"Lily White on White," oil on Gessobord panel, 8x8"

“Lily White on White,” oil on Gessobord panel, 8×8″
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I spent some time sketching and painting a calla lily that sprouted in my garden and while I was at it, tested a palette of Winsor Newton Cotman paints. Several of my friends have this clever, inexpensive Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Palette and I thought it was worth a try so I ordered one.

I started by testing the colors, listing the pigments to match them to artists’ quality pigments I normally use (click to see larger with pigment numbers) and making notes about which ones to swap out (at that point assuming I’d continue using the others).

Test of WInsor Newton Cotman pan paints (FAIL)

Test of WInsor Newton Cotman pan paints (FAIL)

I was very frustrated with the results I was getting when painting and in the end, took ALL the Cotman pans out of the palette and replaced them with pans filled with artist quality paints from tubes. I put the Cotman pans in a large jar of water to soak so that I could empty and reuse the empty pans. After dumping and refilling the jar many times I ended up with a jar of tinted water with a lot of white sandy junk at the bottom: the nasty fillers and binders added to the pigments to make it cheap.

I know that for the same $17 that this palette AND crappy paint costs, you can only buy one or two tubes of full strength, high quality paint. But I’d rather have only a few colors than use junk. Most of the following sketches lack vibrancy, richness in color, and paint application was difficult and unattractive. Here they are in reverse order of completion:

Lily sketch #6, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #6, watercolor, 8×10″

I liked the drawing above, but not the grayed colors.

Lily sketch #5, ink & watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #5, ink & watercolor, 8×10″

I liked the shape of the leaf above.

Lily sketch #4?, gouache, 8x10"

Lily sketch #4?, gouache, 8×10″

I painted over an awful sketch with gouache (above), just loosely trying to get the shape of the flower.

Lily sketch #3-4, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #3-4, watercolor, 8×10″

Two previous attempts at the leaf, on 2 other kinds of paper I taped into the 8×10″ Moleskine.

Lily sketch #1 with Snail, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #1 with Snail, watercolor, 8×10″

The first sketch. I like the composition but the colors and application were yuck.

I’m still using the Cotman Palette. I think it’s a great for sketching because it’s light,  compact and holds enough colors (12). And at $17 I don’t mind the price, even after throwing away the colors it cane with. It’s handy to have the now-empty, extra half-pans which usually cost about 50 cents each. So really, I got the palette for $11, and 12 empty pans for $6. Not too bad.

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Art supplies, Drawing, Flower Art, Gouache, Oil Painting, Plants, Product Review, Sketchbook Pages, Watercolor
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Join the conversation! 14 Comments

  1. I’m not a fan of the Cotman paints either. I’ve been using M. Graham and love how vibrant they are, some times almost too intense until you get to know them.

  2. Perhaps a little harsh… but fair. I used to blame my inexperience for the muddy colours I was getting from my Cotmans … until I treated myself to some artists’ quality paints! If I had one piece of advice to give ANYONE wanting to paint (watercolour, acrylic, whatever), it would be to always buy artists’ quality paints. Expensive, yes, but worth it. Thanks for the post.

  3. An interesting review – when I saw the header I wondered what your reaction would be. I agree completely. Apart from anything else, you actually use less of the artist’s quality paint, the tubes/pans last a long time, so the initial expense is worth it. I have 2 travel sets of W&N artist quality paints, and they are fantastic to use, compact and well-designed.

  4. I see I am in the minority here, but I just have to say that I find all these watercolors to be beautiful. I used a Cotman set for some time before buying more expensive artist grade paints, and for beginners I still think this is a serviceable set to start out with, especially for the price. I do encourage students to buy the best paints they can afford, however.
    Ps thanks for the tip about the show at Brooklyn museum. It was fabulous!

  5. Beautiful lillies, they all look so life like, especially Lily sketch #6.

  6. Hi Janna-
    Thanks so much for the review. I just ordered the “Field Plus” set because you had mentioned the Cotman sets in a previous email. The shipment should arrive today. Do you think it is worth keeping for a travel set? Just to paint in my sketchbook. We are going to Venice and Croatia this Fall and I have to travel light. If you think absolutely not I can return it unopened, but it does have some handy l mixing wells and a water bottle. It just has 12 colors, so I guess the value is in the hardware, not the paints. I just double checked your set and it looks like the hardware is also the main benefit. How do you like that?
    Thanks –
    Catherine

    • The kit you ordered is actually different from the one I have but it looks like it would be handy. I know several people who use Cotman paints and don’t mind them. They’re fine for just adding a quick wash of color to an ink or pencil sketch. I would try them at home and see what you think. Even if you’re not crazy about the paint itself, it’s easy enough to replace a few of the colors with some you already have from the tube. I like to be able to use my watercolors to do any kind of watercolor technique and the Cotman didn’t let me do that. But for adding a little color, no problem.

      The two Winsor Newton kits I have are these:

      http://www.dickblick.com/products/winsor-and-newton-artists-watercolor-field-box-set/(Love it! It was expensive because it had all artist quality paint but they weren’t colors I normally use so ended up replacing many of them (and all of them eventually since I’ve had it for years). I got it on sale many years ago for $35.

      This is the one I wrote about in my most recent post:

      http://www.dickblick.com/items/00337-1059/

      It’s got fewer features than yours, and is less complete. I’d never seen the one you’re getting before and it looks great! I love the two little water containers. I carry a little plastic jar of water in my sketching bag and always have a regular water bottle to drink from and can use that as well. I think you’ll do fine and be happy with what you have. Let me know what you decide. I hope I didn’t lead you astray!

      Jana

  7. http://www.dickblick.com/products/winsor-and-newton-artists-watercolor-field-box-set/

    If this the set you bought years ago it now lists for $150 and Blick has it for $96 !!! You got a deal!
    The other one I saw on their site is this travel bag set- http://www.dickblick.com/products/winsor-and-newton-cotman-travel-bag-set/ which looks great as well. I’ll compare it to the one I ordered which still hasn’t come. You can switch out the paints and the sketchbook if you wish. I have several sizes of the Hand Book brand and the 5 x 5 would work well here.
    I’ll let you know how it all goes.
    Thanks for the help-
    Catherine

    • A friend bought a previous travel bag kit and when she gave up on watercolor she gave me the bag, It didn’t turn out to be very useful. I just use a plastic zipper bag that goes in the backpack I carry all the time (I hate purses and with my back problems a back pack is better for me). If you already carry a purse or backpack, adding another bag you carry on your shoulder doesn’t really work but this one looks like it could go inside another bag or be worn around the waist–might look a little dorky but would sure be handy! I like that and I don’t mind looking dorky!

      That is the same artist’s field kit and it’s quite brilliant. If I was going to buy it again, I’d buy the Cotman version and replace the paints from tubes since I ended up replacing nearly all of them anyway because I don’t use many of the colors it comes with. Another option I suggest checking out is the one recommended by John Muir Laws on his website. It’s very inexpensive, holds many colors and he swears by it. He’s holding a “Palette Party” next month for the Bay Area Nature Journal Club where he will buy all the paint he uses and the palettes, we chip in for the palettes and a portion of the paint each and get the palettes and fill them with paint.

      Jana

      Sketchblog: JanasJournal.com Website: JanaBouc.com UrbanSketchers-BayArea,blogspot.com

  8. I always thought Cotman were student grade watercolors and great for beginners. I love the artist grade Winsor Newton paint tubes to refill the half pans if needed. The palette is great for traveling. Also carry travel size brushes, all my supplies fit into a cloth zippered pencil bag which is lightweight and can be carried in a backpack or purse.

    • Agreed, although I still recommend that beginners get artist grade paints so that they can learn how their pigments work and have more success right away. Jana

      Sketchblog: JanasJournal.com Website: JanaBouc.com UrbanSketchers-BayArea,blogspot.com

  9. Hi Jana, Your W N cotman experiment.was very interesting I’ve always heard that even beginners should use artist quality paints and not student grade, but I see you don’t think so. I was going to get a small travel paint box since I cannot for the life of me find my other one. Now I will make sure to get W&N and not cotman.
    I like all your lilly sketches.

    • No no I definitely agree! I think everyone should use artist quality paints whether just learning or experienced. You have to learn what your pigments do, how they act and how they mix. When you use inferior paints to start out with then you’ll have to learn all over again with “real” paints–if you don’t give up first.

      I’ve seen some artists do ok with cotman for just adding some simple color, and I wanted the handy little palette but I sure didn’t like using them. Jana

      On Jun 30, 2013, at 6:43 PM, “JanasJournal.com”

  10. The Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box is an excellent little palette. It is inexpensive, sturdy, and small enough to bring on a backpacking trip. It is good straight out of the box. However, with a little customization, it will serve you even better. The original pigments are student grade. As you use them up, replace them with artist grade paints. You can buy new half pans in any art supply store. You can also discard the pans and squeeze tube colors into the spaces in the palette.

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