Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting off the new year as a materials geek...

I finally had a chance to test the Stephen Quiller watercolors I'd received a few months ago. The primary claim of this line is that the pigments are balanced to give perfect neutrals when complements are combined (and each tube is labelled to identify its complement). Taking into account that it's difficult to mix exactly perfect proportions, my impression is that they perform as advertised. However, I found them a bit gummy to brush out -- perhaps due to the use of honey as one of the ingredients.

As a comparison, I mixed neutrals using the same Winsor Newton pigments, with one exception -- I don't have cadmium yellow on my palette so I substituted Winsor yellow, knowing that it was not likely to give a clean neutral. Although my camera distorts the color just a bit, I think you can see that the Winsor Newton neutrals are comparable to those mixed with Quiller paints. The W-N mix of ultramarine violet and Winsor yellow is muddy, as I suspected it would be. That's because Winsor yellow is a staining pigment and is not compatible with the granular ultramarine violet whereas the cadmium yellow, another non-staining pigment, mixes well with that violet.

In sum, I'm happy with the W-N colors I have on my palette -- I know which pigments can be successfully mixed and I have a wide range of pigments for that reason -- and I prefer their consistency.

I've also been trying out some new masking fluid -- Masquepen -- using the Supernib Plus for the little blue dots you see on this early-stage painting. The beauty of the superfine nib is that you can make very consistent-size dots -- these are about 2mm in diameter. It really is important to clean the nib frequently however, because it's so fine that it can clog up in a very short time. I keep a bucket of soapy water on the table and rinse the nib every few minutes, blowing the soapy water through the tip and running a fine wire through it to make sure it's completely clear. The other areas on the painting have been masked with either Incredible White Mask or Winsor Newton Colorless Masking Fluid applied with a Cheap Joes Uggly Brush -- the masking shows up as slightly darker and a bit shiny where the light hits it. I dip the brush in liquid dish soap and then rinse it slightly and wipe it before dipping into the masking fluid. I also rinse the brush regularly and repeat the soap step before applying more masking.


  1. Hi Chris - your post is timely. I was just considering purchasing Quiller's paint yesterday but wasn't certain that it was worth it. I'm not a big fan of honey-based paints. M. Graham gave me some to test a couple of years ago, and they were honey-based. They took too long to dry and I couldn't do a wash over them. Also, they got moldy in the pans. Not good. Also, I've used the Supernib Plus and like it!

  2. Interesting research, Chris - isn't it fun to be a geek sometimes? And I haven't a clue what this painting is going to be but I really like it already! Might have to spring for the masquepen and nibs with my holiday gift card from Daniel Smith :) My word verification today was I know what a blue moon is and I know what blue grass is but I'm unsure what a blu arbeg is?!? ha ha

  3. Thats interesting about the new paits, Chris, thanks for giving your verdict. I hope you get on with the Masque pen - I don't use much masking admittedly, but have tried and liked this very much for the excellent control and fine lines (or spots!) you can get.

  4. Chris...thanks for sharing. I personally am not disciplined enough to do these exercises, but so appreciate gleaning the knowledge from the experiences of others. On a side note, I am a W/N painter myself but recently been dabbling in the Holbeins...any thoughts on comparisons? Happy New Year to you!

  5. Oooooh I just love the testing you did! What I especially love is finding your drawing underneath your test strips! Extra Joy!
    Can't wait to see the next steps to your masking & painting.

  6. Very informative post on materials.
    Love the complementary colors charting.

  7. Chris!

    Thank you for sharing your test results with us!

    I never even knew there was a Masquepen until now!

    I've got to get me one of those!!


  8. Kathy, I've been using W-N paints, plus a few Holbein and Daniel Smith colors for years. I've never had any problems with mold -- good thing because I'm quite allergic to it!! The supernib is great, but finicky about clogging if you aren't super careful to clean it often, as I'm sure you've already discovered.

    Rhonda, be sure to order the superfine plus if you want to make fine lines or dots - the regular masquepen has a much coarser nib - but it clogs just as easily!! ;-D Oh, and I did a search on arbeg and discovered that it leads to Ardbeg, which is a single-malt whiskey!! Don't know if it comes in blue though!! :-D

    Tracy, I've done my battles with the masquepen - nearly gave up and threw it away, but discovered that Shiva masque cleaner helped remove some bits of fluid that had set up in the nib. Still, prevention is better than a cure in this case!!

    Julie, I think Holbein paints are excellent, but I prefer certain colors in Winsor Newton's line. I do have a few Holbein colors that are better to my eye than their W-N counterparts.

    Guy -- you found me out!! I can't remember why I gave up on this drawing, but I found the sheet in the scrap drawer and it was perfect for testing these paints!

    Thanks, Leslie. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Dean, this is a cool masking pen, but I can't say enough how careful you have to be to keep it clean. As soon as you stop making marks (or every couple of minutes - whichever comes first) you have to thoroughly clean it or you will basically have an expensive pushpin!! I'll do another post soon on other ways to apply masking.

  9. Well Chris, you are more patient than me. I had used the masquepen when it first came out a few years ago - and HATED IT due to the problems you are having with it clogging. So, here's my solution, for what it's worth - if I need dots, I use the tip of a toothpick that I cut the end off, and for those fine lines - again, the toothpick! (I'm quite high tech as you can tell!)
    As far as other miskit - I swear by Pebeo Drawing Gum (Jerry's, ASW or Cheap Joe); 2nd choice is the WN colorless. Last choice - as in NEVER - is the Incredible White Mask. It just gets "gunky" too quick. And - I use cheap WHITE NYLON brushes to apply miskit and have never had a problem with them - just wet them, shake them off, miskit, rinse, shake, miskit and repeat ad nauseum! No need for soap, wire needles, etc. On the rare occasion they get sticky (usually when I loan them out - ahem!) I use Goo Gone to clean them, wash that off with Dawn and they are good to go.
    Daniel Smith paints are tops, by the way!
    So there, I'm now stepping down off the soap box so you can get back on!
    p.s. - thanks for trying out stuff and keeping us informed.

  10. Deb - thanks for the input!! I think low-tech is sometimes the best -- I'll have to try the toothpick trick! Since I started adding a bit of ammonia to the Incredible White Mask, it handles more smoothly, but you're right that it thickens up as you're trying to apply it. The brushes I use are also white - those seem to resist gumming up better than synthetic brown brushes - but I haven't ever tried using Goo Gone to clean them.

    I use some Daniel Smith paints because there are unique colors in the DS line - they're very nice.

  11. It took me awhile to read all these comments. Who would have thought mixing paint would turn us all on! Hahahaha. I LOVE my W/N paints (and like other also use Holbein and Daniel Smith. I am too impatient for the masque pen which I have tried. Like Deb I am a huge fan of Pebeo and use nothing else. I sharpen (by sanding) a popsicle stick to a point at one that for lines and it mask just peels off. I also like those toothpick-like wood skewers you buy in bags at the grocery store. They work like long long tooth picks and are easy to keep in a cup on the work table.

  12. Thanks for joining the conversation, Ginny! I'm delighted to hear all these suggestions -- the more the merrier!!


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