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Watercolor paint

Watercolor paint is produced in the same way as any other paint: color pigment, which can be naturally occurring or synthetically produced, is combined with a binder and possibly a series of additives that are added, among other things, to extend the life of the paint. Often the binder in modern watercolor paints is a mixture consisting of gum arabic, water, glycerin and a complex carbohydrate such as honey or sugar syrup.

Rubber arabic is a naturally occurring material extracted from the acacia tree. Rubber arabic is added to reduce the surface tension and it would not be wrong to see it as a form of water-soluble glue that ensures that the pigments bind to the material it is applied to. The remaining ingredients of the binder are added to soften the watercolor paint so that it is easy to work with and easily dissolves in water.

If you are in the situation that you have to assess the quality of a given watercolor paint, then an obvious difference will be the size of the individual grains of pigment and as is so often the case in life, larger is simply better.

Another important difference is the quality of the binder; If the binder works as it should, it is absorbed by the paper, which partly increases the pigments' ability to adhere to the paper, but the opposite effect is also made possible: that the color can easily be "lifted" by the paper again, because it "lies on top" of the binder. as opposed to penetrating the paper. Finally, the binder protects against the tendency of the pigments to flocculate, ie the lump together.

The last important characteristic of quality watercolor paint is high lightfastness. The word is a bit misleading, as it is an expression of the durability of watercolor paint: that is, how much light a work made with the colors of this medium can withstand before it ages and is damaged. There is even a scale within lightfastness that goes from I to IV, where you are best and IV is worst.

A high lightfastness means that you have to worry less about your work getting older and damaged over time. Low lightfastness was a major problem in the past, which was partly related to the use of many synthetic pigments, which were often unstable and of low quality.

Watercolor painting is often combined with other media, what is called mixed media, as the artist can thereby circumvent the limitations of one given medium, or combine effects from several different ones. Historically, watercolor paint has often been combined with its more opaque sibling, gouache, which often goes by the names bodycolor, opaque watercolor or poster color.

Gouache has a much higher ratio of pigment-to-binder than watercolor paint and thickened gouache can be used tactilely, ie to create an uneven surface that can be felt by touch. You can read much more about gouache here.

Special features

One unique characteristic of watercolor paint is that the color does not form a cohesive layer as we know it from acrylic and oil paints. Instead, color pigments are scattered at the microscopic level randomly across the surface of the paper.

However, watercolor paint is best known for its transparency and traditionally the understanding has been that the colors have great brightness and intensity because they act as a layer of colored glass over the paper, allowing light to penetrate the pigment down the paper and subsequently be reflected from the paper. up through the pigment again. Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding.

The transparency of watercolor paint occurs because the paper is visible under the pigment particles and the intensity of the colors is explained instead by the pigments being applied in a cleaner form and with fewer fillers (such as kaolin, which tends to whiten paint).

Since watercolor paint belongs to the family of water-based media, one key condition for the use of the medium is that the water evaporates quickly. This results in a drying time that is much faster than is the case for many other types of paint. Conversely, there are watercolor paints that can be reactivated by the addition of water and even lifted off the paper, so the fast drying time is not automatically a limitation.

It is if not impossible, then at least very difficult not to focus on watercolor paper and paper in general when we talk watercolor paint. Shiny white paper helps to create the almost gem-like effect that the colors get and for the same reason, watercolor paint is usually not painted on colored paper.

The recipe for the good watercolor paper requires first and foremost that the paper must be acid-free. This is because the acid in the paper can react with the colors and potentially damage or change the lightfastness of the color.

The next important aspect of paper selection is the surface texture of the paper. Watercolor paper in Stelling is available with three textures: fine, coarse and rough. The three different types of watercolor paper absorb the watercolor paint differently and therefore it will often be a matter of taste which one you like best to work on.

Watercolor paper is traditionally treated with thickeners, so-called sizing agents, so that it is less absorbent, so that paint does not seep through to underlying sheets and so that brush strokes can be more precise. Historically, this was gelatin, but other thickeners also apply.

Conversely, if you want an effect where the paper almost absorbs paint, the paper can be wetted before use, or you can buy special paper that has not been treated with a sizing agent, as is the case for traditional Japanese paper, for example.

The story behind

From the ancient Egyptians with their papyrus to the Chinese who invented the modern paper almost 2,000 years ago. The development and use of watercolor paint has gone hand in hand with paper from ancient times to the present day.

Although it took some time, the paper also gained its entrance into Europe from around the year 1200, but it became within frescoes - also known as the fresco, where pigments and water are mixed with wet plaster, that watercolors left their first traces on the continent.

At the same time as the most famous frescoes ever made for the Sistine Chapel in the first years of the 16th century, the German, Albrecht Dürer, began to compose iconic works of animals and plants in watercolor. Dürer's influence came to be enormous and his work contributed to the creation of Europe's first school for watercolor painting.

Until the 18th century, watercolor painting was mixed by the artist or artist's assistants. The pigments themselves were bought by pharmacists or specialist paint dealers and were then combined with rubber arabic or other binder.

The first commercially available products were cumbersome to use, but in 1781 the British and paint dealer Thomas Reeves and his brother invented the so-called paint-cake. The "cake" of paint was easily soluble in water and the time savings and ease of use led to the great flourishing of watercolor art in England during the same period.

Over time, advances in industrial, organic chemistry enabled the variety, color, and not least durability of watercolor paints to be vastly improved. A contemporary example of these achievements is the product line QoR (Quality of Results) from GOLDEN, which uses the patented Aquazol binder instead of rubber arabic. Aquazol is best known for its use among conservators, where it is preferred as it possesses enormous lightfastness and at the same time is very safe to use and odorless.

With that said, it's always a good idea to look at whether the right fixative can prolong and protect your work further.



“Artist” is each manufacturer's most exclusive and most expensive quality of watercolor paint. The quality is characterized by extremely high reliability - both in terms of stability and durability - as well as how colorfast it is. In addition, Artist series contain an enormously high amount of color pigments and some absolutely amazing binders.

In the Artist series, the products will typically be priced according to how expensive the individual color pigment may be.


“Studio”, or “student” as it is also sometimes known, is a cheaper classification than “Artist” and the common wisdom is that these affordable alternatives can be used during the preparation of studio works and / or in learning situations where a lot of watercolor paint is thrown on a canvas in a hurry and it will be too expensive to use Artist.

Even though it is a cheaper product with fewer pigments and a less good binder, you can easily use Studio-quality watercolor paint for your finished works - also as a professional artist. It's just important to be aware that this is a different and lower quality.

As is the case with the "big brother", not all pigments are born equal. You will therefore sometimes find that products in the Studio series have a different amount of color pigment in them and that selected colors are not available in Studio quality at all, as the pigments are simply too expensive for a more affordable series. These exotic or rare color pigments are being replaced by cheaper alternatives - so-called hues, which are similar to confusion but which in some cases have altered properties due to the choice of pigments from other pigment families.


Modern watercolor paints are available in tubes, in so-called pans and in liquid form.

On the tube, the consistency is like toothpaste, because the paint here is already mixed with a little water. By adding additional water, the watercolor paint gets the completely liquid consistency you know and love.

Advantages of tube

- Easy to control and adjust the amount of paint
- Particularly suitable for works where you need a lot of one color
- Can be applied to a palette where they can dry out like pans and rehydrate for use
- Formulated to mix easily

Disadvantages of tube:

- May dry out if the tube is not closed properly
- Lids can get stuck
- In pans, the paint comes in small, dried-in bars of paint in an enclosing plastic container that is "clicked" into place in watercolor bottles. These work a bit like Thomas Reeves' famous "cakes" and are available in two sizes, half and whole pans.

Advantages of pans

- Easy to transport around in a watercolor bottle and ready to use right away
- Used pans or unwanted pans can be removed and replaced, or you can buy an empty box and put together your own palette of watercolor paint
- You have a carefully selected range of colors or color shades and this limitation can make it easier to get started.

Disadvantages of pans:

- Tendency to dredge colors
- It can be harder to use a larger brush if you do not transfer your watercolor paint to a palette but instead paint straight out of the box
- Wears more on your brushes
- Liquid watercolor paint is a highly concentrated water medium sold in small and large bottles. They can be used undiluted, but many users like to dilute them 1: 1 with water. Liquid watercolor paint can be a good choice if you want very vibrant and rich colors.

Benefits of liquid

- Enormous color intensity
- Concentrated color that is very slow to use
- Suitable for use in calligraphy pens and in airbrush

Disadvantages of liquid:

- Tendency to lower lightfastness
- May become gritty if the color rehydrates after being dried
- Tendency to discolor the palette

In Stelling we also carry watercolor pencils and markers.

Why choose watercolor over acrylic paint

Watercolor paint dries even faster than acrylic paint, but nevertheless it is much more suitable for outdoor use, or in situations where it is very hot, for example. Under these conditions, acrylic paint tends to dry in very quickly.

The two media have quite different learning curves. Where most of us as children are introduced to watercolors, the acrylic paint is often considered more of a hobby or art product, but it is actually the acrylic paint that is much easier to learn to use. Conversely, watercolor paint has such a depth that while it may be difficult to learn to master it, it is also one of the most satisfying media to use once you have invested time in it.

One aspect that is less of an advantage and more an expression of choice of aesthetics is the tendency of watercolor paints to create less realistic and more airy and flying works than is the case for acrylic and oil paints. For the same reason, it may be a good idea to combine media. The opacity and water resistance of the acrylic paint can complement the dreamy qualities of the watercolor paint.

Why choose watercolor over oil paint

There can be little doubt that watercolor paint is less cumbersome and much easier to go for than oil paint. You do not have to worry about solvents, the paint dries quickly - both on paper and in a box or palette - and cleaning brushes and work area requires nothing more than water and maybe a little brush soap. For the same reason, many artists have over time preferred to compile rapid studies in watercolor and then complete their paintings in oil.

As already described, watercolor paint is very suitable for mixed media, where two or more media are combined in the same work. Oil paint can technically also be used on top of acrylic, for example, but it is not a strength of the medium in the same way as is the case for watercolor.

Watercolor painting is considered to be a direct medium because there is no time for hesitation in the process and where oil painting must be controlled and manipulated, then watercolor painting is about placing every stroke of the brush and letting the magic take over. Over time, of course, the artist becomes better at predicting the chemistry that unfolds on paper between wet and dry materials, but watercolor paint will always behave unpredictably.

Finally, there is also the material you are working on upstairs. If you prefer to paint on paper, then watercolor painting is simply the natural choice.

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