Friday, February 17, 2017

Color matching in my mind

Sometimes when I am out,
I like to match the colors of what I see
to  watercolors in my mind.

Today.

The wooden deck by the river
Davy’s Gray, a brush of Cobalt Turquoise Light
Raw Umber and Yellow Ochre
Sepia and Burnt Umber for the dark spots

The wooden railing
PG50, Cobalt Turquoise Light
and a deepening bluegreen toward PB36, Cobalt Turquoise, and beyond

Wooden benches
All of the colors above, with a little, very diluted Venetian Red brushed on

Water
Cobalt Blue
Paper white
A deepened Olive Green
Payne’s Gray and Indigo

The beautiful old asphalt path with its aggregates of crushed stones and gravel exposed
Again Davy’s Gray, Neutral Tint
a hint of Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, white, and Potter’s Pink

All grayed colors or earth tones

There is so much more to a February day than gray
- if one only looks deeply

PS. Deem my surprise at seeing a small branch the perfect shade of Permanent Rose and Permanent Alizarin Crimson!


Översättning. Ibland när jag är ute så matchar jag akvarellfärger med det jag ser, i huvudet.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What is the difference between French Ultramarine and Ultramarine?

What is the difference between Winsor & Newton’s French Ultramarine and Ultramarine (Green Shade) watercolors? Is there a difference? At first glance they appear identical!

I first compared their properties:

French Ultramarine
  • Pigment: PB29
  • Transparency: Yes
  • Granulating: Yes
  • Lightfastness (ASTM): I
  • Permanence: A

The Winsor & Newton website states that this color was created in 1828 as a synthetic alternative to the expensive pigment derived from Lapis Lazuli. This color has red undertones.

Ultramarine

  • Pigment: PB29
  • Transparency: Yes
  • Granulating: Not noted
  • Lightfastness (ASTM): I
  • Permanence: A

This color is noted to have green undertones.

According to a W&N representative, slight variations in temperature during production of the pigments can cause very slight variations in color. This is what makes French Ultramarine redder and Ultramarine greener.

Handprint notes that these two W&N ultramarines “are slightly lighter valued, greener in hue and more transparent than other brands, and produce some of the most pronounced (and lovely) wash pigment textures.”

Comparing French Ultramarine and Ultramarine
Watercolors
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

I finally did a chart comparing the two, and as you can see in the drawdowns, French Ultramarine has a warmer, redder tone (left), whereas Ultramarine is cooler/greener (right) and looks similar to Winsor/Phthalocyanine Blue.

You can also see that French Ultramarine displays quite a bit more granulation than Ultramarine.

And when French Ultramarine (with its red undertone) is mixed with Permanent Rose (which has a blue undertone), the result is a clearer, brighter violet than when Ultramarine is mixed with Permanent Rose.

So, yes, there is a difference between the two, easily found with a bit of experimentation, testing, and comparison!



Översättning.
Är det någon skillnad mellan Winsor & Newtons akvarellfärger French Ultramarine och Ultramarine (Green Shade)? Vid en jämförelse av attribut så verkar de vid en första anblick närapå identiska. De är båda transparenta, permanenta och tillverkade av pigmentet PB29.

Vid närmare jämförelse så fann jag att French Ultramarine ser varmare (rödare) ut än Ultramarine, vilken ser lite kallare (grönare) ut. Detta blir tydligare ju mindre koncentrerad färgen är. Dessutom så visar French Ultramarine betydligt mer granulering än Ultramarine.


Enligt en representant för Winsor & Newton så beror denna färgskillnad på variation i temperatur under produktionen.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Artists, art materials and allergies

As if having allergies is not frustrating enough, having allergies that interfere with one’s art can be doubly frustrating.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that more than 50 million people in the US or roughly 15% of Americans suffer from allergies. According to researchers, allergies are on the rise affecting as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children. To further compound the issue, their families and work places are affected as well. Worldwide, allergic rhinitis affects between 10% and 30% of the population and rates are increasing.

In Sweden, it is estimated that over 30% or 3 million people suffer from allergies. Research shows that 33% of Swedish adults are sensitive to fragrances and chemicals. Products free from allergens, fragrance, and irritating substances are marked with the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association's swallow logo.

In my own case, fragrances, scents, and smells are some of the worst culprits, in addition to airborne pollutants among other things.


Art materials and situations that may cause difficulties for an artist with allergies


  • Oil paints and solvents
  • Acrylic paints
  • Markers (such as Sharpie, Prismacolor, or Copic)
  • Some pens
  • Inks for dip pens
  • Pencils and colored pencils (made of wood)
  • Airborne particles, such as pastel dust
  • Glues, varnishes, sprays
  • Mediums, masking fluid or liquid frisket, etc.
  • Arches watercolor paper (due to the natural gelatin smell)
  • The jury, in my case, is still out on papers with added fungicides, but it does not seem like a good idea from an allergy standpoint to add fungicides to paper that is to be used in a wet condition, perhaps for hours at a time, at a relatively close distance
  • The same thing goes for any product with added biocides, such as some paints
  • In addition, many other papers and paints have a slight chemical odor that may pose a problem
  • Any scented product, such as scented pens, stickers, or erasers
  • Printer toner and inks
  • Some printed products, from magazines to folders or cards. Just because the ink (or paper) is more environmental does not mean that it does not cause problems from an allergy standpoint!

  • In terms of purchasing art supplies, any art supply store that carries scented products, such as florals, scented candles, oils, or potpourri, may pose a problem to visit for the allergic person
  • Recently, I have had problems ordering paper from stores selling scented products or using scented products within the store as the paper picks up scents of products stored nearby, including cleaning products and sprays, rendering the paper unusable for me!
  • Even products being shipped close to a perfumed item (in another package) may cause an otherwise unscented product to smell

    I have mostly focused on breathing related allergies here, but there are many other types of allergies, such as contact allergies, where skin contact with an allergen causes symptoms. Examples could be certain substances in paints or the nickel ferrule of a brush.


    Additional problematic situations for people with allergies


    There are many situations that affect not only artists but anyone with allergies or sensitivities. Here is a list of a few problematic situations that unfortunately shrink the world that a person with allergies may safely be exposed to:

    • Attending a public event, such as a class, lecture, exhibit, etc., where perfumes or scented personal products are used by some attendants
    • Going to any store or restaurant, class or other location, where incense, potpourri, room sprays, or air fresheners are used. Ditto scented soaps in public restrooms
    • Visiting the mall or any store where scent marketing is used, a marketing strategy where stores use fragrance to attract customers
    • Staying at hotels where room sprays, air fresheners, scented laundry detergent, cleaning products, and soaps are used. Once a hotel room has been sprayed with room sprays, the scent remains in the carpet, fabrics, and walls, similar to cigarette smoke, and renders the room unusable for a person with allergies (even if you ask for an allergen-free room that has not been sprayed, chances are it was sprayed prior to the last customer). This has become a big problem for me in recent years, making travel, especially in the US and Canada, very difficult.

        Additional problematic situations for people with allergies


        While these are situations that, at least in theory, could be fairly easily remedied, air pollution unfortunately has a longer way to go, affecting us everywhere as we go outside, for example, to sketch or paint.
        • You can check the Air Quality Index for your region here, as calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This index includes ground-level ozone, particle pollution, and a few other pollutants. According to the index, 0-50 indicates that conditions are good. 
        • The American Lung Association (ALA) publishes the State of the Air report, showing ozone and particle pollution and people at risk by state and county (link and pdf to the 2016 report). When comparing the 2016 numbers to the 2013 report (pdf), I was shocked to see that the high ozone days in my county had gone up from 4 to 27 per year over a three-year span.

        As if that is not enough, there are numerous other kinds of pollution that affect us, such as water, soil, radiation, light, noise, and many more. It is interesting to note the connection between the environment and our health.

        To return to the art materials, I think it is very individual and what works for one person may or may not work for another. Personally, I use mechanical pencils, Uniball Vision or Staedtler Pigment Liner pens, Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith watercolors, and Strathmore papers, sometimes other materials but rarely for extended periods of time as I like to work quickly. Having a studio which permits cross-ventilation is also helpful.

        What are your experiences with allergies and art materials as an artist?


        References
        Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Allergies. (Retrieved January 17 2017)
        US Population Clock. (Retrieved January 17 2017)
        Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Allergies. (Retrieved January 18 2017)
        World Allergy Association (WAO). White Book on Allergy 2013 Update. (Retrieved January 18 2017)

        Astma och allergiförbundet Forskningsfonden. Allergifakta 2016. (Retrieved January 19 2017)
        Astma och allergiförbundet. Doftöverkänslighet. (Retrieved January 19 2017)
        Astma och allergiförbundet. Om Svalanmärkningen. (Retrieved January 19 2017)
        Wikipedia. Pollution. (Retrieved January 18 2017)


        Översättning.
        Ett inlägg om konstnärer, konstmaterial och allergier och hur allt från olika material till situationer och miljö påverkar oss. Jag är själv speciellt känslig för dofter och har svårt för många material och produkter. Även parfymerade produkter som används i offentliga miljöer, på hotell, osv., kan göra tillvaron svår för den med andningsproblem.

        Wednesday, January 18, 2017

        The Artist's Quiz

        Starting off 2017 with a quiz just for artists! If you like to take part, feel free to adjust it to your own medium as this is in part geared toward watercolor artists - and don't forget to link back!

        In the studio
        1. By the kitchen table or a room of one’s own?
        A room of my own.

        2. By the window or by the wall?
        Neither, my art table is in the middle of the studio, allowing access from all sides and preventing walls to be splashed with paint! If I had to choose one, though, I would choose "by the window" with daylight coming from the left side as I am right-handed.

        3. Alone or in company?
        I have to be alone for the mind to be able to roam as freely as it needs to create.

        4. Silence or music?
        Silence.

        5. Neat or messy?
        Messy while I paint, neat when I don't. I love coming into a clean and well-organized studio in the morning!

        6. Boxes filled with new art materials or staying with the tried and true?
        I try to stay with the art materials I know work for me, but I also do try out new things occasionally to keep things interesting.


        En plein air
        7. Buildings, cars and bikes or trees, flowers and bees?
        I prefer the natural world's irregularities to the sleeker lines and shapes of the man-made.

        8. Alone or with a sketching buddy?
        A sketching buddy is always nice.

        9. Moleskine or a custom sketchbook?
        I use both, depending on what paper I like to use.

        10. Fountain pen or other pen?
        Ten years ago, I used a fountain pen exclusively, these days I go for ease and use roller-ball or fineliner pens.

        11. (Water)colors or black and white?
        Usually black-and-white if I am out sketching, sometimes I use watercolors too.

        12. Talk to passersby or hide behind sunglasses?
        Being an introvert, I will be the one behind sunglasses.


        In the paintbox
        13. Watercolor tubes or pans?
        I buy tubes and add color to whole pans - as well as use the paint straight from the tubes on a palette.

        14. Granulating pigments or smooth colors?
        Granulating colors, of course!

        15. Arches or Fabriano?
        Both, or perhaps neither. I mostly use Strathmore and Canson, occasionally using Arches and Fabriano.

        16. Cold press, rough or hot press (or soft press)?
        Cold press.

        17. Round or flat brushes?
        Mostly round brushes.

        18. Sable or synthetic?
        I have had good results with a mixture of sable and synthetic, which makes for durable brushes that can hold quite a bit of paint and water.

        19. A clean palette or leave the color mixes for the next day?
        I clean the palette or paintbox after painting, since I rarely want the same mixes the next time.


        On the mind
        20. Left-handed or right-handed?
        Right-handed.

        21. Patience is a virtue or speed is of the essence?
        I like to work quickly.

        22. Sketch first or paint directly?
        I usually paint directly.

        23. More thinking than painting or more painting than thinking?
        I spend a lot of time thinking - which is what enables me to paint directly without sketching first.

        24. Embrace coincidences and mistakes or toss them?
        Embrace coincidences! That's what watercolors are all about! That being said, there are times when a painting just cannot be rescued and one has to start over.

        Hope you enjoyed this quiz!


        Översättning. Jag satte precis ihop ett quiz för konstnärer! 

        Monday, December 26, 2016

        Swedish podcasts about writing and reading

        Here is my current shortlist of podcasts about writing (and reading!) - all in Swedish:

        Författarpodden


        The first writing podcast I encountered was Författarpodden, by writers Frida Skybäck and Agnes Hellström. They decided to start the kind of podcast they would have liked to listen to when they began writing, with inside information about writing and publishing. The first 39 episodes were published in 2014-15, but a new episode 40 was published in September 2016 and I keep my fingers crossed for more.

        This podcast is still one of my absolute favorites as it has the perfect mix of personal experience and  information about the writing and publishing business! You can listen to it here.


        Skriv en bestseller - eller en annan bok


        The brand-new podcast Skriv en bestseller - eller en annan bok only started this fall (2016), by writers Ninni Schulman och Caroline Eriksson. In 40 episodes spread out over a year they intend to take the listener from idea to finished text.

        Ninni and Caroline have set up a great format with 10 steps or topics, each split up into four episodes. In the first two episodes, they discuss the topic (e.g. ideas or characters), in the third episode they interview another writer about their take on this topic, and in the fourth episode they respond to listener questions.

        I was excited to hear that they have partnered with the Writing Academy (Skrivarakademin, where I studied writing for a year) and that they will interview several of the teachers in subsequent episodes, such as principal Anna Schulze in episode #7! Listen to the podcast here.


        Skrivarpodden


        Begun in 2014, Skrivarpodden is published by Kerstin Önnebo, an aspiring writer who decided to find out what it takes to write a book and get published. Her podcast is still going strong with over 63 episodes at the time of this post.

        She not only discusses the writing process, but also interviews a plethora of people, from published writers, editors, publishers, and agents, to writing teachers, PR people, critics, legal representatives, booksellers, librarians - and even readers! Listen to it here.


        Mellan raderna


        Mellan raderna is actually a podcast about reading, by Karin Jihde, PR person and writer, and Peppe Öhman, journalist and writer. Begun in 2015, they discuss books they have read (or listened to), both fiction and non-fiction. At the time of this post, episode #60 was recently published.

        As an extra bonus and a nod to Peppe's heritage, quite a few books in Finland-Swedish are reviewed, books written by the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland! Listen to it here.


        Bladen brinner


        Another podcast about reading started this year is Bladen brinner by writers Lisa Bjärbo och Johanna Lindbäck. They discuss literature for children and youth, interview writers from both Sweden and abroad, and give tips about books for young readers. However, the podcast is aimed at adults, from teachers and librarians to parents and anyone else interested in children's literature. At this point, they are planning to do 20 episodes and have been funded on Kickstarter.

        For a sample in English, check out the interview with German fantasy writer Cornelia Funke in episode #2! Find the podcast here.



        Översättning. Poddar om skrivande och läsande som jag gillar!

        Thursday, December 1, 2016

        Trees

        Trees
        Pen drawing
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.


        Admiring the architecture of the trees
        Columns, beams, cantilevers
        Tension, compression
        Contraction, expansion

        So much stillness, patience, strength, and beauty

        Stillness and calm on a gray winter day


         Översättning. Jag beundrar trädens arkitektur.

        Wednesday, November 30, 2016

        Winter zinnias

        Winter Zinnias
        Pen and watercolor
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.


        Seeing the beauty in these faded zinnias,
        their contorted petals and leaves
        have never been more beautiful

        As I draw
        I see their bounty,
        the beauty
        in all aging


        Översättning. Jag ser skönheten i det vissnade, åldrade.

        Friday, October 28, 2016

        Winsor & Newton watercolor tube redesigns - a graphic design review

        I recently noticed that I have no less than four different Winsor & Newton Professional (formerly Artists') watercolor tube designs among my art supplies, so I thought I’d write a brief review of the graphic design of their tubes - ending with a comparative design review of Daniel Smith's watercolor tubes as well.

        1. The original tube

        This is the original graphic design, which has been around for a long time.

        Winsor & Newton watercolor tube - the original design
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.


        Tube color

        White, which makes black text easy to read (and permits personal notations with a permanent marker on the tube, such as purchase date, pigment characteristics, etc.)

        Label and text

        Black text on white label in easy-to-ready fonts, both serif and sans-serif, and font sizes. The most important information is emphasized in serif; color name in English and the product range “Artists’ Water Colour”.

        Color swatch

        A color stripe circles the tube at the top, also on the back. This makes it easy to see what color it is at a glance from any angle (even if you store your colors upright in jars like I do). Color name in white within the stripe in a serif font that makes it easily legible.

        Logo

        Very small logo on the side of the tube.

        Color names

        In addition to the color name prominently noted in white (serif) within the color swatch, color names are noted in five languages in black on the label (English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian) with English, in a serif font, being the most prominent, the others smaller and sans-serif.

        To me, this not only provides an international flair but is also very helpful if you speak another language - the German color names are quite close to the Swedish color names, for example!

        Color code

        Not to be confused with pigment code, the color code is the code used as a reference by retailers (ex. 0105 178). This code is located right next to the color name on the front of the tube.

        Pigment name and number

        Pigment name and number (aka color index name) noted on the back, important information for the watercolor artist so you know what is in the tube (e.g. Synthetic Iron Oxide PR101 in Indian Red).

        Other information

        Series number (relates to price, 1 through 5, series 5 being the most expensive) noted on the front together with permanence rating (AA through C (and i through vi)) on yet another color stripe for increased visibility. Lightfastness (ASTM; I through V, or N/L) noted on the back, but for some reason not on all tubes.

        Conclusion

        To me, the original tube has it all in terms of easily legible and easy-to-locate information. Both the color swatch and color name are prominently located at the top of the tube. The entire color swatch wraps around the tube. The tubes and labels are white with black, easy-to-read text, emphasizing the color name with a serif font. And both pigment name and number are written on the back.

        Graphically, the design is less balanced, but there is still an equilibrium of sorts that works between color stripes and white areas, horizontal and vertical text, serif and sans-serif fonts, large and small fonts.


        2. Redesign #1, 2013

        In 2013, Winsor & Newton decided to change their watercolor tube design, bringing back historical elements, such as the metallic tube, and making the griffin logo more prominent.

        Winsor & Newton watercolor tube - the first redesign (2013)
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

        Tube color

        Metallic, which reflects light and makes text difficult to read.

        Label and text

        Black text on transparent label (metallic shows through) in small, hard to read font sizes, most sans-serif on a reflective surface. The only words in serif are “Winsor & Newton Professional”. I actually prefer “Artists’” to “Professional”; this sounds more inspiring and creative to me!

        Color swatch

        A color stripe on the front below the center of the tube and a thinner color line on the back, making it difficult to see what color it is unless the tube is lying on its own on a table.

        Logo

        Prominent logo at the top of the tube.

        Color names

        Color names in three languages (English, French, and Spanish; German and Italian have been removed) in black capitals, but small font sizes. This is the only location where the name of the color is noted.

        Color code

        Noted on the back.

        Pigment name and number

        Pigment number only (e.g. PR 101), leaving out the pigment name, in a tiny font on the back.

        Other information

        Permanence rating and series number noted on the front in a tiny font, transparency noted graphically on the back with a square symbol that is filled in for opaque colors and left unfilled for transparent. Lightfastness noted on some tubes

        Conclusion

        The first redesign put the logo first and, in doing so, forgot about the readability and usability of the product for the end user! Neither color swatch nor color name is easy to to read, the same goes for the black text on a metallic background which reflects light. The small sans-serif font is not improving the legibility. In addition, I miss the pigment names and find the tiny and narrow font used for color characteristics very hard to read.

        Graphically, the logo, company and product name take up more than 50% of the front of the label, crowding out the actual color information. The label feels top-heavy, with only the color stripe providing an anchor at the lower half.


        3. Redesign #2, 2014(?)

        Fairly soon thereafter, a second redesign was

        Winsor & Newton watercolor tube - the second redesign
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.


        Tube color

        Metallic as before.

        Label and text

        Black on metallic as before, but font sizes beefed up on the front.

        Color swatch

        An even smaller color stripe on the front below the center of the tube, and the same thin color line on the back as before.

        Logo

        A much smaller logo at the top of the tube.

        Color names

        Color names in the same three languages in black capitals, but now in larger font sizes, albeit all the same size which I find confusing. This is still the only location where the name of the color is noted.

        Color code

        Noted on the back as before.

        Pigment name and number

        Pigment number noted in a tiny font on the back as before.

        Other information

        The series number is now more prominent on the front, permanence rating is noted in a smaller font below. Lightfastness noted, at least on my tubes, transparency with a symbol on the back.

        Conclusion

        Enter the second redesign, now with a larger color name but a smaller color swatch. The back sides are identical.

        Graphically, the logo is still on top but is now reduced in size to a third of the available real estate, making its thin black lines all but invisible on the metallic surface. Still, balance is lacking in the composition as there is no one feature anchoring the design, only several disparate elements floating in space without anything tying them together, or separating them.


        4. Redesign #3, 2015


        Winsor & Newton watercolor tube - the third redesign (2015)
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.





        Tube color

        Metallic as before.

        Label and text

        Black on metallic as before, but the color names moved to within the color swatch and are now in white.

        Color swatch

        A wide color stripe right at the top on the front, but not circling the entire tube. Only a thin line on the back. Color name in white capitals within the stripe in three languages, all in a sans-serif font.

        Logo

        Small logo, but larger than in the prior redesign, now below the color swatch.

        Color names

        Color names in three languages (English, French, and Spanish) in white capitals on the color swatch.

        Color code

        Noted on the back as before, but now further down.

        Pigment name and number

        Pigment number noted in a tiny font on the back as before, but now further down.

        Other information

        Series number and permanence rating noted on the front as before. Lightfastness noted in a small font on the back (but still not on all tubes?!), transparency with a symbol.

        Conclusion

        The third, and probably final, redesign returned the color swatch to the top of the tube and widened it to boot, yet did not extend its entire width to the back side but left it only a slim line. The color name is located within the swatch as it was in the original design, but in a sans-serif font in white ink that I find hard to read at a glance. I would have liked to see some hierarchy between the color names as all three languages are now located within the swatch.

        The information on the back has also been reconfigured, but I must say I found the prior version better, which established the hierarchy of information with color characteristics at the top and company information below instead of the opposite, which is now the case.

        All in all, this design works much better than the prior two, but is still a bit hard to read.

        Graphically, the color swatch and color names now take center stage, but the logo is so small and thin that it does not quite manage to balance the composition, which carry most weight at the top.


        Daniel Smith comparison


        Daniel Smith watercolor tube
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.


        Why not take a look at the graphic design of a Daniel Smith watercolor tube as well?!

        Tube color

        This tube is black, which makes it impossible to make notes on unless using a white marker.

        Label and text

        However, the label is white and could be written upon! Black text in sans-serif fonts (except the company name, which is in serif), are just a bit bigger and less narrow than Winsor & Newton's, making this tube easier to read even if the fonts still are small.

        Color swatch

        A color stripe right at the top, circling the entire tube. The flower logo is also printed in this color, as an extra bonus, very elegant! Color name in black right below the color swatch.

        Logo

        Located at the bottom half of the label in the same color as the color in the tube!

        Color names

        Color names in five languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian) in black, with English more prominently displayed.

        Color code

        Noted on the back.

        Pigment name and number

        Pigment name and number noted on the back, and not only that, also the vehicle (gum arabic solution) is noted, in both English and French.

        Other information

        Series number and lightfastness noted on the back, also in both English and French. Separate permanence ratings or transparency not noted.

        Conclusion

        A very clean and well balanced graphic design, in my opinion. The yellow stripe on top is balanced by and connected to the logo below and the font sizes lead the eyes to the most important information, something you can easily see if you hold the tube at an arm’s length distance.

        On the front, only the necessary information is noted: Color name, in five languages no less, company name and logo, and volume/weight.

        The back side is less clear, with company information on top, then color code, series and lightfastness, with pigment information located below the bar code. As with W&N, I recommend locating the company information on the bottom and keeping color characteristics on top where the eye first travels at a glance.



        Översättning. Genomgång och kritik av den grafiska designen av Winsor & Newtons fyra senaste akvarelltuber - samt en jämförelse med konkurrenten Daniel Smith.

        Wednesday, October 26, 2016

        Why are watercolor prices going up?

        I recently received an order of seven Winsor & Newton Professional watercolor tubes, all 14 ml (Sept 2016) and compared this cost to an order from about 1 ½ year earlier (April 2015). The totals (without sales tax) came to $115.85 and $97.02 respectively, a price increase of about 20%!

        Already in early 2015, an art supply store owner was quoted in Huffington Post stating that art supply prices have increased between 10-20% over the past several years.

        This gave me the idea to dig deeper into the world of pigment manufacturing and what could be behind continuously rising art supply costs.


        Consumer price index and inflation


        First, a comparison. During this same time period (4/15-9/16), the consumer price index went up 4.8%. Inflation was 1.5% during the past year (10/15-9/16).

        Watercolor tube price comparison
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

        Background


        Did you know that the pigments used in watercolors are the same as those used in other industries? Examples are paints and varnishes, automotive finishes, plastics, textiles, printing inks, and construction, although the exact formulas, pigment sizes and treatments, and therefore costs, vary with the intended use.

        These pigments are mostly produced by large chemical companies, such as Sun Chemical in the United States and BASF in Germany. (There are also a few smaller companies, such as Kremer Pigments, that sell pigments directly to artists.)

        These companies, in turn, rely on suppliers, often located in other parts of the world such as China and India, for pigments and intermediates needed. This global supply chain means that pigment prices are very sensitive to global events.


        Factors affecting pigment costs


        As with most commodities, such as cotton, wheat – or cobalt -, in a global world everything affects everything. Here are a few of the many factors and events that affect pigment costs.

        Global events
        • Any global or political unrest
        • Global trade agreements
        • Political events and elections, e.g. presidential elections, Brexit
        • Fluctuating currency rates, e.g. the Euro declined 20% in 2015
        • Rising oil prices and transportation costs
        • Climate changes and weather related catastrophes

        Supply and demand
        • Pigment demands by the above mentioned sectors, such as the automotive industry. Automotive finishes are one of the biggest pigment uses and as the trends keep favoring black, white, and gray colors, less reds and yellows are manufactured
        • Less demand for, and use of, heavy metals in pigment manufacturing, such as lead and cadmium
        • More demand for, and use of, a certain metal. For example, cobalt went up from $13/lb to over $50/lb from 2006 to 2008 (and later went back down to $13) due to increased demand (for instance for rechargeable car batteries) coupled with a moratorium on export from the DR Congo
        • Changes in demand, such as increased demand for new, customized pigments and colors with special features based on new technologies

        Regulations and legislation
        • Environmental regulations of plants, e.g. in China, where much of the production takes place. Plants that refuse or cannot afford to comply are closed
        • New legislation and regulations, such as the REACH Regulation in the European Union
        • Varying compliance regulations by country governments or even large brands and end users

         Business decisions
        • Consolidations, mergers and acquisitions, or sales of companies and plants, in attempts to increase profitability, which reduce the supply base, limit choices, and drive up prices
        • Plant closures due to lack of enough profitability
        • Reduction in inventory by the supply chain due to less global demand


        What’s an artist to do?


        As I see it, there are two sides to this question.

        First, how do we cope with constantly rising art supply prices?


        Solutions range from buying less art supplies and smaller tubes or do smaller paintings, to switching to cheaper brands or substitute colors. (Or switching from professional to student grade colors, but this is nothing I would recommend due to increased use of fillers and less vibrant colors.)

        Still, as the entire industry faces the same challenges, comparable products often have comparable prices. In addition, it is important to remember that the performance may differ between brands and colors.


        The second, and perhaps more critical, issue is, how can we artists help ensure that our favorite art supplies stay on the market?


        The answer here is to keep supporting our favorite brands and colors! I, for example, don’t know what I would do without Winsor & Newton’s Cobalt Blue, so I will keep buying it, writing about it(!), and using it. Ditto my other favorite palette colors, papers, and brushes.

        Perhaps we should also contact the manufacturers and let them know how important their products are.

        In the extension, may I recommend that those of you with deep pockets start purchasing colorful cars if you want to keep that red or yellow pigment on the market! ☺


        References


        Översättning. Varför blir akvarellfärger allt dyrare? Svaret ligger i den globala försörjningskedjan. Det mesta som händer i världen påverkar utvinning och framställning av pigment och färger.

        Monday, October 10, 2016

        The best watercolor palette in the world

        … is not a palette at all but a white porcelain serving platter! This particular platter is from World Market (no collaboration). It measures 19”x14” and has a flat palette surface of roughly 14”x10”.

        Watercolor palette aka serving platter in porcelain
        © 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

        The advantages:
        • There is a LARGE palette surface for those of us in need of mixing space
        • The palette surface is completely flat (as opposed to the metal tray palettes I have tried in the past, where there was a valley along the edges)
        • The porcelain surface is smooth to the brush and lovely to work on
        • The white color allows you to see your mixes clearly
        • It cleans easily in the sink (provided the sink is large enough)

        The one thing that would have been better would have been flat edges, more like this dinner plate (of which I also have a few in my studio!) Flat edges allow for dollops of paint to remain in place without sliding down onto the palette surface.

        In fact, I so love this smooth and sturdy kind of white porcelain, that I also have a few ramekins (3.5" and 4.5" diameter are the most useful sizes for me), crème brulée ramekins (5" and 4" diameter) and a deviled egg plate(!) in my studio for use as palettes. (These are available separately in stores, as far as I know.)


        Översättning. 
        Världens bästa akvarellpalett är egentligen inte alls en palett utan ett uppläggningsfat i vitt porslin! Det mäter hela 48x36 cm, med en platt palettyta på 36x24 cm.

        Vitt porslin har många fördelar som palett: 
        • Just detta fat är precis så stort som jag önskat mig
        • Själva palettytan är alldeles platt
        • Penseln glider lätt över den släta och glansiga ytan
        • Den vita färgen gör att du ser färgblandningarna tydligt
        • Det är lätt att rengöra

        Jag använder ofta olika slags porslin till paletter, tex tallrikar med så horisontell kant som möjligt, ramekin/suffléformar (9 eller 11.5 cm i diameter), låga brylépuddingsformar (13 eller 10 cm i diameter), samt till och med uppläggningsfat för deviled eggs/fyllda ägghalvor, alla i vitt porslin. Se ovan för länkar.