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.