Color Spree

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lukas 1862 Watercolors

Lukas 1862 watercolors are artist grade, pigment rich and lovely. They come in 12, 24 and 48 color half pan sets plus a 24 color full pans sets, available at Jerry's Artarama. The quality is excellent and the price remarkable compared to other artist grade brands. I'm not sure how Jerry's manages to price these as low as they do given the genuine Cadmiums, Chromiums and other expensive pigments involved.

The colors in the 24 color set I tested are well chosen and happily include several I consider essential. I get extremely frustrated if a watercolor set has no magenta or quinacridone red or permanent red, there has to be a bright cold red to make me happy. Fortunately, this set includes Magenta and also the Alizarin Crimson is brighter, more violet-cast and cleaner than most other brands' Alizarin Crimson. It looks more like Winsor & Newton's Permanent Alizarin Crimson than the sadly fugitive natural pigment we're all so used to in various paints.

Cyan is a good strong warm blue close to Cerulean, maybe a hair darker. I used the Cyan in my example for the sky color on the painting below. Payne's Grey is a color I find more useful and necessary than black, a cool darkener and a gorgeous monochrome color in its own right. For deep dark monochromes this set includes Raw Umber (nearly black), Paynes Grey and Ivory Black. If you're sketching in the field it can be very handy to have those darks. Deepening reds, blues, greens, it's easier to do that with a warm darkener or cool darkener - you can choose to mute them in darkening or not depending an which one you choose.

Dioxazine Violet is another essential color, especially for landscapes. Soft thin violet washes can push distant areas into the distance, deep violet accents under foliage can make greens less monochromatic and of course you may want to paint irises or other violet flowers.

These are moist pan watercolors that pick up easily with a wet brush. The sturdy enameled metal tin has a flip-out mixing area with ten slants, making color mixing easy even if you're painting in the car or out on a hike. For outdoor painting, the set also includes a handy thumb ring on the back. A generous gutter between the two rows of half pans gives plenty of room for a brush or two.

I tested it with my Niji medium tip water brush. Yep. The water brush fits neatly into the tin in that generous gutter. That can help a lot if you're using this outdoors and don't want to carry water with you.

One of the main reasons I prefer enameled metal watercolor cases to plastic is that the mixing areas wipe clean with less staining. Plastic is more porous and it's possible to leave patches of Pthalo Blue or strong red stains distorting the color of the mixtures you create in that area next time, or the value of the mixture you just did even if you're using the same color. So that personal little fine point is a big plus for the good strong metal tin.

The full range of 70 colors in Lukas 1862 watercolors are available in both pans and tubes, so as you use up the half pans it's possible to refill or replace them. The set is a great bargain for super quality. These are every bit as good as any other artist grade watercolors I've used, come in a great format and the price is extremely competitive. Any of the tin sets would make a good gift for an aspiring watercolorist.

Because these do use artist grade mineral pigments, some of them with known toxicity like the Cadmiums and Chromium Green, don't buy this set for a child. Get it for yourself and buy a Sakura Koi or Winsor & Newton Cotman set for anyone underage. When using Lukas 1862 watercolors, be sure not to point your brush with your mouth. Get used to the habit of pointing it with your fingers after rinsing and don't eat while painting.

Below is a landscape painted with 24 Lukas 1862 half pan watercolors in a large Moleskine watercolor journal. I loved how the color flowed, how strong and pigment-rich all of the colors were and how easy it was to mix on the palette as well as the paper. In a couple of areas I went stronger than I expected to because these paints are so good. Finer grinding and more pigment to binder ratio is what makes artist grade watercolor so much stronger than student grade watercolors.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stillman and Birn Alpha Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn sent me five beautiful sketchbooks to review. I've been using the "Delta" as my current sketchbook because I love the heavy ivory color multimedia paper so much. It stands up well to everything I do in it and I'm still as happy with it as when I reviewed it before my move.

When I packed up my first batch of boxes to ship to San Francisco, I made sure to pack all my new review supplies! A lot of my old supplies are still in Arkansas but all these new goodies are in hand. My apologies that it took so long to get packed, travel, unpack and settle in before reviewing any of them.

Stillman & Birn's "Alpha" sketchbook is archival, neutral Ph and strong. It complies with international standards of responsible forestry and carries a Woodland Ecology and Conservation label. Rag content isn't listed, nor proportion of alpha cellulose. The color is a soft natural white, not the screaming blue-white of some white papers but white enough to give true color in any medium.

This sketchbook has splendid quality paper in a good hard cover binding. I think it'd make a great gift for anyone who likes to draw, sketch, scrapbook or otherwise keep an art journal. The only risk is temptation to pick one up for yourself when you're out buying presents. The cover has a nice faux leather texture with a paper strip showing what type of sketchbook it is. This one's got an example sketch by Michelangelo.

Stillman & Birn's Alpha sketchbook is suitable for all dry media and light washes. Naturally I decided to test it first with light washes and dip pens to see how well it stands up to water. I used my Daniel Smith Walnut Ink with a bamboo dip pen and then dipped into it with a Niji waterbrush for light values, let that dry and went back into it with a 1/4" Ebony Splendor brush.

I'll review the brush later on in its own post. Right now I'm happy to report this 100lb paper handled a soppy loose wash on the second batch of pears well. It cockled a little and dried nearly flat in both areas I swiped with the water brush.

The smooth vellum surface gives a clean line with Tombow dual tip brush pens or with the bamboo dip pen. Colored pencils would perform well on this paper, it's got plenty of tooth and I'm sure if I wanted to go nuts with Prismacolors that it might hold almost as many layers as Stonehenge. I can feel the tooth when I touch the page, yet it's fine enough that my pen lines don't get disrupted.

Overall, I'm delighted with this hardbound sketchbook. I usually choose spiral bindings but this hard cover Alpha sketchbook is one that I'll replace once it's filled. It's the sort of classy sketchbook to leave out in a formal living room along with a wood box set of colored pencils for guests to add their sketches. The size is convenient for my scanner, unlike 9" x 12" sketchbooks the entire page fits on the scanner bed.

My main recommendation is that if you use light washes, leave space between the painting and the edges of the paper. It does cockle but not nearly as much as lighter papers and it will dry solid. Laying something flat on the closed book can help flatten out the cockling too.