Color Spree

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Daniel Smith Project Book, DVD and Kit

Daniel Smith recently introduced a new product - the Daniel Smith Project Book and DVD. It's available in three versions. You can get just the book and DVD for $16.95, the book, DVD and a set of generous paint dots which are enough to do all the projects at about 9" x 12" size (with margins), or the Complete Project Kit which also includes a plastic six well mixing palette, a 30 page 9" x 12" Canson Biggie Junior watercolor pad, a size 8 watercolor round and a quarter sheet sized piece of tracing paper to transfer the projects for $26.

Watch for the Free Shipping, No Minimum Purchase promotion that Daniel Smith has already given twice if you want to be frugal. I bought my kit on the tail end of the last one and I'm pretty sure they'll do it again, it's been very popular. Let's hope it's also been cost effective, it has been for me both times and allowed me to place small orders without trying to build it up to $200 or even $69.

Like most bundled gift sets, the price is right. The best value is the Complete Project Kit. I've gotten that same size 8 synthetic watercolor round brush as a freebie with a different watercolor set and it's one of my favorite brushes. It performs well for a synthetic brush and has stood up to two years of heavy use as a favorite, including use with lower quality paints that sometimes beat up brushes. The brush is normally $6.30, so the Biggie Junior pad and palette are essentially free in the complete kit.

I've used up three Biggie Junior pads so far and my fourth is down to only a few pages, because they're good 90lb student watercolor paper at a rock bottom price per sheet. The only comparable bargain I've found in lightweight watercolor paper is Dick Blick's house brand student watercolor sheets and those need to be trimmed to size and bound if you want the convenience of a pad. It's got a great texture, very close to high quality cold press watercolor papers. So when I do happen to get a good painting while I'm fooling around on it I don't feel bad about the surface, also if I try something on the Biggie, I can be pretty sure it'll look the same on Arches.

I use it for color tests, water medium experiments, watercolor sketching, teaching my granddaughter watercolor painting and anything else I want copious cheap sized watercolor paper for. Unfortunately these pads are fast becoming hard to find. Blick no longer carries them, I got my last one on Clearance. I was having trouble finding a replacement when Daniel Smith came out with this kit. Biggie Junior pads usually cost me about $6 on sale too. So I've either got a free extra favorite brush or a free favorite cheap watercolor pad in the Complete Kit.

I also get to try a large number of Daniel Smith watercolors that I don't have. I'm not a beginner. I've more or less mastered the techniques shown in the DVD and demonstrated by the projects. I recognized a couple of them just looking at the kit - these are projects that may have been used for discontinued Daniel Smith Watercolor Triads and at least one is from a current Triad - the Secondary Triad Project is included. The great advantage is that you don't need to buy 21 different triads and have a huge stock of watercolor paints to do these projects, learn from them and try Daniel Smith watercolors. I'd recommend either the Paint Dots set or the Complete Kit to those who haven't tried watercolor.

If you do want to create a deluxe gift, especially for a real beginner either in watercolor or painting, I'd advise adding the recommended materials listed in the back of the Project Book. These are a roll of Saral graphite transfer paper for $12.69, a roll of 1" wide Economy Artist's Tape at $8.89.

I'd also add a porcelain flower palette for $12 to replace the flimsy plastic palette in the kit and a Gatorboard to tape the paper to. I've used cheap plastic palettes before, staining colors stain them very well. A new artist who isn't used to watercolor may have trouble cleaning out the wells after using a staining color and have trouble judging mixed washes or wash strength in a stained cup. Any porcelain palette cleans out completely no matter how strong the staining color. So if you're looking at a gift budget of $50, $75 or $100, you can easily build a major gift package on this kit.

Suggested optional extras include a water bucket, Daniel Smith masking fluid and a spray bottle, but these are not used during the demonstration. They're conveniences though, so putting those in the package may improve your loved one's experience with the kit or your initial setup.

One of the reasons I bought it is that while I have a big collection of over 60 Daniel Smith watercolors, I do not have all 60 odd colors in the kit set of paint dots. Anyone who already has Daniel Smith watercolors can try out a large number of similar colors to discover your favorites with the set. You can compare Ultramarine and French Ultramarine, Pthalo Blue Red Shade and Pthalo Blue Green Shade, several different Quinacridones, a variety of different yellows, greens and other secondaries without waiting for them to turn up in triads.

Two days after I bought this, Daniel Smith also came out with a 66 color Paint Dots sheet available by itself. The dots sampler is $4.95 and the dots are smaller, about the size of the sample dots often included free with a Daniel Smith order. They made a serious effort not to duplicate the dots sheet with the Project Kit dots sheet - there are very few duplicate colors. Several Quinacridone colors and a couple of Primatek colors appear in both, but no Luminescent colors show up in the Project Kit while eighteen of them are on the Dots Sampler. So I bought both and got my money's worth in terms of being able to try before I buy. These will help me coordinate and rearrange my wish list.

So there's some good reasons why an experienced watercolorist may enjoy this kit. It's a way to try the watercolors in great variety at a bargain price, and the full bundle also gives good inexpensive supplies to play with.

For beginning and intermediate painters, either unfamiliar with watercolor or unfamiliar with art, the kit is brilliantly designed.

I watched the whole DVD and enjoyed the artist's performance. The young woman artist who narrates and demonstrates the projects is very skilled and clear in her instructions. There's no background music and the presentation is very simple. You see text blocks fade in white on black at times, you see the completed project, in between you hear her narrating while her hands and the page are shown. At the end, the finished project is shown dry.

This is important because our narrator doesn't mention that watercolor dries 40% to 50% lighter than it looks when it's wet. This is true even of Daniel Smith watercolors. Be kind if you bought it for a beginner and share that tip along with a suggestion to keep one sheet of the paper aside for color tests to get their mixtures strong enough and mixed to the right hue.

It's a nice gift even without the extras. The project line drawings do need to be enlarged, but if they own a scanner or have access to a copy machine this isn't hard. If they don't have the transfer paper, add a soft 4B or 6B pencil to the order so they can scribble on the back of the printout and turn it into a one-use transfer sheet. That's how I'm transferring the projects when I use the project sketches. Because I'm more advanced, I'll probably draw some of them freehand, especially if I want to change something from the original sketch. Others are so simple I'd rather work without a sketch, since that challenges my skills.

There's no particular order to the projects. I recommend watching the DVD through completely, then choosing the project that looks easiest or most appeals to you, whichever is more stimulating. Some of the projects would make excellent gifts in themselves - don't be surprised if your cousin frames and gives you the Orchids project with a short favorite poem in the white space next year to show how much he or she liked it. The styles vary, buc every technique in them is demonstrated thoroughly and explained aloud in the DVD.

The project book itself is more descriptive than instructional. It's a good permanent reference for those colors, both listing the pigment qualities and making sensible suggestions as to that paint's best uses. If you've started using watercolor but haven't tried many different pigments yet, this kit can easily become an exploration of how best to use paints with different qualities that have very similar colors. Staining and non-staining colors are in the lineup, transparent and semi-transparent colors can be compared, synthetic organic and mineral pigments can be compared, and you'll see what granulation means and compare that to non-granulating colors. There's no opaque earths in the set, probably to keep things simple so that beginners can always see the sketch lines through their painting on later layers.

Some of the choices are expensive convenience colors like Cobalt Teal Blue or Serpentine Genuine. You'll get to try a variety of Quinacridones before deciding which of the reds, pinks, oranges and gold are essential and which ones just amusing variations. I like Quinacridones a lot, but if you don't like them, that tells you to look at some of the other reds for colors you do like.

If you have some watercolor skills but have trouble in a particular area like wet in wet painting, the projects will help you close that gap. Wet in wet, wet on dry, wet on damp techniques are all used. None of the projects require lifting, so a scrubbie brush isn't necessary as an extra. These are basic techniques with plenty of good examples of the differences between working on wet paper, dry paper or damp paper that hasn't completely dried. Anyone who finishes all 21 projects will have an excellent grasp of how watercolor handles in general and probably some idea of their favorite techniques and colors.

The DVD is easy to navigate by project on its main menu. You don't have to flick through a dozen of them to get to the one you've chosen to paint, just go to menu and scroll down to it.

I'd rate this as an excellent gift choice for yourself or any adult at any level of watercolor skill. A crafts-oriented hobbyist will be delighted to find out that framable watercolor projects can be created without need for any prior drawing skill, just careful tracing of an enlargement and use of good supplies. Artists who haven't tried watercolor or have trouble with it may find this solves some serious problems. Beginners may fall in love with art from learning this medium. Experts may just fall in love with the Daniel Smith quality and get hooked on those regular emails advertising new triads and sets.

If you have a watercolorist friend, you could just be wicked and send the $4.95 Try-It Dots Sheet as a random unbirthday present. It's got a wide variety of expensive Primatek genuine mineral colors including Lapis Lazuli Genuine and Jadeite Genuine, it has three rows of Luminescent watercolors including Iridescent, Interference and Duochrome ones, the Mayan colors, the new Cadmium hues and plenty of Quinacridones. Watch her budget and waistline diminish as all her McDonalds money starts flowing into DS triads. I wish they'd do a Complete Range set of Try-It Dots. I'd buy that as a reference and use it when planning large paintings.

Edit: Additional Information

I've completed one of the projects using only the supplies and materials in the DS Project Book & DVD Complete Kit - the included palette, paper, brush and everything. I found it very useful, more challenging than I expected and came to understand that a lot of these lessons will give me a much better grasp of watercolors, especially of working larger than I'm used to.

I started with the "Vineyard" project. Here's the palette and paint dots strip after I completed it using a full 9" x 12" sheet off the Biggie Junior pad. The texture of the paper was excellent, very much like any cold press watercolor paper. It handled quite a lot of reworking as you'll see in the second photo, my finished project.

As you can see, I have enough paint left over from this project full sized that I could attempt it again at about half the size. Another tip for those doing it - there is a difference between the printed finished painting and the version the artist does on the DVD. I didn't see any full intensity blue-violet grapes in the printed painting, so if you like its red-grapes look, consider sticking to the three-color mixes when doing the grapes rather than using any of the blue-violet pure. It comes out very dark and stark. Or you could let that predominate and have it come out looking more like a Concord grape cluster.

There's plenty of room for interpretation on it. I followed the demonstrator's instructions and then decided I didn't like the look of the blue-violet grapes, they were too stark next to the more muted mixed-color ones. So I just washed over them with the dark neutral mix and brought them down into the dark end of the same color range. There's a lot of variety possible.

I'm also used to using very strong washes, partly because I'm so fond of pan watercolors. This is the sort of thing that using a test sheet next to your project will help with. Even though you're working from someone else's sketch, there's a lot of room for individual taste and creativity.

It really is that useful for artists at any level. I'm sure if I were even more skilled, I'd still have found something in the projects that challenges me. The full kit is definitely worth getting, the bundle is cost effective and the supplies excellent. I still love that brush, it's my favorite synthetic watercolor round.

This product is still available at Daniel Smith, click the image to visit the site.

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