Color Spree

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

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blick Artist Watercolors

I've learned to trust "house brand" art supplies from Dick Blick. Inevitably they are priced for the frugal but use the best pigments and meet a high standard of quality for the medium. Blick Artists' Watercolors are no exception. Priced from $3.99 to $5.99, these watercolors come in generous 14ml tubes in a range of 54 colors.

They're pigment rich, smooth, fine grained and strong. They're as good as other artist grade brands, but for the price of a 5ml tube of a series 1 earth color, you can get a 14ml tube of real Cadmiums and Cobalts. I couldn't believe that pricing. So it was a happy surprise when I decided to try some of them and found out how excellent they are.

If you paint large, these watercolors can seriously help your budget. I chose Lemon Yellow, Raw Sienna, English Red, Quinacridone Rose, Ultramarine, Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Green, Hookers Green Deep, Burnt Umber, Titanium White and Paynes Grey. The three colors sitting by themselves in the top tray of the palette are a triad of Da Vinci watercolor samples I got as a freebie for ordering Watercolor Artist magazine.

They reactivate quickly if allowed to dry in the palette, which is my preferred way to use tube watercolors. I rarely just use them neat from the tube although many artists do. These are very strong, so if I did, I would have the tinting strength for dark blacks with the Paynes Grey or even the blues and greens.

Much of what makes an artist grade watercolor better and stronger is good choices of pigments -- mineral pigments chosen for intensity and purity, chemical pigments made well in consistent strong batches. Details of exact pigment composition and lightfastness for each pigment whether it's a single pigment color or multi-pigment color are listed on Blick's website with each color, along with a good sized swatch both pure and thinned to a 50% wash with water.

The other secret to artist grade paints is fine milling. The smaller the pigment particles in the binder. The smaller the particles, the more of them fit in the same quantity of binder, the thicker, richer and stronger tinting the paint is. Binders are usually gum arabic or other gums, possibly mixed with honey or other ingredients to make watercolors. Most makers keep their binder recipes secret. Blick's got a good recipe, they must have spent quite some time researching it because these watercolors reactivate to exactly the same quality as I got when painting when they're fresh out of the tube.

That isn't always true, some watercolors crack or peel or do funny things if they're lumped up in a palette, or they'll have insoluble chunks in them. None of these colors had any inclusions, specks or chunks, the consistency of all of them was exactly the same although transparency varied per color.

Be sure to check the color name against the pigments listing. Some colors that are sometimes single pigment colors such as Raw Sienna, are created as hues by mixing other pigments. Raw Sienna in Blick's line is actually the Raw Sienna pigment. Raw Umber is Raw Umber pigment mixed with Yellow Ochre pigment. Vermilion is two different Napthol Reds, Quinacridone Red and Hansa Yellow Medium... not the roasted lead color a medieval painting book described how to create. So it's a bit safer sometimes to have pigments that are hues.

The color names are more of a convenience, but the pigments listed are good ones and the mixtures are very effective. In the case of some colors I think the hues may actually out perform the originals in permanence and lightfastness. However, Blick Artist Watercolors do include geniune Cadmium reds, oranges and yellows, so they have the working qualities artists demand from Cadmium colors.

I'm very happy with my Blick Artist watercolors and for anyone with a tight budget, trying these can make the shift to artist grade watercolor a bit less painful. Also, I seriously recommend beginners try these rather than get student grade watercolors. Transparent watercolor is a difficult enough medium without the struggle to overcome problems caused by lower pigment concentration or colors that don't mix the way the book or your teacher says they do.

Pick up a primary triad to see if you like them, replace a standby like Ultramarine that gets used up fast, or try a new color just for fun. These are definitely good artist grade watercolors at remarkably low prices -- it's enough to tempt anyone to get rolls of Arches paper and think about working huge.

Here's an example of a painting I did with my Blick Artist's Watercolors.

Green Orchid I
8 1/2" x 11"
Blick Artist's watercolor
Lama Li watercolor journal


  1. Thanks for doing this! I've been tempted to try them and now I won't hesitate ;)

  2. Thanks for doing this review. I've often wondered how well 'supplier's brand' watercolors perform.