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About this time of year I start to get depressed, mainly as I suffer from depression and as the nights draw in I get worse. Over the years I've tried lots to combat this, but it wasn't until I did an evening art class about 15 years ago that I discovered that autumn could be perhaps not so bad a season after all.
Now all artists, amateur or professional know that the bright colours of autumn are a chance to go wild with colour. Trees change leaves and the sun is lower in the sky so we get the mistiness so unique in the northern countries like the UK. Also I find it easier on my eyes and not having to peer through sunglasses adds a sense of freedom which summer doesn't have. So I get out and about as much as I can, sketching with pens, pencils and paints to make brief sketches or sometimes to work on a painting directly. Either way I have my own personal way of taking my supplies with me and one thing I couldn't do without is my field paints.
Why Choose these?
Nowadays the range of artist's materials is bewildering, since there are so many different types even under the different makes of a supplier. All teachers and dabblers like myself will tell you that it pays to spend as much as you can afford with watercolors, as the results you get will not be so good with cheap color. It's not a ploy to get you to part with your money either.
Watercolor paints are made up of a mixture of finely ground pigment, gum Arabic, sugar and glycerin to stabilize it and prevent mould forming. There are two types of paint, student quality and artist quality. The former is cheaper because they contain less pigment and more 'fillers', even then the 'artist' quality can vary greatly with a paint labeled as a 'hue' containing less pigment than a more expensive grade. But generally some names are synonymous with quality and I find that Winsor and Newton are among these. Cotman is another name given to a certain type of watercolor so don't worry if your set of colors doesn't have the word 'cotman' on it, it's just that cotman is usually the choice of outdoor paints.
It is possible to get by with a student quality, but I find that the results can be so poor it will put off any but the most dedicated amateur. However, you don't have to spend a fortune. It's easy enough to get by with just a few materials to start off with and add to your range as you go along.
Why Choose Pans?
Pans, or half-pans-the little cubes of paint that most people are familiar with from childhood onwards are very convenient to use. They don't leak as tubes do, they are easy to take about with you and you can mix them easily with a bit of practice. The downside is that they can get very dirty unless you clean them every time you use another paint, though few artists do this. Also you are limited to the amount of paint if you are making large washes, e.g. when making a sky or water.
Tubes are better for use on large canvasses, but they are often wasted when the tube is squeezed, so unless you are about to embark on a large painting then pans are fine.
What about color choice?
Buying lots of lovely colors is so tempting, but you don't need more than twelve colors for most paintings. Some artists use the small pans for field painting and just a few tubes of paint for studio use. That's because to keep the purity of light so beloved of most artists, it's possible to get by on as little as the prime colors, red, yellow, blue white and black. In fact white is redundant anyway as watercolor paint doesn't take to using white, most whites are a mixture of colors so to get a 'white' you use blank canvas or masking fluid.
In practise the most common watercolors used are these;
Cobalt blue, Prussian blue, viridian, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, burnt umber, Payne's grey and ivory black.
Some of the smaller pans contain just twelve colors and if they are slightly different to these then it's worth checking other pans. I prefer the Cotman pan as mine is so light and versatile. It has most of the above colours but doesn't have the black or gray; instead it has an extra blue and a burnt sienna color, which is good for autumn painting. I don't use black or gray very often as most shadows in watercolor are made up of browns and grays, which can be mixed with a few colors. It is purely a personal choice though and although the review is for a half-pan of 24 colors, mine is only twelve. I do have a 24 color pan but it was a present and much more expensive to buy.
Generally you can get a field set for anything between £6 and £25.
I paid £12.99 for my twelve color but it's got a folding brush in stainless steel, six indentations in the lid to mix colors on and it fit's neatly into an old Next briefcase I adapted for my field set.
How do these perform?
It can take a while to get used to the paints but when you have the 'knack' the results can be stunning. If you've only worked with cheap paints before then the lovely, vivid color you get from these are amazing. I'm no great artist but good paints help and one tip is this 'less is better' especially with watercolor.
Overall then I'm giving these pans a four star. I'd like to have had a choice on four and a half, as there are better sets but are very expensive. Mine has already lasted me about three years and when you work it out then it's not expensive for the use you get from it. Also you can buy the cubes of paint in a huge range of colors, normally for about £1.25 each. That allows for one color wearing out (usually blue) or adding something for a project (Naples yellow for a Mediterranean touch.)
I hope I've given you enough information to make a good choice, but remember, it's still your choice, and no-one can do that better than you. Happy painting.
©Lisa Fuller 2011.
I had to buy a good set of watercolours for my art project, as I'm currently working on a fluid application of colour, my project being on flora. My teacher told me that if you dig your fingernail into the watercolour and it leaves an imprint then that is a sign that is a good set, as it is softer.
Off I went to Hobbycraft, fingernail at the ready, murdering the watercolour display. I finally found this brand and after searching for the bets set (there are way too many variations), this was the set that offers best value.
For under £20, you get 24 half pans of watercolours, held neatly in its own carry case, which includes a number of mixing palettes, and each pan is held securely in a tray of four, each tray then held securely by a sort of clipping mechanism to the whole case.
The design of the watercolour set is very secure and strong. The only problem I have is opening it; it is held quite firmly, so a lot of force is necessary in order to open it!
Once I got the whole set organised (unwrapping each half pan which took a while), I was able to try it out. The watercolours are extremely easy to activate compared to the shoddy set I have been using previously, and it feels really luscious and full of colour. You only really need a tiny bit to get a strong colour, and this I will need to get used to.
Mixing the colours are also extremely easy; you can use the palette that is included, but I just mix on my work which works just as well. I would advise that you avoid mixing colours on the pans themselves, as sometimes they get a bit too full of colour and paint and it can ruin the original colour of the pan.
The overall finish is a very strong and bold finish which is non-shiny and is slightly powdery to the touch. The colours mix subtly and to me, it has a fantastic result. I would definitely recommend this set to artists and painters alike. It is not an expensive set, but you get so much value and the quality is very good, producing excellent results!