There are so many options when you want to buy watercolor paints, it’s hard to decide whether it’s worth paying a little more to get high-quality handmade watercolors.
I did an article where I compared handmade watercolor paint and store-bought watercolor paint.
I found that high-quality watercolors had more intense colors, better coverage, and it took less paint to get the same effect. The permanence of higher-quality pigments will also be better since they won’t be as volatile as cheaper colors. They’ll cost more than cheaper student-quality paints, but the cost is worth it for the result they give you.
I asked Carolyn, who made the paint that I tested, and who owns CateReganDesigns on Etsy, to tell us a little about how and why her watercolors are better for home hobbyists as well as professional artists.
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links that will pay a small commission if they’re used to purchase something.
AS: How long have you been using watercolor as your main artistic medium?
CRD: I first began working with watercolors ten years ago and bought every brand I could get my hands on.
Some were well-known brands and some were imported from countries we don’t normally associate with high quality.
There were times I was surprised with the quality of a brand I had never heard of and disappointed with brands that were well-known and popular with artisans.
AS: What prompted you to try your hand at making your own colors?
CRD: After five years and hundreds of tubes of color I began to note which brands and colors brought me joy and which were a total disappointment.
Some of the colors would leave a dull residue on the paper, while others would squirt out a colorless liquid before the actual color would appear from the tube.
Being someone who can never resist a challenge, I decided to try my hand at making my own colors, to my own specifications.
This required a lot of research that didn’t always prove true and was spotty at best.
So I decided to take what I had learned from using the popular brands that had disappointed me and make them better.
AS: When did you start making your own handmade paint?
CRD: It was mid-December 2017. I was shopping with my sister in a department store that was running a special on a boxed set of a hundred colors of eye shadow.
Being a color junkie since my highchair days, I couldn’t resist the notion that maybe I could experiment on these little pans and turn them into a set of colors I could use for my paintings.
It was a crazy jumping-off point because eye shadow doesn’t have the concentration of color that’s necessary for vivid color, and they are not light-fast.
But of course, that wasn’t my main concern in those early days because these were just for me and I wasn’t producing art that I thought would be around for a hundred years.
Besides, I had yet to find a company that was selling pigments I could afford to splurge on for my experiments.
AS: What did the eye shadow experiments teach you about how to make handmade watercolor paints?
CRD: Using the eyeshadows gave me the ability to test a lot, since they weren’t expensive and I wasn’t afraid to lose money on messing them up!
The first thing I knew I wanted was to make colors that didn’t dry to a hard, glassy block that is very difficult to redissolve.
A lot of the most popular brands of store-bought colors also have fillers and additives that aren’t noticeable when using them wet.
The cracking and shriveling only happened when I let them dry out on a palette or in a plastic half pan.
So my first priority was to make a binder that would keep the integrity of color and wouldn’t have to be “primed” with water to yield color.
That was when I did a deep dive into obscure websites that talked about the history of watercolor making.
AS: What did that research teach you?
CRD: One of those obscure websites showed a schematic of a tube of manufactured watercolor.
Pigment makes up about one-fourth of the total contents of cheaper watercolors.
To make their products affordable they may add a brightener (transparent or “white” crystals), extender or fillers (used to bulk out and thicken the paint), and dispersants (to prevent clumping of the raw pigment).
This didn’t sit well with me because of the sudden realization that I wasn’t just buying pure pigment, but I was paying for other unnecessary chemicals.
Let’s just say I was peeved to learn that profit outranked quality.
That’s not to say that all manufactured paints are “bad,” but the product that I wanted to create had to be ecologically friendly and pure.
AS: How does the idea of being eco-friendly translate into paint?
CRD: As I moved from eye shadow to the purest pigments I could find (made in Canada) I also wanted to honor the life of honeybees.
They are dying off all over the world and the thought that I would be helping in the theft of their honey didn’t sit well with my notion of every living thing deserves to be honored.
I don’t kill spiders, wasps, mice. or other living things when they invade my house (sometimes my cats don’t agree and will get to the mouse before I do).
To do that I went Vegan with all my colors. I replaced honey with vegetable sugars and tweaked my binder recipe to produce a color that would wet with the swipe of a damp brush.
AS: Do you find that offering a Vegan product has found an audience?
CRD: About 80% of my sales come from repeat buyers.
They are loyal to my brand and their reviews always keep me going.
I love producing colors that only I offer. Has to do with my art education and understanding of the CMYK color wheel.
One thing I learned early on is that red and blue do not necessarily make purple. You can end up with mud if you mix a cool blue with a warm orange-red.
Of course, there is always a place for some pretty purplish mud 🙂
AS: Do you only sell on Etsy, or can people find you somewhere else?
CRD: When I started selling in 2018 it was strictly on my own website, cateregandesigns.
After six months I decided that I’d give Etsy a try and switched my dog portrait shop over to my handmade watercolor.
Etsy has started including a lot more low-quality paint in searches for watercolors, so reopening my website is a project for the next six months.
The majority of sales during that first year were from my Instagram posts so I’ve continued to be a presence there with reels, stories and posts.
AS: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
CRD: It’s been my pleasure. I’d like people to understand that when they buy from a maker, they are supporting a small business, and that is the economical foundation of this country.
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