For a long time now I have been thinking of writing a blog about this subject. I feel the urge to write about this subject. I want to write a guide for buying and using handmade watercolors. It might raise some eyebrows, I don’t know. Know that my intentions are good.
When I started making my own watercolors I only knew two other makers. Both situated in the United States, both a huge follower count on Insta. I so badly wanted to try watercolors from another maker. I wanted to know about the quality of another maker’s paint before I started to sell my own colors. I guess I needed some sort of baseline or reference. At that time I thought my watercolors were good enough. I spent so much time on research and experimenting, but I didn’t feel ready enough. Simply because I still hadn’t done enough research, in my opinion.
I ordered a set and waited in excitement for weeks. Upon arrival I had to pay around 20 euros import fee. Because of the fee, it was an expensive little tin with 6 half pans. But at that time, I only knew these two makers from the States, and the only option to try handmade watercolors was to get their paint.
And then …. to be honest … I was underwhelmed.
In retrospect, my expectations were high. Like really high. I don’t know why. The little set ended up on a shelf, barely touched.
There were multiple things I didn’t like about the paint, it was just dry and one color rubbed off the paper.
When you spend so much money on a set (the maker only sold sets at that moment) you can feel really disappointed and it makes you want to ban handmade watercolors from your life forever.
Although I was disappointed, this experience was also very informative. After this I knew one thing for sure; I don’t want my paint to be so dry that it rubs off the paper.
Fast forward to a few years later, and handmade watercolor makers are popping up everywhere. Apparently to some it seems like something you can make easy money with. Before I go on, it is NOT easy money. It’s barely money. I need another job to pay for my bills. And it is hard work!
But I love it so much!
With so many watercolor makers and new ones popping up every week, it can get overwhelming if you want to buy handmade watercolors.
I can imagine someone might think “Why buy handmade watercolors, if I can buy Daniel Smith?” (Sorry, I am a DS fan girl. It’s the only other brand I really like, next to my own colors) *
Yes! You heard me right … I really like my own colors. No, I love them! And that is really not that weird. I don’t want to sell colors that I wouldn’t love working with myself. I think as a maker you should sell a product you absolutely adore.
Back to that question … why would you? Why would you buy handmade watercolors?
Because some watercolor makers are really that good!! With watercolors that can be compared to Daniel Smith. Without all kinds of additives. Watercolors that are really pigmented to the right level (not the level where too little binder is used, and the pigment rubs off). Watercolor makers that have heart for the community, who value that community over competition. Makers that are friendly. Makers that are not only about selling on Instagram.
But I can imagine it’s difficult to find them with all those makers around.
Stacey from Stakiwi Colours, wrote a lovely guestblog where she explains what makes handmade watercolors different.
I regularly receive messages from people who are disappointed with watercolors they bought from other makers. They are trying to find ways to fix their paint, because it doesn’t rewet or because the paint rubs off the paper. Some people have tried asking a maker for pigment information, but end up not getting any.
I sometimes receive messages from people telling me they really like my feed and pictures, but they’re not sure they want to buy handmade colors anymore after a few disappointments.
It makes me a bit sad, because first of all it affects my business and second of all, like I said before, there are really, really good makers out there.
It’s not my place to tell you who makes good watercolors and who doesn’t.
It would be weird, because I’m a maker myself. It’s also partly a matter of taste. Some people don’t mind if their paint rubs off the paper (I do. I really do!).
And another reason why I can’t tell you … I just haven’t tried them all.
This blog is about providing you some information on how to find a maker you like with watercolors you like.
Tip 1 // Hungry for Paint
So let me start with introducing you to Aga.
Aga is a wonderful sweet person who reviews handmade watercolors on her YouTube channel // Hungry for Paint
Aga also helped me with writing this “guide to buying handmade watercolors” At the end of this blog I will show you a list of the things Aga tests when testing new watercolors.
So if you’re interested in buying handmade watercolors, but you have no idea where to start, start with Hungry for Paint.
Have a look at her reviews. She hasn’t reviewed all makers, because it is a huge task, but it is a place to start.
If I buy a product from a maker it is important to me that I can relate to that person. I always check out someone’s Instagram feed and I sometimes also have a talk with the maker. And if I want to know more about a product, I ask! Because of my lifestyle (we live a vegan life) I need to know if certain products contain animal derived products.
Tip 2 // ASK!!
“You have the right to ask for information!!”
So you decided to buy handmade watercolor and you also found a maker you like, but you want a little bit more information.
I know some paint makers don’t like to share (pigment) information, but it is your right as a customer to know what you are buying!!
Some pigments are not as lightfast, other pigments are very toxic, some pigments are not toxic but they form toxic gasses when they come in contact with acid (like the ultramarines), etc.
For me it’s simple. If I don’t know what ingredients are used, I don’t buy it.
A lot of paint makers come up with lovely creative names for their colors. And that is totally fine, but it also doesn’t provide a lot of information about the pigment used.
I’ve also seen more and more makers buy their micas from the same supplier I have been buying my micas for a while now. And when the maker thinks of a new creative name (I do too for some colors) for their new mica watercolor, you could end up buying the same color you might already have in your collection.
Another thing I have noticed in my search for pigments. Kremer sells pigments called “Studio Pigments”. These are budget-friendly pigments that contain fillers. I think you have the right to know if your watercolor contains fillers, because the paint will contain less pigment, thus potentially being less bright and/or saturated.
As a customer I would also like to know if the watercolor I’m buying has one single pigment or contains more than one pigment (which can be absolutely gorgeous if done right). But can also be a bit of a miss, when for instance the mix contains both a warm and a cool pigment and ends up looking muddy when interacting with other paints in your painting.
As a vegan customer you might also like to know what’s in the binder, because honey and oxgall are used regularly in binders.
Don’t be afraid to ask what pigments are used, if it is not on the maker’s website. And decide for yourself if you want to buy from someone who doesn’t want to provide pigment information.
But don’t go too far! It’s OK to ask about ingredients used, but it’s a big no-no to just ask for recipes. Especially if you’re not willing to engage in the community.
To sum this part up; ask before you buy!
Tip 3 // Start small
You found a watercolor maker you like, you asked for all the information you need and you’re ready to buy, but it seems like a big investment.
I get you! Some people have less money to spend than others. I also don’t have a lot of money to spend and buying online is always a risk.
Especially when buying handmade products. Most handmade products are absolutely stunning, others aren’t. And let’s be honest; talking to a maker you like and knowing about the ingredients, doesn’t guarantee good watercolors.
Buy one half pan and see if you like it. Some watercolor makers also offer quarter pans or dot cards. You could also ask the maker if they can send you a sample. If the maker is willing to send you some free samples, please offer the maker to pay for shipping. We’re small business owners, not Amazon.
If you’re happy with your dot or half pan, you can consider buying more paints from the maker. But keep in mind; one good half pan doesn’t mean everything from this maker can meet your expectations. And that’s OK too. Not all Daniel Smith paints meet my expectations.
There can also be a difference between shitty quality and meeting your expectations. You can be totally disappointed by what you bought, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad quality.
A few days ago I bought indigo from DS, it didn’t meet my expectations, but it’s still good quality paint.
Tip 4 // Test your new paint!
So you bought handmade watercolors! Yaayyy! This is exciting! Honestly, buying art supplies is exciting for most of us, right?
The watercolors arrive and you’re ready to swatch.
Swatching is the first thing most people do when they buy watercolors. It’s an easy and relaxing way to get familiar with your new watercolors.
This is also the moment when you find out if your new watercolors meet your expectations.
Before I continue, I want to say that every person has different expectations. And if they are ridiculously high, you might get disappointed, even if the quality of your new handmade colors are actually good.
So another tip would be “manage your expectations”
Tip 5 // Give the maker feedback
I know this is not easy for everybody (I find it extremely difficult to let someone know if I am not satisfied).
Try to be constructive with your feedback, because only then someone could learn from it .
And also let them know if you’re a happy customer 🙂
List // Hungry for Paint
So this part is an extension of tip 1.
Thank you Aga for sharing this list with us.
Please note that some of these points apply to the quality of the making process and some of them apply to the characteristics of the pigment.
“First I just swatch so I can see how the paints feel, what the colours are like, how they reactivate and behave on paper.
I don’t really pay that much attention to what the paint looks like in the pan- unless there’s excessive cracking that actually makes using the paints more difficult, or big air pockets which affect the volume of paint you really get, or they’re extremely sticky etc.
I like it when the pan is nicely full but even if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t change the quality of paint anyway (just my impression of the service and value for money).
Here are the things I check when I test paints.
* Do the paints reactivate easily? Do they need a lot of water and time to activate?
* How well pigmented are they? Is the colour intense? Do you need a single layer to reach full intensity or do you need more to get a rich colour?
* Does the pigment disperse evenly? Are there clumps or is it well mixed through the pan?
* Does the paint flow in water and is active or does it stay in one place?
* How opaque or transparent is the paint?
* Does it granulate? Does the paint create texture? Is there flocculation (does the paint create irregular texture independent of the texture of the paper)?
* Does the paint layer well? Is it good for glazing? Do the edges stay sharp when you paint on top of a dried layer?
* Does the paint rub off the paper after drying? Does the colour transfer when you lightly brush a piece of paper or a cotton bud against the dried paint?
* Can you use pens comfortably with the paint, using them first and painting over them, or drawing over dried paint?
* How does the paint behave on different kinds of paper? Some paints might for example rub off of some types of paper and stick better to others.
These are the standard things I check for. Obviously, I keep my eyes open as there may be other unexpected irregularities. For example I’ve tried paints that are difficult to mix with others, or become harder and harder to activate over time, or are difficult to wash off the brush, and so on and so forth.
I don’t really test for lifting and staining as it does not matter that much to me but it is something that may be important to some people. I don’t really test for lightfastness either, unless the change is quick and drastic, but it may matter to some“
So there you have it, that’s how you select handmade watercolors. Using these five tips and Aga’s list, you should be able to find the handmade watercolors that most suit your needs and expectations. Have fun and don’t hesitate to DM me any tips you miss via Instagram!