Posts Tagged ‘Faber-Castell’

For Whatever They’re Worth, My Watercolor Opinions

June 26, 2015

Talking to a fellow watercolorist today, the question was raised why I don’t share my opinions on this blog concerning my preferred brands of watercolor products. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, that is not the reason I started this blog; I merely wanted to share my work and my ideas with anyone out there interested in reading, and have been surprised and gratified at the number of readers who have paid attention.

A second reason is that I don’t engage in debate about the superiority of name brands; I listen to anything another has to share, frequently try out other products and occasionally change my position. But the bottom line is that I don’t try to win arguments over who is right. Every artist chooses what works best for his/her methods.

Having said this, I do have strong opinions about the materials I use, and never hold back information when asked by an individual or addressing a workshop. So, here goes:

PAPER. I have always used D’Arches. Usually it is cold-pressed, but I have switched to hot-pressed a number of times in the last six months, because I enjoy working with precision on a smooth surface. My only caution about hot-pressed paper is that I love to stack layers of transparent wash, and with the slick surface, I occasionally obliterate the underlying washes when applying new ones. I will frequently use 300-lb. paper for the convenience, but I really prefer to use 90 lb. or 140 lb. I soak it in water, then stretch it over canvas stretchers, using a staple gun. When it  dries, it is as tight as a drum skin, and dries quickly when painting en plein air, since both sides are open to the air for quicker drying. When the painting is finished, I pry out the staples and re-use the stretchers. I detest the price of watercolor blocks, and hold my nose every time I purchase one, but sometimes do because of how portable they are. But frequently, before I’ve used half the paper, the edges start pulling away from the board underneath, and I have to wrap duct tape around the edges to secure the paper, which I resent, seeing how much I already paid for the product.

I have been burned a couple of times in the paper category. I know that Blues musicians say Keb ‘Mo can pick up a cheap WalMart accoustic guitar and make it sound like a Gibson, because he is that skilled of a guitarist. But I am not the Keb ‘Mo of watercolorists. I have tried Canson paper and Utrecht paper, and both times turned out crappy watercolors–they just don’t respond to the water and pigments the same way that D’Arches does, so I no longer chafe over the extra dollars I have to spend for superior paper.

PIGMENTS. I have always used Winsor & Newton. I don’t buy the Cotman version, because that is a cheaper schoolboy version, and I compare that to musicians buying a cheap Martin accoustic guitar made of composite wood, thinking that because “Martin” is inscribed on the headstock that they have a quality guitar. They don’t. I had to pay four times the amount for my Martin D-35, but the money was well-invested in that rich tone and the ease of working the fretboard. Now, maybe if I was Keb ‘Mo I could make a composite-wood Martin sound like my D-35, but I am not. I use Winsor & Newton artist pigments, and have always been happy with their richness and permanence.

COLOR PALETTE. I depend on primary colors. My palette consists of Winsor Red, Winsor Blue (in both Red and Green Shades) and Transparent Yellow. I mix black by combining Alizarin Crimson and Winsor Green. I also have Winsor Violet and Cerulean Blue for certain needs. That is my complete palette. I have over a dozen tubes of other pigments which I almost never open.

I have fistfuls of colored pencils and watercolor pencils that I occasionally reach for in particular needs. My favorite watercolor pencil is Albrecht Durer by Faber-Castell. I lean on the Dark Sepia, as well as Cool Grey VI and Warm Grey VI. For drawing, I use the #2 pencil a great deal (Andrew Wyeth did) but also the HB pencil in whatever brand is close at hand.

BRUSHES. I don’t use very many, but one is very expensive–the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Pointed Round, size 10. I call this my fountain pen, and it retails for about as much as a Montblanc fountain pen. It holds a great deal of water, and the tip is razor sharp. I can draw dozens and dozens of grass blades or weeds without having to refresh my brush, it holds that much water and pigment. For foliage, I use an “ugly brush”, taking a flat chisel watercolor brush of high quality, so it doesn’t disintegrate, and, using an Xacto knife, cut it diagonally, then tear out chunks of the brush hairs, leaving a ragged, jagged edge. This is perfect for tree foliage and tree bark, as it leaves a very irregular pattern on the paper.

O.K., so there is my set of essential prejudices regarding watercolor materials. I welcome any shared information, but will not argue with anyone about whose ideas are better.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

After all these years, I can still make an awful painting

February 23, 2014
Quiet Moments in the Studio

Quiet Moments in the Studio

After seventy-three years, I can still make an awful picture.  After seventy-three years, I am just beginning to learn the rudiments of painting.  I would like to live long enough, but I think it would take till the 21st century to have something of a sense that I know how to paint.

Robert Motherwell

Good evening.  This blog post is in response to Corey Aber, an artist-writer-blogger who commands my highest respect.  You can check out his work at

Corey recently asked me to post information concerning the equipment I use in my art making.  I’m always glad to share this information.

1. My paper is D’Arches cold press.  I buy sheets of 300-lb. to cut to whatever size I choose.  I also buy the blocks in 140 lb. measuring 10 1/4 x 14 1/8″.   I don’t like the price, and also don’t like the way the paper starts pulling away from the block by the time I get to the last five or so sheets.  But it is a convenient tool for packing about when I’m working en plein air.  When I am ambitious, I love to soak 140 lb. sheets and stretch them on canvas stretchers, using a staple gun.  I love the tight drum-like quality of the dried out paper, the springing sensation I get when I brush on the surface, and how fast it dries when I’m working wet-on-wet.  But it is a pretty good chore stretching it, and I have to be in the mood.

2. My pigments are Winsor & Newton.  They are all I use.  And my palette is extremely limited now.  I use three blues–Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade) and Phthalo Turquoise.  I use only one yellow, Transparent Yellow.  And I use three reds–Winsor Red, Quinachridone Red, and Permanent Rose.   Occasionally I use Winsor Violet, to tone down the Transparent Yellow.  And I use Winsor Green and Alizarin Crimson to mix my blacks.  That’s it.  The reason for the colors mentioned above is the transparent, clean quality they have when mixing.  I can get the best greens, oranges and violets from those combinations.  And all my neutrals come from these colors.  I ceased using colors such as Sepia, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, etc. years ago.

3. My favorite all-around brush is a Winsor & Newton size 12 Sable Round.  It holds a great deal of water, and the tip can be made razor sharp for grasses, detail lines, etc., and I don’t have to keep reloading the brush because of the quantity of water it holds.  I also use a couple of flat brushes, sable, Winsor & Newton.  1/4″ and 1/2″.  From Bob Cook, I learned to make an “ugly brush” for foliage and drybrush rendering of weathered wood and tree trunks.  This is a quality 1/2″ flat brush (Winsor & Newton) that I cut diagonally with an X-acto knife, then shredded out plenty of bristles to create a jagged, ragged brush.  This makes very, very fast work of foliage and textures in drybrush fashion.

4. I use a few watercolor pencils that I keep sharpened, and drag a wet brush along them to dissolve the hard line.  These are Albrecht Durer pencils manufacted by Faber-Castell.  I like to use Dark Sepia, Warm Gray VI and Cool Gray VI.  I also keep sharpened HB pencils around, as well as water-soluble graphite pencils in HB and 8B.

That’s about it.  Thanks for reading.  And thank you, Corey, for asking.