Friday, 27 April 2012

Frustrations as a Tutor - budget art materials

I love teaching natural history illustration and also botanical art, but in recent times I have become  frustrated by the use of cheap art materials, particularly so-called watercolours, that students purchase from 'budget' shops and such like.

From a student's perspective and especially as a beginner, the wealth of art materials available can be over-whelming and somewhat expensive if choices and purchases are not made wisely, and also of course prior to gaining the knowledge of what actually is required for a workshop or course.  It is also easy to be persuaded by cheaper alternatives, which often carry a description that creates a false impression of what can be achieved by the materials.

I know it sounds as though I am on my 'soap-box', but this seemed an appropriate subject for the blog, and if you have any further comments or suggestions, feel free to use the comment facility below this post.

At some of my art workshops I often teach beginners or individuals who are returning to painting after a gap of some years.  A workshop materials sheet is always distributed before hand with suggested colours of paint (preferably artist's quality) and the size brushes required (with a good point on each), along with any other materials needed.

The problem seems to be with the paint and brushes.  Students are often excited to use new art materials and usually progress well during the early stages of drawing their subject.  So often disappointment comes once colour is applied.  The method of creating washes is not an issue, but the poor quality of paint and brushes can render the theories of paint application and colour theory to the bin !  

Budget mass-produced watercolours usually contain very poor man-made pigments and a huge amount of binder.  They are terribly opaque and perform more like gouache or poster paint.  In some cases the principals of colour theory are just not possible to demonstrate.  The colours can be separated by eye into warm and cool colours, but once colour-mixing begins virtually every colour created ends up being 'muddy' with no transparent qualities.

I often let students use my watercolour paints, so that they actually experience the difference of using good quality paints.  Once this happens, so often students are converted and then gradually build up a palette of artist's colours, or if not affordable good quality student grade watercolours from well known manufacturers.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been looking at ways to help solve this problem.  My solution is that I am going to have 4 paint kits for students to use, for only a little extra cost on top of the normal workshop fee and they can use these whilst at the workshop or course.

The paints that I have chosen to use in these kits are Winsor and Newton Cotman Student watercolour paints.  I realise that these are not artist's quality, but they are a good, affordable starter paint to use.  The colour palette includes colours that I used when first starting to paint many years ago.  The one exception is 'purple lake', which I have chosen instead of 'permanent magenta', which is not available in this range.

Lemon yellow
Cadmium yellow
Cadmium red
Permanent rose
Purple lake
Cobalt blue
Cerulean blue
Raw sienna
Burnt sienna

I am also going to have a selection of brushes for students to use with these kits.  These will be Pro Arte Connoisseur, which are a sable-prolene mix and are very reasonably priced.

Watch this space for further news of these paint kits and I will also post some pictures of them in the near future.


  1. Hi Sarah,
    I was nodding all the way through reading that! I agree totally about how students often end up with poor quality paints and brushes that a kind relative has given them as a gift without knowing the importance of having top quality materials.

    I too have resorted to having some palettes for student use if they don't have suitable materials. Can end up a bit expensive if you're not careful but I am passionate and convinced that with good quality materials the end result is hugely better, especially in terms of translucency as you say.
    So you are not alone on your "soapbox"...I'm up there with you!

    Best Wishes,

    Ann Mortimer

  2. Thanks Ann, I did wonder if I had ranted too much :)

  3. I completely agree with the comments here, not too much ranting at all. The other thing that I would add, would be the best quality of paper available.


It is always lovely to hear your comments. Please feel free to leave them here and I will approve them asap.