The only pen I had that I could let rest for days and keep using was the old Mont Blanc super fancy one. It'd probably be about $400 or $500 today if I still had it and well worth repairing if I could find the parts and replace the missing piece. Technical pens like Rapidographs do not stand up to that treatment, so I use Pigma Microns when I want that sort of waterproof line.

Fountain pen lines have their own style though. It's a little more expressive than using a fine line Pigma Micron or technical pen. Press on it and the line faintly widens. Lighten your hand or tilt it and you get a very slight narrowing. It will pick up nuances of your handwriting and your sketch style. Blue isn't bad as a line art base for doing watercolors either.

Blue pen sketch of a pale short hair cat on a stone fence in front of trees.

I haven't used a watercolor wash with my pen sketches yet, but since the ink is waterproof that should work the same as my other pen-watercolor sketches. I just like the blue monochrome look so much that I haven't bothered. 

Overall, this is a marvelous pen. It is available in other colors and many other fountain pens as well. Friends speak well of the Lamy Safari for sturdiness and ease of use. This is its own specialty, it's too easy to start collecting fountain pens - but keeping them loaded with several handy ink colors may make that feasible as long as I keep them handy!

When not using it for some time, clean out the pen thoroughly and store it empty. That saves the tips from clogging, sometimes irreparably. Mechanisms vary between different brands and how it's made can make a difference, the really high end ones have more than the bit of precious stone at the tip of the base or something like that. But even moderately priced fountain pens can be a lot of fun. The Conklin "Merlot" is definitely now a part of my permanent sketch kit!

Soon to come - FineTec Pearlescent Watercolors and more!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lyra Opaque Watercolors

I bought these at Dick Blick recently. I've wondered for a while whether they were as good as my Pelikan Opaque Watercolors. They looked like a very similar product - to the point that I wasn't sure which brand it was I first got at a Blick store in person decades ago, when the replacement pans were available in bins right next to the sets.

Well, I'm very happy to report that they're a very similar product at a lower price! Just as strong, the same kind of large removable (rearrangeable) pans, inside a slightly more convenient box. While I love my Pelikans, the box is a little inconvenient for stacking because it has this curved top so I can't put it in the middle of a stack with other sets of mediums. Just a small point of irritation that the Lyra set solved. It's also a little easier taking the top tray out - the top tray is entirely internal and nests. The Pelikan set has a lever button that needs to be pressed, a mechanism that can break under repeated wear and sometimes gets annoying.

This box has a pretty similar lid with fewer mixing pans in it, but still the same function. The brush they included is a 1/4" stiff bristle brush. I had never used a bristle brush with pan gouache, I'm used to round soft sables or synthetic sables for water mediums. So it was a little odd painting with it and I'm sad to say, like many bristle brushes the dang thing splayed out halfway through the painting. The hairs swelled and stuck out sideways, eliminating any sharp-edge flat brush tricks or tip created lines. This is annoying but it's a pretty cheap thing and the other brands didn't come with a brush, so big deal. I may or may not continue using it, the small bristle brush is good for its own effects. It'd be great for spattering or other rough techniques, it's just not a precision brush.

Also included, just like the Pelikan set, a little tube of white Deckweil. It didn't say "Chinese white" or watercolor, just Deckweil - Opaque White and repeats that in a couple of other languages. Good strong mixing white. I used a little of it in my example painting to lighten some color and it worked lovely. I've always wondered why they didn't just include a white pan with these sets, what I really would have liked would be two white pans so there's enough for mixing and lightening, maybe the second one a warm white like titanium buff sort of color. But the little tube of white is replaceable when used up. It will get used up faster than the pans themselves, I say this from long usage.

So here's the art I did with it, in my large Moleskine Watercolor journal:
Two pears, one yellow and one red, painted in Lyra opaque watercolor

The paint was easy to pick up enough for thick, opaque, creamy application. The white mixed well in the little mixing pans and the colors blended beautifully. The set includes Payne's Gray as well as black, so I've got my Cool Mixer. Fleischfarbe, the peach color that gets represented as flesh tone for German kids, is on the top tray rather than the bottom - the top tray is set up to function separately if you want a simple palette. Paynes Grau is on the top tray too, so your convenience colors are there without lifting trays if you're painting in a small area. Peach color portrait highlight is actually a useful color for all sorts of things, especially as a mixer if you want to warm the mix or highlights on browns and reddish colors.

The price break between the sets is quite a lot - $22 for the Pelikan set, $14 and change for the Lyra. That was surprising to me since the quality seems so similar. I don't know if there are differences in lightfastness, though gouache is one of those illustrator mediums where they don't always worry about lightfastness even in professional or artist grade products. But other than that, these are comparable in every way. 

Hm. The Pelikan pans may be just slightly larger, but it's a pretty minor difference. Nope, checked, same size of pans unless the Pelikan ones are a bit deeper by a grain. The box on the Pelikan set is much more involved, with the release tabs and the artistic curved domed lid, the strip of sticky lamination to cover writing your name on the box. I think the biggest difference is the fancy, art deco looking Pelikan box. There's also a little more space in the Pelikan box if you want to squeeze in dabs of silver and gold gouache for detailing in the second layer, under the tray that has the little tube of white.

The paints are very opaque and pigment rich. They mix well and blend easily. They handle a lot like pan gouache. They dissolve fast and are easy to pick up with any brush. The color range is very similar and the colors are marked with their names in German. Very familiar, reminded me of the set I had in my youth. Overall I'd recommend this set just as I'd recommend the Pelikan set - the most convenient form of gouache that I've ever used.

I recommend either of these over tube gouache and for convenience, like the Lyra box a little better. Which box you like is going to be a matter of personal taste. I prefer being able to stack it to having the extra space inside.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Water Brush Set

Sorry for the long two year hiatus. After moving from San Francisco to Arkansas, I got tied up in a lot of offline activity and also had to adapt to a new climate. Happily though, I'm back to getting new art supplies and testing them, so let's see what the newest water brushes I got are like!

Caran d’Ache Piston Fill Water Brush

I’ve been using various water brushes for years. Niji and Sakura Koi are my two favorites, with an old Derwent a close third.

I’ve also enjoyed many other Caran d’Ache products. They tend to be pricy but worth the money, very high quality and good lasting intensity. Crayons and pencils and paints are all pigment rich, consistent, good texture and easy to use. So I thought, this ought to be interesting. Unlike many other products from this manufacturer, the price is similar to the other brands. So if you like these, it’s really just a matter of taste.

The main difference is in how they fill and that one of three point options is a fiber tip, along with a large round and medium round. They didn’t have a small round.

The ones I’m used to fill by squeezing and release water by squeezing. These new ones work by a piston fill system. The brush head comes off just like a regular one, but then you dip the barrel into a glass or dish of water and turn the knob on the end to draw up the water into the compartment.

I had trouble with it at first, the knob was stuck on the fiber tip one so I couldn’t get it to move at all. I tried again with the medium brush head and found on the first go that I’d only managed to pick up about 1/4” of water. In several tries I managed to more or less fill that, then tried the fiber tip one again. Same thing, it took several passes to get it full the first time. The large one was easier because I had a bit of practice with the other two.

Compared to the ease of filling a Niji water brush by holding the barrel under the tap and squeezing, it was slower and a bit more cumbersome. Also the piston sticks out of the end of the brush afterward, making it a bit harder to store in a pencil box or bag unless it’s long enough. So there’s two points of minor inconvenience. Still, the real test with this is whether because of the piston system, the water flow is more controllable.

One of the things that’s unique in this three-brush Museum Aquarelle set is that there’s a large round, a medium round and a fiber tip water brush. Artists who prefer using brush tip markers or bullet tip markers may really enjoy having a water brush that’s got a resilient fiber tip. The texture is markers, the color is as unlimited as your watercolor mixing skill.

The only comparable product is the clear blender in the Tombow dual tip brush pen sets. Those are clear water and have the same fiber tip brush tip as the colored ones, used for blending out the watersoluble inks of the Tombows. So you could use that with a pocket watercolor set for convenience, or with watersoluble pencils colored or graphite. Still, the Tombows aren’t easily refillable or made to be refillable and the Caran d’Ache product is. We’ll have to see how it holds up under heavy use, to really know how strong the fiber point is. But I’ll give it a go anyway in testing it.

A refillable fiber tip pen could be worth a little inconvenience in itself. It has its own texture and of course could also be used to modify and spread watersoluble markers like the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers that I’ve come to love.

So, let’s try that fiber tip brush.

Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Using Sennelier pan watercolors, I worked from a challenge photo and created a pair of cats, more sketched than painted. The fiber tip water brush behaved a lot more like a bullet tip marker than a brush pen.

Marks fade naturally at the usual pace of a water brush and unlike most markers, leave enough moisture on the paper to blend completely into a wash when scribbled. The cats were more drawn than painted, it was quick and easy.

Marker artists will enjoy that fiber tip brush. Water flow is very similar to the Niji water brush and I didn’t have to fiddle with the plunger often, only once when cleaning the tip to get the last of the black out. Color stayed in at a light hue for a long time, which became mildly frustrating when changing colors. But that was inexperience, now I know to really rinse the tip it’s not going to be a major problem.

The line is clean and reasonably broad, maybe 1 1/2 millimeters. The feel is solid and the hue even throughout the line. I can get it to a thinner line with very light use but not to the fine point that brush tips with hairs get. Overall the feel of the tip is more like a medium or broad nib Sharpie - solid, wide line, smooth laydown.

The water went through at a fast clip, but that was something I expected from the way the reservoir filled. It’d be good if using this in the field to keep a water cup handy as well as these brushes, though in the studio that fiber tip has its own strengths.

Some artists load water brushes with ink or liquefied watercolor. That eliminates the fade as the water comes through the head and can allow for a good number of interesting effects, like using several values in several brushes. Unlike most Caran d’Ache products, the price is comparable to the Niji waterbrush and other similar products.

The reservoir is much smaller than the Niji or the Sakura, more like the reservoir of a fountain pen. But still, that tip is excellent and the piston mechanism is manageable with a little practice. I’d just be sure to have a good source of water available if using it for travel sketching, or use several of them.

So now let's have a look at the others. I picked out a different challenge photograph, sketched it with a set of 12 Derwent Inktense that I keep around for travel sketching and washed it with the Medium Museum Aquarelle brush.

This may not be my greatest wildlife sketch, but it's not that bad either and the water brush performed beautifully. It came to a good fine point. The water flow was just right, not too much or too little. I could pump more through to change colors by twisting the piston, or let it be and let it flow naturally. It flows a little heavier than the Niji, but just right when it comes to a sketch and wash.

I wanted to leave some distinct lines in it, so didn't scrub down or wash it so thoroughly that they'd dissolve. My shading wasn't very even, but the brush smoothed that out lovely while still being able to get into tiny details without disturbing them.

All in all, I'd say try the Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle water brushes. Even with a little inconvenience learning to fill them, they're good quality. If you don't get any others, try a Fiber Tip one for variety of tip - but the brush ones are excellent and stand up with my best. Of course in the long run, I'll have to go back in a couple of years and see how long they last. But I trust they will likely be long wearing, considering the quality of Caran d'Ache goods. Their pricing seems mostly to reflect how much pigment goes into things like pencils, paint and crayons - they are always very pigment rich. This time it's just a well made tool that has its own unique place in my kit now!