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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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! ☺


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.)

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.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Benefits of completing a project

The act of completing a project is important for creativity for at least two reasons.

Completion is one of the final phases of the creative process. It involves:
  • Tying up loose ends and closing open trains of thought
  • Perhaps sending the project out into the world
  • Cleaning up both studio/office/house - and one's mind
  • Time for rest and recuperation
  • Moving on

Accomplishment builds confidence

The feeling of accomplishment when completing something cannot be overestimated. Every time we complete something, confidence builds. I did it! I can do this! And, most importantly, I can do it again.

Tip! In order to build confidence, you can start small! Do a small piece of art, write a short story, take a day-trip. Each sense of accomplishment, of completing a project, albeit a small project, is a building block in the confidence arena.

Completion makes space for new possibilities

Once I complete a project that has previously occupied a large amount of mental server space or working memory, there is a mental release of sorts. As old information is filed away, physically as well as mentally, there is space for something new. An opening for new possibilities.

See this post for more about my spiral-shaped model of the creative process in 4 phases and 11 steps.

Fördelar med att avsluta ett projekt. När du avslutar ett projekt så stärks inte bara självförtroendet utan både fysiskt och mentalt utrymme frigörs för nya möjligheter.

Se detta inlägg för min spiralformade modell av den kreativa processen.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What is the creative process? A spiral model.

The creative process is the process of creating something new that did not exist before. It's the process of conceiving of, executing, and completing a project.

The project can range from writing a book to painting a piece of art, taking a journey, moving abroad, or finding a new job. The possibilities are endless.

The phases of the creative process are often listed as preparation, incubation, illumination or insight, and verification (Wallas' model, 1926), implying a fairly linear process.

However, I find that the creative process moves along an ascending spiral, not along a straight line. You keep coming back to the same stages over and over, but each time you reach a higher level on the spiral path.

The following are the phases of the creative process as I see them. Note that, at any point in time, you may circle back to a prior phase.


1. Idea

I usually come up with the idea first, or - the idea comes to me! If I don't yet have an idea, I start with the next step, Brainstorming. I firmly believe that ideas are best developed unhurried in the mind, not forced or rushed.

2. Brainstorming

Let your thoughts develop freely and associatively around the idea or topic. A mind map might be helpful.

3. Active Resting

Active resting is an important step that should not be overlooked. For best results, it should be incorporated in all of the phases.

What does active resting mean? Taking a walk, exercising, knitting, gardening, picking berries, and similar simple and repetitive tasks are all examples of active resting that allow the brain to sort information, do necessary filing, make connections and associations, etc., on a deeper level. It does not mean reading a book, surfing the internet, watching television, listening to music, talking, etc., tasks which only provide more information to mentally sort and file.

4. Research

Now it's time to gather information. There may be a feedback loop going back and forth between Brainstorming and Research, each spurring the other along.

5. Preparation

The idea is defined and necessary information has been gathered. This is setup time, the final step before getting started. Set up a work space, gather necessary tools and supplies, learn new techniques, practice.


6. Doing the Work

It's finally time to get started, to write, paint, build, travel, whatever the project is. Here is where the work gets done.

7. Review

This is where you check in with your idea, goal or intention. Are you going in the right direction? Are there more factors to take into consideration or include? More research to be done? Do you need to change anything – or start over? Starting over is more common than you think, so don’t shy away from this option. Better now than later!

This is the main loop, between Doing the Work and Review. After reviewing, it's time to keep working, sometimes even go back further for more preparation or research. The key is to do regular reviews, but not so often that the Work is constantly interrupted. Generally, there are natural stopping points in the process. Stay in this loop until you feel done.

Depending on the length and intensity of the project, it may be necessary to take a break at times and get the mind a fresh start after the weekend. After a break is a good time for the review, as you then have some distance to the project and can see it with fresh eyes.


8. Completion

Congratulations, the project is done! The very act of completing a project is important, as it signals to the brain that it could get done, building confidence in your abilities and making the next project easier to start. Read this post for more about the benefits of completion.

9. Cleanup

As you clean up your physical environment, the studio, workshop, office, house(!), etc., the mind also begins to file away information it has previously kept accessible. This physical and mental clearing opens up space for new ideas, projects, and possibilities.

10. Rest and recuperation

Time to rest. It's important to take some time off after each project to allow both body and mind to recuperate.


11. Evaluation

After a few weeks, it's a good time to revisit the project. How did it go? Would you like to continue and do another one? Did this way of working suit you or do you need to tweak the process? What went well? What could be done better? Is there a next step?

Sometimes this phase brings you back into the process again, you come up with a few ideas for improvements and do another round in the creative process!

Vad är den kreativa processen? I denna artikel beskriver jag min spiralformade modell där varje fas eller steg återbesöks om och om igen, men på en allt högre nivå i processen. 

  • 1. Idé
  • 2. Brainstorming
  • 3. Aktiv mental vila - viktig punkt som bör ingå i alla faser
  • 4. Samla information
  • 5. Förbereda och sätta upp projektet
    • 6. Utföra projektet
    • 7. Genomgång - dessa två steg, utföra projektet och genomgång, utgör den främsta iterativa loopen inom den kreativa processen, stanna här eller återbesök tidigare steg tills projektet är klart
      • 8. Avsluta projektet
      • 9. Fysisk och mental uppstädning
      • 10. Återhämtning
        • 11. Utvärdera projektet

          Sunday, October 2, 2016

          What is archival watercolor paper?

          There are many terms associated with paper, all useful for the artist to know. Here I make an attempt to sort a few of them out.

          Acid free paper / Syrafritt papper

          • Paper with a neutral or basic pH value (7 or slightly greater)
          • Can be made from any cellulose fiber (plant based) as long as the acid in the wood pulp is removed/neutralized
          • Sizing additives must also be acid free
          • Lignin and sulfur free  
          • Much more durable than acidic wood-based paper

          Lignin/ Lignin

          • Lignin is a substance in the cells and cell walls of wood and most plants, making them rigid

          Sulfur / Svavel

          • Sulfur is a chemical element that is used in several chemical methods producing wood pulp from wood

          Wood-based paper/ Trä-baserat papper, cellulosapapper

          • Made from wood pulp
          • Contains acids, acidic
          • Contains lignin
          • Turns yellow and brittle with time
          • Deteriorates faster if exposed to light and/or heat

          100% cotton paper / 100% bomull eller lump

          • Made from 100% cotton linters or cotton from used cloth (rag, also called rag paper)
          • May still contain some acids so should be tested/certified before use as archival paper
          • Stronger and more durable than wood based paper

          Permanent paper, ISO 9706 / Åldringsbeständigt papper (ISO 9706)

          ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization.
          • pH value between 7.5-10.0 / pH-värde
          • Alkali reserve of at least 0.4 mol acid per kg paper (at least 2%) (neutralizes acid from aging or pollution) / Alkalisk reserv
          • Tearing resistance of at least 350 mN (index of durability) / Rivstyrka
          • Kappa number of less than 5.0 (may contain only a small amount of easily oxidized material, about 1% lignin) / Kappatal
          • This standard does not cover optical properties, such as brightness

          Archival paper, ISO 11108 / Arkivbeständigt papper eller arkivpapper (ISO 11108)

          • Made from cotton, cotton linters, hemp, flax, or mixtures thereof, but may contain a small amount of fully bleached chemical pulp
          • Folding endurance of at least 2.18 (MIT, Köhler Molin, or Lhomargy instrument) or 2.42 (Schopper instrument) / Vikstyrka
          • Archival papers also meet the requirements for permanent paper

          Permanent paper, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R2009)

          ANSI/NISO stands for American National Standards Institute/National Information Standards Organization. ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R2002) is an American standard similar to ISO 9706 for uncoated and coated paper.

          Uncoated paper
          • pH value in the range of 7.5-10.0
          • Minimum alkaline reserve equivalent to 2% calcium carbonate
          • Tear resistance of at least 5.25 mNm2/g
          • Kappa number no greater than 7 (shall contain no more than 1% lignin) 

          Coated paper

          • pH value of core paper in the range of 7.0-10.0 . The paper as a whole (core and coating) must meet the alkaline reserve requirement
          • Minimum alkaline reserve equivalent to 2% calcium carbonate
          • Tear resistance of at least 3.50 mNm2/g (this generally equals a core tear resistance of 5.25 mNm2/g)
          • Kappa number no greater than 7 (may contain no more than 1% lignin) 


          There are several ways to define archival paper, both in terminology and different types of certifications.

          Even the definitions themselves may vary between standards, for example, also a slightly acidic paper may in some instances be considered acid-free!

          And, as long as the paper follows the requirements, long-term effects of for example additives may yet to be discovered!

          Still, when I look for a long-lasting paper, I look for a 100% cotton, acid-free paper, keeping in mind that other factors also affect the longevity of the paper.

          Environmental factors such as heat, light, humidity, acidity all have an effect on paper, as do the ways paper is stored (do not store between acidic sheets of paper or on wood, for example) and handled (best handled with cotton gloves), as well as the pH of the water you are using to paint.


          Översättning. En kort ordlista relaterad till beständighet hos akvarellpapper, inkl. syrafritt papper, träbaserat eller cellulosapapper, papper av 100% bomull samt ett par olika certifieringar (ISO 9706 och ISO 11108).