link list of all the reviews & recommendations i have done!
SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND BEFORE PROCEEDING: the shit i say here is just my individual, biased opinion! you don't have to agree! relax!
Tagetted ads. You can prevent them by putting in a lot of effort, and this is why I have not done anything to prevent them. For many, many years, the algorithm has struggled to get me to click a link, nevermind actually buy something after clicking. Etchr changed that.
An important element of this story is that I live in Australia, a country that hates the arts with such a burning fury that for some reason only a handful of brands (compared to say the USA or Europe) sell products here, often at a steep markup. To get specific brands, I often have to import, which means absurd shipping costs on top of our monopoly money being pretty worthless to the countries who manufacture the art supplies I actually want. When I buy a traditional art supply, I fucking mean it. I search for reviews, I scour for examples of the product in question being used. Getting a shitty product is a huge out of pocket hit I prefer not to take, since I then have no choice but to use it with a big frowny face while I save up to replace it with something good.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to find here is a decent sketchbook, something on par with the Bee Paper Super Deluxe, which incidentally remains my all-time favorite all-rounder sketchbook. Bee Paper has all but stopped exporting their products here and I'm pretty bummed out about that! I started seeing Etchr ads pushed to me back when they were just selling their mini palette. I LOVE watercolors and while I thought the palette was a neat idea, I didn't see a big use for it, having already solved my personal 'how do i paint on the go' problems. Not long after that, they started advertising their sketchbooks, a bundle of three, with a variety of paper, for NO International Shipping! NEAT!
There was no option for a single book, which was unfortunate since that meant a bulk-buy price, and even without shipping I couldn't justify it right away. I DID order the test samples of their different paper types, and I didn't think it was bad! It had the mixed media quality I'd been expecting and it was decent, as far as I could tell from the VERY small square of paper. I filed it away in the back of my head that if I ever had the spare cash AND a need for a new Mixed Media book, I'd grab some. It took a few years, but the time came, and I was excited! All the reviews on their sites are suspiciously glowing, but otherwise I couldn't turn up much, negative or positive - my expectations were in the normal range. I also grabbed their set of 'watercolor' brushes, because why not? I'm always on the hunt for cheap brushes to thrash, and finding that combo of 'brush is still good, but not so good that I feel bad using it for anything that isn't a Serious Painting' is tough.
I ordered the A4 Hot Press Landscape Bundle and Watercolor Brushes: Set of 10, for future reference. I did NOT take any pictures of the sketchbooks when I unboxed them because I did not think I would be writing a review of them. Oops! You will have to trust me when I describe to you how they came to me earlier this year: in hilariously wasteful packaging. The 'bundle' - the only way they claim to be able to sell them to you - is three individually packaged and shrink wrapped sketchbooks. Each book is shrink wrapped and tucked in it's own little box, which was ALSO shrink wrapped, and they were in turn wrapped up together in a stack. The chemical smell that greeted me when I opened them was sour and weird, and so my initial impression on receiving my brand new sketchbooks was 'oh no did I get scammed' which isn't a great start!
The brushes looked & smelled fine. Regular synthetic brushes in a nice carry case.
Determined not to be thrown off by bullshit packaging, I focused on the positives: the sketchbooks were undamaged despite a big smoosh that had been inflicted on the package itself, the brushes looked decent, and I absolutely LOVE to make a little test page & decorate the covers of my books! Etchr sketchbooks (at least the version I ordered - the 'fancier' versions have faux leather I think? i don't feel like looking it up) have textured canvas covers, and so I set about making mine gay ASAP. It has an elastic band to hold it closed and a little ribbon to mark your place, plus a pocket in the back for storage.
Usually I try a variety of mediums - ink, pencils, markers, etc - but at the time I was on a huge watercolor kick and so exclusively used some new half-pans I'd gotten & tested some old favorites while I was at it. My initial first impression after this? EXTREMELY positive! I loved it! It retains pigment really well, it takes my overly-wet style without wrinkling TOO much, and overall wasn't a struggle to work with. Both sides could be heavily worked without disrupting the piece on the other side. My only negative thought at this point, other than the weird packaging situation, was that I didn't like how narrow the paper was. I prefer a full A4 or bigger and knew that wasn't what this was, but I didn't realize how much I liked the bigger paper until I had to letterbox my stuff. The brushes, at this stage, were... fine. I wasn't that wowed by them, but I hadn't really put them through any paces so I wasn't prepared to make a judgement.
Then I turned the page. The binding is fucking weird. Most of the paper is totally fine, but the way they bound the interior cover and then... weirdly glued another piece to it?? I don't know how to describe it, just look:
All three books, front AND back, have this issue so I don't think it's a one-off binding mistake. It's a mild irritation in a book that otherwise lays perfectly flat, but for what I paid for it, I was annoyed they just figured it was fine to have this annoying shit as an acceptable 'quirk' of their product. I futzed around with the brushes some more before doing something larger to really give em a whirl and wow! These are awful brushes. Often people recommend shitty, cheap products to beginners so they can learn without feeling guilty about 'ruining' a nicer version, and I absolutely hate this advice. Shitty products give you a very poor idea of how a properly made version will work! These brushes did not apply pigment properly no matter how wet they were - which wasn't very, considering they are watercolor brushes - and on top of this unforgivable brush sin? They were immediately dropping hairs. I have random cheap synthetic brand brushes that I've been thrashing for YEARS and they haven't dropped a SINGLE hair, but I had barely had these 24 hrs and was picking long faux sable out of my paint. Absolutely unacceptable for a website that makes a real big deal about how they're Doing All Of This For You, The Artist. Trash. I even gave them a second chance after writing this, and since I've been using much nicer brushes in the interim, the experience was even worse!
ETCHR SKETCHBOOK RATING: 3/5 Yeah Sures The background of this website was painted across two pages in this type of sketchbook! If you have the cash and want to try something new, or really like the style (they have a variety, including cold press and portrait!), these aren't terrible! Aside from some weird binding & having a personal dislike for landscape style paper, this is an overpriced BUT pretty decent sketchbook. It's tolerant of ink, watercolor and gouache, and you can work both sides of the paper without issue (NOTE: I don't use alcohol based markers so I didn't test that but I am assuming they will bleed through & that this paper would suck ass for markers). The lay-flat is mostly good and the paper is good quality even if it starts out a little stinky. Keep in mind that if you leave it lying out for a month while you're really depressed, the canvas cover collects A LOT of dust. The undecorated one I left out is now a dingy grey I cannot seem to brush off.
ETCHR BRUSHES RATING: 1/5 Absolutely Fucking Nots Do not buy these brushes. I felt completely bamboozled. They're better than those brushes that come with paint-by-number stuff from the grocery store and they're certainly cheap, but I hate them. They get a one SOLELY because the carry case they come in is honestly really good. I suspect that is what you are paying for. Throw the brushes away.
It's absolutely insane how good these are.
I found them kind of on accident in like 2016 and I've been obsessed with them ever since. They wound up being a key player in rekindling not just my love for making art, but making it traditionally. Here is why you should try them out!
I think we can all agree that Derwent is a sturdy brand. They sell pencils in cool tins that make you feel just a little bit fancy (DON'T LIE), and the ink blocks are no exception. There are also Inktense pencils, but I am so obsessed with the blocks that I haven't even thought of trying them until right now writing this. But also... you kind of don't need to!
You can actually apply pigment directly to the paper, add water, and then continue to work with it while it's wet, allowing you to make some extremely cool effects.
And here comes the wild part. I'm not finished. Inktense stuff... dries waterproof. You can lay down a base and then paint over it without washing anything out. You can ink sketches with it and the pencil erases from behind it. It can be as transparent or as opaque as you need. The different blocks mix together really well, allowing you to take even the smallest offering (a set of 12, I believe) and be able to have all the colors you need. It's hard to communicate how exciting this is, especially compared to working with regular watercolor. You can layer watercolors, that's kind of the point, but the water can still effect the rest of the paint. Not here! I just absolutely love it. I still have my original set of twelve and it's VERY well loved.
I think an important part of why I love them so much is how they really pop even on paper that isn't really meant to be absorbing so much water and pigment. The color is so vibrant, and you get so MUCH on your brush (even with otherwise pretty garbage brushes, in my experience) without much effort, and maybe hilariously, having a less finicky version of watercolor paint primed me to get really into watercolors. And maybe it will get you interested, too! Like a lot of properly made, quality traditional supplies, they aren't cheap, but the 12 set isn't too bad, and it's honestly all you need, especially if you have a paint/gel pen for white (the larger sets come with a white, which I find valuable). It works well on a variety of paper, shitty and otherwise, so no need to buy a sketchbook with special paper, either. I think one of the absolute best things about these is how portable they are. The tin is already self contained, the lid is perfect as a makeshift mixing palette (nevermind that the sets come with mixing area inserts included!), and the only other things you need are a water brush and something to draw on.
I wish I could remember what led me to these, but they hold a really special place in my heart for their place in my endless journey to never have any non-art related hobbies. A lot special times I've spent with friends have been while painting with these since they're a whole lot easier to carry than my big ol' Artbox of Serious Paint Supplies or a backpack loaded down with WACOM branded detritus. They're special to me, and maybe they will be to you, too, if you haven't heard of them! Or maybe they'll lead you somewhere special. You know about them now, and can make an informed decision now that you know that one mentally ill person online has associated a grandiose value to them!
INKTENSE INK BLOCK RATING: THESE WATER SOLUABLE INK BLOCKS FUCK I can't recommend these enough. I think the only 'complaint' I have is that the white isn't included in the 12 pack, and you have to go a size up to get it, which leads to a second complaint in that dang. These sets escalate in price QUICK. If you've got the cash though, I don't think you'll regret it. I will be using these until using water for anything but hydration is a crime, so at least a few more years!
Each of these individually wouldn't warrant a review, but all three together is doable! Culture Hustle is run by pretentious cryptobro Stuart Semple and he claims to be making art supplies more affordable by charging pretty much what every other fine art supply supplies charges, or making them more accessible or whatever. I guess?? I kind of don't care, but I was initially dazzled by the hype. Each time I have made a purchase on his website the shipping (from the UK to Australia) was outrageous, had no tracking even at the highest shipping pricepoint, and one of my orders simply vanished into the ether never to be seen again. All three took about five thousand years to reach me, and all of this heavily influences my opinion.
The three products I have from Culture Hustle are the first version of his Vantablack knockoff, the creatively named and no longer available (you can acquire 2.0 and 3.0 currently)BLACK 1.0, WHITE 2.0, and his attempt at ink, BLINK.
We'll start with Black! It's good. It's extremely matte, lays down very thick and even, and does as it is as advertised to do - mimic Vantablack! The subsequent iterations, I'm sure, are at least as dark and are allegedly darker. This is the only product in this review that I found worth the price, shipping, and wait. It's high quality and you get a hell of a lot of mileage out of it, and I have yet to find a brand that mimics the quality of this black. That being said, the ethics of ripping off another artists idea for profit is a little wobbly, but dang. It's good paint.
This concludes the positive portion of the review.
It's fine. It's white acrylic paint that smells kinda funky. I didn't find it notably more powerful than other white acrylic paint and considering how fucking expensive it is, I'd rather grab a couple cheap tubes and deal with a little gloss. The only thing I could say in praise is that it's very matte, which again, is difficult to find with acrylic paint. The only thing I use white paint for is correcting mistakes on paintings/ink drawings and honestly? I can do it quicker and with less cleanup in photoshop. It has its utility but for me it wasn't really worth having to wait two months and pay essentially double the price in shipping.
I actually ordered the test version of this ink before it came out, which never reached me, and like an idiot, I ordered it again when it came out properly. One thousand years and an absurd shipping price later, it arrived! The bottle is very cool looking. Culture Hustle is excellent at marketing! You might say they have a GREAT hustle! I hate this ink. If you clicked through above to the product page you see it looking so deep black and awesome and I really, really wanted to like it, especially because of how fucking much it cost. It sucks.
It fades to opaque almost immediately and is terrible for filling. Each line (with my good inking brushes that do JUST FINE with other inks of actual quality) almost instantly fades to see-thru, and unlike the acrylic paints above, finding a matte ink isn't exactly a challenge. I hate this ink. I'm mad I paid for it and that it is in my home because I will, eventually, feel obliged to use it. I do not recommend this ink at all. It is a trick.
Overall? I think Culture Hustle probably excells at making acrylic paints, but everything else I'd be very dubious of given the absurd 'accessible' pricepoints. But I will admit the vantablack knockoff owns. If money is no object, there are some interesting niche products like chrome and glow-in-the dark paint that I'm sure are fun to work with, but otherwise just try to find something local.
BLACK 1.0 RATING: 5/5 It's sincerely good. I will grudgingly re-order this if I run out and find myself need a good matte black. If you know of an alternative please tell me because the shipping is fucking outrageous.
WHITE 2.0 RATING: 3.6/5 Eh, it's fine. Not great, not terrible.
BLINK RATING: 2/5 It's matte, it's waterproof, it has a cool bottle. I do not personally care for this ink at all, but if you do like more opaque ink, this is probably great! Not for me.
This one got away from me a little bit and so it has it's own seperate page.
Check out my sketchbook reviews HERE!
To preface, I am entirely self-taught and deeply in love with watercolors so my bias is enormous. In fact, this is my third attempt at writing this without a thousand words about my childhood and deep sensory connection to this medium! Excrutiating!! I say this so you keep in mind that this is all ONLY A SUGGESTION. I am NOT an expert, but I've bumbled around with watercolors enough now that I feel qualified to at least steer you in the right direction. Another thing to keep in mind? I live in Australia, a No Man's Land for art supplies, so I simply don't have easy access to brands that may seem common sense to you.
QUALITY WATERCOLORS ARE EXPENSIVE.
This is just a fact, a fact that I have repeatedly learned through trial and error and wanting to paint but not having enough cash. Cheap TUBES are slightly more likely to be passable (cheap pans are ALWAYS unusable chalk), but if you want to have a nice watercolor experience, you have to spend some money. Exclusionary! Unfair! Capitalist! Yes, you are correct. It sucks. I too believe that quality art supplies should be accessible to everyone! But they are not. Here is the thing, though: a tube or pan of watercolor paint lasts YEARS, and another wild thing about paint is that while there are a million colors, you only really need the primary colors and as a bonus, a black & a white. MAYBE a convenience color you use a lot of, if you're fancy. Is it a pain in the ass to have to mix your colors when the perfect color is RIGHT THERE? Yes. But think of it this way: you are teaching yourself some deep lore color theory that will remain useful to you no matter what kind of art you're doing! You can use a kind of shitty brush or use paper that isn't necessarily suitable so long as you have decent paint.
Another thing to keep in mind: the paint isn't going to go 'bad' for a very long time. Even paint squeezed out of a tube onto a palette or into a pan is easily re-activated with water, which means there is no rush to use it because it's usable for an extremely long time. I have some pans/palettes that I haven't use for years that still work perfectly fine every time I test to see if it's gone off. So far, in over ten years, this has not happened.
Cashmoney is imo the only real hurdle to enjoying watercolors, so I recommend this as a compromise: limit yourself to either a single tube of your favorite color (which can be diluted into a pretty broad array of shades with water!) or a limited palette (like a primary palette - Red Yellow Blue), with the mindset that you're only experimenting. Listen, I've been there. If you spend an Amount of Dollars on an art supply that could have been a nice meal or a convenient cab ride instead of having to sit on a bus with people who refuse to wear masks, there's a lot of pressure there to Do Something With It. It's easier said than done but DO NOT PRESSURE YOURSELF. If you go into a new medium with the expectation of generating INCREDIBLE ART WITH IT you're just gonna be bummed out. Go in with curiosity instead! Try drawing your favorite character, or doing your favorite exercise, but with paint! If you have multiple pigments, start out by swatching them, and then swatching combinations after mixing them. See how it works on the paper with different amounts of water & pigment. Draw something with waterproof ink and then color it in. I've been using watercolors for over ten years now and I still surprise myself with a new technique or behavior I somehow hadn't noticed before, so give yourself space to be as unprofitable as possible. Make a mess!!
QUALITY WATERCOLOR BRUSHES DO NOT HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE, BUT THE BEST ONES ARE, AND WE WILL HAVE TO DIE MAD ABOUT IT. I'm a synthetic brush man myself, and I make due just fine, but I did one time splurge on a squirrel hair brush and it is so much better I felt like a complete buffoon. THAT BEING SAID: THERE IS NO REALITY WHERE I SPEND MORE THAN 20$ ON A FUCKING BRUSH EVER AGAIN!!! I KNOW IT GENERATES PLASTIC WASTE ('VEGAN' BRUSHES ARE JUST PLASTIC BTW, DON'T BE TRICKED) BUT I AIN'T RICH!! Often the cheaper the synthetic brush, however, the shittier it is. This is just a process that takes time, but you will start to notice that some brushes aren't holding the pigment right, and so aren't spreading it right, and seem to be more about smearing water around than paint. Stick with Brands. I know that as proper anti capitalists we must revile brands but I am sorry to report that in art supplies, especially in watercolors, Brands are the most consistent & high quality way to assure you're getting a product that works. If the 10$ brush pack you got says 'for watercolor and acrylics' you're gonna have a bad time as these two mediums have totally different brush requirements. Yes you CAN use any brush for any medium, but if you want it to behave in a predictable & ENJOYABLE way, spend a little extra for the Proper Thing. If you ARE rich, don't be a fool. Just buy animal hair brushes - squirrel, sable, boar bristle, whatever. I WILL be seething with jealousy at your luxurious and superior paint experience, but you won't notice over the smooth & effortless brush strokes you are making. For the rest of us though, synthetic gets the job done.
But what about the SHAPE of the brush?? I'm a BIG fan of Rounds and Riggers, personally, but this is truly & sincerely a matter of preference. Get a variety pack and see which ones you use the most! I like Rounds because they can do both thick AND thin strokes, often in one stroke, but there are plenty of other ways to get paint on paper. Riggers are great since they're essentially just inking brushes, so you can sketch with them, just with paint!
These days we gotta order shit online, but I STRONGLY SUGGEST you select your first brushes in person, or at least read the negative reviews on amazon before ordering, even if it has a ton of 5 star reviews. OFTEN PEOPLE REVIEWING ART SUPPLIES HAVE GIFTED THEM OR ARE NOT EXPERIENCED WITH ART, AND SO CANNOT GIVE A PROPER REVIEW. 'MY GRANDSON LOVED IT 5 STARS' IS NOT RELIABLE.
BRUSH RED FLAGS INCLUDE:
A good brush has a firm shape but not so firm as to be coarse and inflexible. Rounds will naturally come to a point when wet. It will hold water & pigment for a long, continuous stroke and RARELY drop hairs, and only after regular use. When in doubt, just go with a small set from a big brand that's been in the game for awhile like Winsor & Newton (who have a variety of ranges both price & proficiency level!).
QUALITY WATERCOLOR PAPER IS A SCAM AND ALSO OWNS: IT CONTAINS MULTITUDES. I almost never use paper that is 'meant' to take watercolor and I absolutely love doing that. It has some fun effects I continue to enjoy to this day, and so long as a paper isn't too thin and is treated to accept water based mediums without bleeding (which is a surprising amount of paper, even if it's not listed on the lable as a feature!) you can MAKE IT watercolor paper.
THAT BEING SAID. Using at LEAST mixed media paper is, starting out, going to make it a lot easier on you. Using specific watercolor paper is going to be the best experience, but also the most expensive. I personally almost NEVER use proper watercolor paper. All I have as of this moment is a pad of arches someone bought me as a gift (THANK YOU IT'S BEAUTIFUL I PROMISE I WILL USE IT SOON) and an Etchr sketchbook from a pack of three I still haven't used because I kind of hated it even though the paper is, technically, pretty good. If you are rich, get yourself a big ol' pad of Arches 300gsm cold press and revel in how it doesn't warp, how it granulates beautifully AND/OR makes your paint both perfectly smoothed and textured. The rest of us will make due with a block of Fabriano or a Canson XL Mixed Media sketchbook, both of which I recommend highly for experimenting with watercolor for the first time. If you have access to Bee Paper, which I fucking don't because I live in the bermuda triangle of art supplies, a Bee Paper Watercolor sketchbook is REALLY great. If you're not using a Mixed Media book & go with paper intended for watercolor (which for your first try, I DO recommend, even though my first real try was on fucking 110gsm KRAFT PAPER LOL) you may find yourself confronted with a terrifying choice.
HOT PRESS OR COLD PRESS???? This is easy. Hot Press is smooth. Cold Press is textured. Cold Press absorbs more of everything since it has lots of little pockets to hold water & pigment, so if you want lots of texture and a bit more chaos in your painting, this is the paper for you. If you like smooth blending and to 'manually' add texture (either thru brush technique or a granulating pigment) and just generally more control over what's going on, use Hot Press! I'm a Hot Press man myself since I often pair watercolor with ink, and ink & Cold Press do NOT get along. I don't think I recommend one more than the other for a first try, though. They both have their merits! Use whichever one sounds like its gonna be more your speed.
TUBES OR HALF PANS? THEY ARE BOTH EQUALLY GOOD AND EXPENSIVE, THERE'S NO ESCAPE. Half Pans travel very well but technically, you can squeeze tubes INTO half-pans (or full pans or quarter pans) so it really is just a matter of preference. Tubes are nice because the paint is already wet, and it's easier to do dense pigment if that's your thing. Pans are nice because it's easier to move them around into different palettes and also easier to hand-make in your own home! 'Easy' in the sense that the average person doesn't have a factory that can mass-produce and fill sealed tubes of paint, but also easy in the sense that you can find a lot of really unique, high quality half-pans from local artisans. The lightfastness can be a little goofy on these, but truly & sincerely with all my heart who fucking cares if you're just having fun in your sketchbook!! Most of my paintings see light maybe 3 times (the final time is when I scan it!) and never again haha.
WHAT THE FUCK IS LIGHTFASTNESS??? That is how resistant the pigment is to fading when exposed to sunlight. Whatever. Don't worry about it. We are not talking about that here, you can worry about it later if you decide you're going to start selling your paintings, which is not in the scope of this writeup. THE BASICS: The lower the number (1 being the best) the more lightfast a pigment is!
KEEP THIS STUFF IN MIND: Watercolors need water. When in doubt add more water. You can wet the paper before you put any paint on it. You can go in dry (the paper, not your brush!! you animal!!). You can dilute your pigment down to the faintest whisper or load the brush so much you'll never get the stain of it out of the bristles. If you spatter a bit of regular water on applied pigment, it looks sick. If you spatter a bit of pigment on applied pigment it also looks sick. You can mix the color right on the paper if you don't feel like doing it on your palette. Watercolors are amazing & meditative & feel like magic & you WILL enjoy them it is MANDATORY!!!! Everything made with watercolor, regardless of skill or quality, looks a little bit beautiful.
OKAY, WHATEVER, FINE. I WILL SPEND SOME MONEY ON WATERCOLOR SHIT BUT ONLY IF I DON'T HAVE TO MAKE ANY DECISIONS. TELL ME WHAT TO BUY. Gladly!!! Keep in mind that while I deeply, with all my heart wish I could sell out to any of these brands, I have purchased all of them at full price, or sometimes during a sale at a whopping 10% off. I have put real cold hard cash into these brands and am confident recommending them. Hilariously, because I live in Australia, which I may have mentioned is a fucking no-man's land for art supplies, pretty much everything I recommend is easily acquireable almost anywhere fucking else on earth, maybe even in a physical store you can walk into! I burn with rage daily thinking about this! ENJOY.
TUBE VS HALF-PAN? Truly and sincerely it doesn't matter. I started learning on tubes & now mostly use half-pans, but a LOT of people start with half-pans and stay there. Both are equally useful & good and you should focus instead on what has the colors you like best.
REASONABLE AFFORDABILITY: Winsor & Newton has both pans & tubes, and the fancier and/or rarer the pigment is, the most expensive it is! Generally you're looking at probably 10$ for a big tube, but if you go down to 5ml (the smallest you can get in watercolor tubes, in my experience) it can be as little as 6bux.
They have a budget/student range called COTMAN, which has a reduced pigment load. I am not wild about them, but for a first time watercolorist I don't think you'll notice & they ARE cheaper. Both have pan versions as well, if that's your preference!
Utretcht Art also has an affordable range of tubes (it's what I started learning on, and the tubes I bought TEN YEARS AGO are still good!) but no pans.
OUCH MY WALLET: Daniel Smith. You want some ground up gemstones in a tube or some shit?? Daniel Smith is your brand. These tubes are expensive, but god they are BEAUTIFUL. If you use these first you'll be ruined, so I suggest the Winsor & Newton range lmfao. Wanna blow your own socks off? Grab a Quinacridone orange or a Moonglow or a metallic duochrome. I believe you can technically get pans but only in premade sets, and the Quinacridone range has pigment sticks that OWN. These ARE expensive even in small amounts, CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED. God they are beautiful though.
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell. Pans and Tubes. Gorgeous, brilliant, vibrant, professional, lightfast... these are expensive but generally if you see someone posting fancy watercolor paintings, this is what they're using. I don't actually own any of these bcuz I bought a couple Daniel Smith tubes and ran out of money, but one day... one day I'll build a set of them.
SUPPORTING LOCAL/SMALL BUSINESS (OUCH MY WALLET PART TWO): Handmade watercolors are almost always priced at a premium since they are, you know. Hand made! A VAST MAJORITY of my current watercolor collection are handmade, both from local & international artisans! There a few downsides to buying handmade, but my experience overall has been EXTREMELY positive!
UPSIDE: Unique pigments you literally cannot get anywhere else. Often these will have a vibe that really speaks to you, or they're made with a material that means something to you, or they're made by someone who lives in your town so you know you're supporting a local artist directly! This is a real human person you can ask questions, and they tend to use more sustainable ingredients.
DOWNSIDE: Pricier on average (since they can't buy in bulk or mechanize production!!). A single human person can become overwhelmed with shipping and simply Not Send Your Order, or falsely advertise their product, or not realize they've made a defective pan until it's too late. Pans can arrived cracked, or with a big air bubble. Customer service can be terrible as unfortunately, not everyone who wants to sell things has the wherewithal to run a business correctly.
You have a secret weapon, however... I have been through all this and continue to go through it, and I have two rock solid recommendations for you. Before I do that, let me tell you One Weird Trick Doctors Hate about buying handmade watercolors online: read the reviews. See how often someone, even in a positive review, maybe mentions the length of shipping (less relevant these days with the supply chain in shambles, but still take note), or bad packaging, or anything that seems innocuous but could hint toward the seller maybe just not being experienced enough yet to keep up with demand. I find sellers who make metallic watercolors tend to be a bit steadier & more reliable, but always, ALWAYS check the seller rating, the reviews, and really look hard at the examples they're giving. Do the examples show off the pigment both heavily applied AND diluted? Does it look overly color corrected? Do they mention what paper they're using? (granulating pigments especially behave different on hot press vs cold press!) How many sales have they actually made vs reviews people have bothered to leave? ALL THAT BEING SAID, HERE ARE MY HANDMADE PICKS:
POEMS ABOUT YOU. USA based. An incredible range of individual colors, sets, and these days even tins and sketchbooks! I can't say enough good things about this shop and HIGHLY recommend the Subtle Earth Colors palette if you're paralyzed by what paints to get. Reasonable shipping even if you're international, and I believe she has an Etsy store if that's more your jam. There is a bigger range on her website. POEMS ABOUT YOU provides mostly very stable, lightfast matte colors that perform exactly as advertised and without fail. A sturdy, beautiful product that won't let you down!
ARTSY OUBLIETTE. This seller is located in Slovenia but I've never, ever had a shipping issue. This shop is the chaos to the order of Poems About You. They almost never sell the same paint twice, and are always coming up with insane and honestly unhinged granulating paint that doesn't even seem possible. As an added bonus, your order will (at least in my experience with the shop) send a bunch of freebies, including half-filled experimental pans, slovenian chocolates and teas and stickers?? My first order came with a handwritten note! BUYER BEWARE: it is in plain text on every single listing but MANY of these paints REQUIRE coldpress to look like they do in her examples! Also, if you find you aren't getting the effect as pictured despite using the right paper & technique, you can contact her privately and she will often refund/credit/give you a discount/send you new/better paint. But these are VERY niche paints, and are priced accordingly.
A LOCAL YOU HAVEN'T HEARD OF. Seriously. It's worth looking. I've found some of my favorite pigments shopping local and it really makes you feel more connected to the process.
I can only recommend what I usually use, which are Winsor & Newton Rounds & Riggers (for the most part - Kingart makes a mean brush, but I don't have ease access to them in Australia, a lack of access you may have noticed has strongly influenced this list LOL) in a variety of sizes. There is also a Cotman range of brushes re: Winsor & Newton! A lot of art brands make their own brushes, too many to list honestly, so brushes are literally gonna just be up to you and your preferences. A flat or a fan for washes might be nice? But for me, it's rounds all the way down, and even complex paintings I don't usually use more than four brushes tops. Most modest paintings can be done with ONE good round, Size 6. Like I've mentioned, a round can do thick strokes AND thin details since they come to a point when wet! If you decide to paint more, just experiment with different brushes!
I did mention it, but honestly, to start? Just getting into it? A Canson XL Mixed Media book is king to start out with. If you REALLY want the Full Watercolor Experience, a Fabriano Watercolor Block (it's essentially just a block of watercolor paper all glued together in a solid chunk, and you peel off pages as you complete them, which prevents wrinkling/warping under heavy water load) is a very viable and affordable option. I also mentioned that almost any paper can be watercolor paper BUT, for a first, optimal experience, one of these would be ideal!
Paper I DO NOT RECOMMEND as a first experience but it sure is fuckin' wild: Stone Paper, Yupo Paper, Kraft paper.
ACCESSORIES & GENERAL TIPS:
A BIG WATER BUCKET. AS BIG AS YOU CAN GET. Water in a cup gets yucked up fast, and the pigment you washed off in the cup will start muddying up any new pigment you use. A big container means this doesn't happen as quickly. Another solution is multiple little cups, but to me that's just more chances to knock cups of water full of staining pigment all over the place, so I'm a BIG CONTAINER guy.
SPRAY BOTTLE AND/OR EYEDROPPER: Half pans or tubes, you're going to need to re-activate your pigment at some point! You CAN just wet a brush and let a drop drip from that, but a little spray bottle can wet your entire palette in one go and an eyedropper makes you feel like a cool paint scientist. Neither are necessary, but it's a nice quality of life option!
BRUSH REST. You can set your brush sideways on your palette or just flat on your desk, but the best way to keep your brushes out of trouble and ready for use is a brush rest. It can be a cute little resin animal (a whale is a really common shape!) or a cermanic square with indentations, whatever you are into! Again, this isn't necessary, but I finally gave in and bought a brush rest this year & now feel foolish for having avoided it for so long. It's just another nice quality of life improvement.
PAPER TOWEL. Sometimes you have too much water/pigment on the brush! Dab it on the paper towel. Maybe you made a very wet mistake - dab it with the paper towel! Maybe you want a blotchy effect- you get the idea. You need SOMETHING to soak up excess water with. A sponge can do the trick, too, but paper towel has more 'infinite' surface area and is more easily disposed of if it gets too saturated with water/pigment.
LIGHT. Sit by a window, sit under your rooms brightest light or get a desk lamp! The way the color diffuses in the water can be subtle, and it's easily missed if you're sitting in a dim room. Sunlight is best, but you may be like me and live in a rental that somehow has the worst fucking window positions outside of no windows at all, like maybe it was designed on purpose to specifically sabatoge your painting, and so you resort to some LED monstrosity from Amazon.
SURFACE. Cold press is a lot more forgiving of being painted upright/at an angle since it's more absorbant, but if you're like me and prefer FLAT, a hot press or mixed media paper will work fine in your lap, flat on your desk or even braced on your desk in your lap at a slight angle. Just remember: YOU ARE WORKING WITH WATER, AND WATER IS EFFECTED BY GRAVITY. This can work in your favor or ruin you, depending. THINK IT THROUGH BEFORE YOU START!
STORAGE: Half-pans are extremely easy to store. You get a tin, you get a roll of magnet tape, you stick a sliver of magnet on the bottom of your pan, you stick that pan in the tin, you're fucking golden. Also you can decorate/put stickers on the tin. Nice! There are so many 'varieties' of half-pan tins but they're all basically the same. Get whatever looks best to you. I've gone pretty cheap on them and I literally can't tell the difference between those & the pricier ones I've grabbed. It's a racket. Maybe the one thing you can cheap out on haha.
TUBES can be a bit tricky! I have a wooden art box that I stash all mine in, as well as a plastic palette with the squeezin's so the dried paint doesn't get dusty. You can squeeze tubes into pans for travel, but remeber this: IT WILL SHRINK AS IT DRIES. YOU MAY NEED TO FILL IT MULTIPLE TIMES BEFORE ITS FULL. My art box is FESTOONED with stickers and I love it, though it doesn't get as much use as I was pivoting to pans pre-pandemic since they're more portable.
Storing brushes is a matter of preference entirely, but LET YOUR BRUSH DRY ENTIRELY BEFORE YOU STASH IT. Leaving your brushes to 'soak' brush down in your water cup or storing them bristled up while still wet is just asking to deform the brush. Once it's dry you can put them in a brush roll, stash them bristles-up in a cup or lay them in a drawer... JUST MAKE SURE THEY ARE DRY & THE BRISTLES ARE NOT BEING COMPACTED IN ANY WAY. While I've never had an issue, do keep in mind that damp things attract mold. I ALWAYS let my watercolors dry completely before storing them in a closed case.
MIXING PALETTE. Even if you're using pans, you need somewhere to mix and pool the pigment for easy access, and often if you have a full tin of pans or a loaded palette, that has to be somewhere that isn't on the tin's lid or a bare spot on the main palette. I've used a variety of mixing palettes and I gotta say, you can't beat a nice ceramic one. I would link you the shop I got mine from, but they were Russia based and have been offline all year. Ceramic isn't as easily stained as plastic and just Feels Better. That said, a cheap plastic one works fine, and honestly if you're JUST starting you can probably just mix on a plate or on the lid of your tin or just in your plastic palette and not be bothered! But if you can afford & crave a Luxuious experience, go with ceramic. You can get small ones for fairly cheap!
CLEANING: CLEAN YOUR BRUSHES AFTER EACH USE. GET INTO THE HABIT EARLY. The pigment you are using IS staining, and it can absolutely contaminate lighter paints! Extremely easy fix: get "THE MASTERS" Brush Cleaner by General Pencil Co. It's in a tan container with old timey brown lettering, and it is fucking great. You get way more life out of your brushes if you use more than tap water to rinse them off with. Again, you CAN just use tap water, but this cleaner lasts forever and does a fantastic job. Your palette, though? Leave it. Once it's dry, you can just rewet it and start where you left off. Watercolors own!!!!!!!!
I think that's everything! Watercolors are really good and I hope you try them out!! Tell these brands I sent you so maybe they'll send me something for free!!!!!!
Getting quality art supplies in Australia is, if you've read any of my other reviews, a fucking nightmare. I've had Karst on my radar but didn't buy in, so to speak, because I just wasn't convinced it was anything more than an expensive gimick. I could import a sketchbook (INCLUDING the shipping) for the same price as one of the larger sketchbooks, and I found it dubious that it would be worth it based on some of the off-site reviews I looked up. I won't address the 'enviromentally friendly' claims as I sincerely do not know how making paper out of some kind of rock-based waste and recycled paper could possibly done in a way that isn't just as gnarly as making regular tree paper. While I do try to be environmentally concious about things, I'm also very dubious of these claims as often they're lowkey horseshit. This review is based SOLELY on the quality of the paper. Also, I'm not a big colored pencil guy just in general. I prefer water-based mediums, and colored pencils just don't excite or inspire me, personally.
I was dumb & wrong. Though both are expensive, a thing I'm not wild about because I am terrible at making money, the sketchbook is great and I think I'm a colored pencil guy now. I'll start with the sketchbook!
I purchased the A4 Sketchbook! This actually sat on my shelf for awhile - I purchased it WAY earlier in the year. I do enjoy a good gimmick book just to shake things up, but I kept forgetting about it due to assuming this thing was going to be dogshit for watercolors, which are the main thing I like to use when I'm using traditional media! I couldn't even tell you what made me pick it up this very month (December 2022 when it was posted!) but I've become more and more blown away by just how many mediums work in this thing. Some things work a little DIFFERENTLY, but in a way I find really intriguing that I'm eager to play with more in the New Year. The paper is somehow smooth AND porous, allowing for some fantastic effects & techniques. This review is mostly me posting pictures of different mediums I tried out, so hopefully I do one you use and you can decide if you're interested in trying this out yourself!
Most surprising to me was that this paper actually let vine charcoal stick to it?? It's deceptively smooth, but quite porous, and a spray fixitive cements it on the paper. On the flip side, erasing is a bit of a situation, especially for someone like me who's pretty heavy handed. Still, it did OKAY. Also wow does ink POP on this paper!! ZOUNDS!! Used a Zebra brush pen on this page, and while you do have to wait a bit for the ink to dry (it's VERY smudgeable at first so BE CAREFUL), once it's dry it's ON THERE.
Karst does offer Graphite Pencils but the price of them is just too nuts for me. I have woodless graphite pencils already (I used them on this page in fact!!) and I'm going to assume they behave exactly how their branded pencils do, just with way less awesome packaging. That being said, I love woodless pencils of all varieties, so I guess if you don't have any, they'd be fine? You can go way cheaper though, trust me.
There is something kind of... soft? Squishy?? About this paper, and this does mean that sharp tools tend to snag on it, including mechanical pencils. Not the best erasing on this either, but neither were the soft, broad leads I used previously. It just REALLY wants to grab whatever you give it. It's possible if you aren't heavy handed like me you won't have an issue? But it is an issue that came up a few times.
I'll be doing a seperate review of ArtGraf products, but man it looks good on this paper. Water-based mediums DO work on this paper, just in a different way than they do on regular paper! I LOVE IT, PERSONALLY. I love it on regular paper as well, for the record, but I do not hate how wet media behaves on this. I used both the ArtGraf Watercolor Graphite Pan and Stick with pretty much the same result.
Had some surprises here! I assumed a tool like a dip pen - which is a sharp metal nib shoved into a nib holder - would not work on this paper. But it did! Quite well! It didn't snag at all?? Liquitex ink behaved great on it, both via nib and brush. Sharpie, while it didn't bleed through, is still visible on the other side, so I would take care using alcohol markers on this paper! I don't have any because they're too expensive for me, a guy who bought a 55$ AUD sketchbook. I DO have Tombow markers, which I almost never use, but that might now change because wow?? You can mix with them on this paper REALLY well?? I'm gonna be real folks it's breaking my heart that this pricey ass sketchbook is so good, so it brings me SOME pleasure to report that my Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pen absolutely sucks on this paper. Some, because I was kind of hoping it would work great considering ink flows so beautifully on this paper. Technical pens are just a little too sharp for this paper. I think if you go slowly you might do do okay? But I'm a quick scribbler. A heavy-handed scribbler. I was concerned I was gonna bust my pen nib and those bad boys ain't cheap!!
This page really got me. The ArtGraf is one thing, that's basically just graphite & binder, a wet pencil, and pencil works great!! But gouache? My beloved Derwent Inktense Blocks? I will be very clear: they do work differently, but they DO WORK, and in a way that's very interesting!! You can reactivate BOTH with water, which for the Inktense is VERY different. I kind of love it!! UGH. I WANTED TO BE A HATER. I'M CORNCOBBING. Watercolors also work great on this paper, for the record, even granulating colors! Behold, a watercolor Moder:
Something I haven't shown off yet are the colored pencils, which I'll do now! I got this pack of Artist Pencils, which are woodless. I do enjoy a good woodless graphite pencil, but I wasn't expecting the colored pencils to be THIS GOOD! They lay down a beautiful, solid pigment that layers well both on and off Karst paper. I really love them, which is good, because the price of them really made me sweat. For the price you'd definitely get more colors in another brand (in say, a Prismacolor or Derwent tin!), but as someone who just isn't big on colored pencils, I didn't feel like I was missing any important colors.
My conclusion is both of these are sincerely solid products and I would buy them again, though ideally these pencils are gonna last awhile haha. If you're in the mood to switch things up, I'd recommend the sketchbook! The pencils are nice if you want to buy some higher-end colored pencils as a treat, but I wouldn't rate them as better than the usual guys, so if you already have a set, this isn't going to replace whatever you already have. I needed a new set and I'm pleased with my choice. Thanks, relentless push advertisements, for reminding me these existed! You can stop now! I bought it! PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!
if you'd like me to review or recommend something specific... maybe i will!! the only way to find out is to ask, which you can do HERE! you can let me know if you think i should give a particular product another chance, also, but i am notoriously without flaw so i can't imagine this option being necessary.