I finally got my order of new paint from Jerry’s Artarama today. All three brands – Old Holland, Gamblin, and Williamsburg – are ones that I’ve never tried before and I thought I’d write my first impressions of each. I normally use brands like Daniel Smith, M Graham, or Winsor & Newton.
Note that the photos in this post are not 100% true to life, even though I tried many times to get as accurate of colors in the photos as I could.
Here’s what I got and Jerry’s normal price for each. I actually paid less for most of them thanks to a coupon and sales. The normal retail price would be higher for any of these if you got them in an art store.
I first learned about this brand about 10 years ago, but I never got around to trying it until now. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t have the reputation that a brand like Old Holland does, but I expect it to be of solid quality.
Raw Umber – Burnt Umber – $7.46 each
Black Spinel – $17.96
Portland Grey Deep – Portland Grey Medium – Portland Grey Light – $8.96 each
Torrit Grey – free ^__^
This is often regarded as a “premium brand” of paint. Their prices can get very high, very fast, so I only got a selection of their cheapest paints. Theoretically the quality should be the same as the expensive paints, it’s just that certain pigments cost more to make. There’s no way I’m spending $50 on a 40ml tube of paint, and some of their paint does reach that. I’ve seen worse though.
Burnt Sienna – Ultramarine Blue – English Red – Mars Yellow – Yellow Ochre Light – $11.75 each
I’ve heard this brand is on par with Old Holland, but since I couldn’t use my coupon on it I only got one color. I kind of have a thing about only wanting to buy paint when there’s some sort of sale or coupon discount.
Naples Yellow Italian – $11.56
To get to know each paint, I squeezed a small dab of each onto a wax paper palette sheet. I then scraped away the paint at the bottom of the dab to see its transparency. After that I made a roughly 50/50 mix of the paint with M Graham Titanium White (actually a blend of titanium white, PW6, and zinc white, PW4). I then took some of that blend and made another 50/50 mix with that and more white, and then repeated that once more. This showed me what the paints looked like in tints (i.e. having white added). I didn’t use any solvents because I normally don’t when I work and I wanted to see what the paints would look like under normal conditions for myself.
Quick note about a pigment’s color index code- Each paint has a code like PB29 on it. This stands for Pigment (P) Blue (B) 29. The number is just the number given to it when added to the color index. Knowing these codes is a lot of memorization, but important because different brands may refer to the same pigment by different names. For example, depending on the brand PO62 might be called “permanent orange” or “azo orange” or even “helio genuine orange.”
Williamsburg – Naples Yellow Italian
This is my first experience with pure PBr24. It’s much warmer than I thought it’d be, but without the intensity of other yellows. The paint is very thick, and took a slightly firmer squeeze than I’m used to to get it out of the tube. This would make a very good yellow for an earth palette. This one example of Williamsburg’s paint has made me very interested in trying some more from them in the future.
Old Holland – Yellow Ochre Light
PY43 is natural yellow iron oxide and because of many different factors this pigment can have a range of appearances. Given that this paint has “light” in its name I didn’t expect it to be nearly this dark. Instead of this one I wish I had stuck with the Yellow Ochre Half-Burnt that I was originally going to, so it’d be more different from the paint below.
Old Holland – Mars Yellow
PY42 is synthetic yellow iron oxide and one of my favorite pigments. It’s the source of the name “yellow oxide” that I use on some sites like twitter. This paint is very similar to the one above it but slightly more intense. Of the two, I prefer this one. I was hoping they’d be more different than what they are. As it is they’re too similar to need both of these paints on one palette.
Old Holland – English Red
English red is one of the paints in this order that I was most looking forward to. I was a little disappointed that it’s not quite as strongly red or as warm as I had hoped. Even so, I was very impressed with its tinting strength. As you can see, by the third tint you’re looking at a mixture of about 1/8 red with 7/8 white, and yet the strength of the red is about equal with all that white. This is the kind of paint where a little bit really does go a long ways. Its pigment, PR101, is synthetic red iron oxide and comes in many varieties depending on certain factors in how the paint is made. Other varieties using that same pigment might be called things like “venetian red,” “indian red,” or “transparent red oxide.”
Gamblin – Raw Umber
PBr7 is one of those very versatile pigments that has many variations. In the case of umbers it’s natural iron oxide that has some manganese in it. This raw umber from Gamblin is greyer than I expected, but makes a potentially useful warm grey as some artists use it for.
Gamblin – Burnt Umber
Maybe it’s because I don’t use burnt umber very often, but I really didn’t think it’d turn out to be this grey. In real life its just slightly warmer than what this photo shows, and the paint’s masstone (what it looks like straight from the tube) is a little darker, but I’d say it was disappointing that there’s such a minor difference between the raw and burnt umbers. Burnt umber is made by taking the pigment that would be used for raw umber and applying enough heat to it to remove the water molecules. This darkens and should redden the pigment. I say it should, but in this case it didn’t really.
After working with this paint a bit and mixing it with some Liquin to thin it down for a transparent glaze I was pleased to see that it does have the redness that I was hoping for. It’s just in tints, when mixed with white, that the paint quickly greys. The difference between the raw and burnt umbers is more noticeable when mixed with Liquin and used like this.
Gamblin – Torrit Grey
Torrit Grey is unique to Gamblin. Every spring they clean out their air filtration and put all of the pigment dust into one paint. The result is a limited edition slightly greenish grey that changes each year and includes, I assume, every pigment they use. I looked over Gamblin’s website and counted 44 different pigments in all their paint, not including things like the many variations of PBr7. The reason this is greenish is because of phthalo green (pronounced “thalo”), PG7, which is famous for being very intense and overpowering other pigments in mixes. As for the paint itself, it’s actually really nice. Very opaque due to the huge variety of pigments in it.
Old Holland – Burnt Sienna
Just like the umbers, siennas are also listed as PBr7. They just don’t have the manganese in them. When I first put some of Old Holland’s burnt sienna on the palette I was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as strong of a color as I thought it’d be based on online images. What I was hoping for was a burnt sienna that was a little redder than the one from M Graham that I already had. After comparing the two I was definitely disappointed that the paint from Old Holland was actually slightly duller. It seems like it’d be a good paint, but they look almost the same and on Dick Blick’s catalogue M Graham’s is only $6.23 (for 37ml) compared to Old Holland’s $11.75 (for 40ml). The tinting strength is about the same too. The only thing that I can tell in favor of Old Holland’s burnt sienna from my first impression making these swatches is that it’s a thicker paint, something I do like.
Old Holland – Ultramarine Blue
This color was frustrating to photograph. In real life it’s much more intense in the transparency and the masstone is closer to black. Again I’m comparing Old Holland to M Graham. This time there’s more of a difference between the two brands and I’m more pleased with Old Holland. M Graham’s paint was very oily and had some separation between the oil and pigment while Old Holland’s had the same thickness as the rest of their paint that I tried today. The tinting strength was also a little stronger for Old Holland, although that may have been just me not making a perfectly 50/50 mix with the white.
Gamblin – Black Spinel
This was another difficult one to photograph. Different black paints will have very subtle shifts toward warm or cool when mixed with white. PBk28 is billed by Gamblin as “the only truly neutral black in masstone and tint.” This is my first experience with this pigment. I was a little confused when I first started making the tints because it seemed to me to be slightly blueish (a little more so than this photo shows). I got out some M Graham ivory black for comparison, which was definitely a warmer grey in tints by comparison. Unfortunately I don’t have any lamp or mars black in oil paint for further comparison. It’s not at all an unpleasant grey, I actually really like it, but it just doesn’t seem to fit what I expected. It’s possible that the white I was using was the reason. I’ll have to try this again once I get some pure zinc white (PW4) because I’ve at least heard that titanium white (PW6) tends to cool down colors when mixed with them. The price is kind of high, and after looking around some more I found at least one other brand that uses PBk28 in a paint that’s cheaper, but I could easily see myself using this black as part of a minimal palette. The ivory black from M Graham was again kind of oily, but not as much this time.
I got that backwards, it’s actually zinc white that cools mixes down. I tried again with pure titanium white and it was still definitely a non-neutral cool grey.
Gamblin – Portland Grey Deep, Medium, and Light
I don’t normally use grey when painting, but I think that’s going to change. These were actually the first three of the new paints I got that I tried and I photographed them under different lighting conditions from the rest. Gamblin’s website doesn’t list PBr7 as being in them, but it’s written on the tubes and makes sense to me because normally a mix of black and white won’t be 100% neutral and if the grey is leaning a little toward the bluer side of things then a touch of brown will balance it out. These three paints are what I expect when I think of a neutral grey.
One of the first things I noticed with Gamblin’s paint was how thick it is compared to at least some of what I normally use. I gently pressed my palette knife into one of the greys and lifted it. It’s now at least 5 hours after this photo was taken and it’s still standing up, although the thin tops have curled over. There’s no way I’d be able to get the kind of texture with M Graham’s paints that I can with this.
Conclusions from my first impressions
I was very pleased with the consistency of every paint from every brand I tried. They’re all thick and I expect will hold a brushstroke well when I want to give a painting a little texture. Some of the paints were a little duller than I hoped and weren’t all that different from the less expensive (but still good quality) paint that I already have. The Naples Yellow Italian from Williamsburg is definitely my favorite based on these color swatches, with Mars Yellow and English Red from Old Holland being second and third place. I think the Portland Greys are going to be very useful. Although Gamblin’s Burnt Umber was surprisingly greyish, it should also be useful as a warm grey. I’d try more paint from any of these three brands. As for the prices on some of them compared to other brands offering the same paints, let’s just say that artist paint is not immune to the law of diminishing return.