gansai

Art Supply Review: Old Holland Watercolors

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Old Holland is kind of a strange brand. There are not a lot of reviews of it because of its expensive price in many parts of the world. I’m lucky enough that my local art store has a full collection of this brand at fairly reasonable prices.

Handprint.com doesn’t think very much of this brand because of its lightfastness issues and its odd labeling practices. That’s totally understandable. I don’t think I would ever recommend this brand to a beginner.

The pigments are definitely pure. They claimed that they include twice as much pigment as other brands, and that might be true. However, the binder for these paints is what makes it different from all other paints, and calm cause problems for a new or experienced watercolor artist. The binder has been described as gummy and sticky. And the paints lift extremely easily.

Not normally something that you’d associate with a high-grade artist quality watercolor brand.

Despite all of that, I love these paints!

Background

Many artists don’t like Old Holland watercolors. They say that they are too gummy , too thick, and too difficult to rewet. And all of these things are true to a certain extent. The colors do not stay still on the page, and lift extremely easily. All of these things can easily be considered negative points.

But there is one thing that I think is important to realize about these watercolors. They are really gansai.

Pseudo-Gansai

Okay, or at least they are basically gansai or very similar to gansai.

At my local art store, I picked up this pamphlet talking about Old Holland watercolors that comes directly from the company. Here is what it says.

Old Holland Classic watercolour
These watercolours combine the best qualities of the original colours as used by the Chinese masters. All 168 colours are lightfast. The old fashioned Chinese binder accepts more pigment. This binder is based on distilled water, bleeched cristal arable gums, pure glycerine 99.9% with various mixtures of different natural sugar syrups,special selected honey, rabbit skin glue, rosin varnish (made from roots), seaweed extract, mhyr, etc. The colours tend to be considerably stronger than normal artist’s watercolours, while retaining the transparency required to produce the most delicate hues. Due to the higher level of pigmentation the intensity and brilliance is superior, while less quantity of paint is required to make the artwork.

Pamphlet

Okay, so what does that sound like? If you have read my blog post about Gansai, this will all sound very familiar.

And it makes sense. The Dutch were one of the few countries that were able to trade with the Chinese and the Japanese in the 17th century. You have probably heard of the Dutch East India Company, haven’t you?

Gansai is a Japanese art medium, but many of Japanese traditional arts have their roots Chinese culture. I don’t know what the Chinese word for gansai is, but I’m pretty sure that is what is going on here with these Old Holland watercolors.

So the characteristics fit. They lift easily, they are extremely vibrant, and extremely pigmented. The only thing that seems to be different is that the colors also mix with absolutely no problems.

Also, it is important to note that this binder is the main reason why old Holland colors have a bit of a lightfastness problem in some formulations. Some of the binder combinations that Old Holland uses yellow over time.

Stats

Quality Where Does it Stand?
Lightfastness varying lightfastness, I would not trust the lightfastness rating given by Old Holland
Where Is It Made? Holland
Identification (Color Labeling and Accuracy) No pigment number or other information on the tube, also the label does not match the color inside at all
Tube size 6 mL
Price US$6 - US$22

Colors Reviewed

  • GOLDEN BAROK RED – PO 65
  • SCHEVENINGEN YELLOW LIGHT – PY 174
  • ULTRAMARINE BLUE DEEP – PB 29

Swatches

These colors are all extremely vibrant. They are surprisingly transparent, and every single one of them is extremely lifting. I have never seen colors that lifted as easily as this. You could put a drop of water on the paint and it would completely come off the page.

This can actually be really frustrating when you’re painting because you can basically erase the entire thing depending on what paper you are using.

This Ultramarine Blue Deep is my favorite ultramarine. The granulation is absolutely gorgeous and unlike the granulation I have seen in any other brand. I will definitely be buying more of this.

Scheveningen Yellow Light is now my favorite warm yellow. It’s transparent, and just glows.

Mixing

The colors mixed together extremely well. They harmonize and have a lot of movement when used wet in wet. The painting that I did using these colors has a sort of gentle harmony to it.

Re-wetting

This is where these colors fall down. Because of the binder, it’s extremely difficult to rewet these pains in comparison to other artistry paints. You have to add water to them before the pigment will come off of the pan.

Glazing and Layering

I don’t use these paints when I am planning to do a lot of layers. Or at least I don’t use them on the bottom layers, particularly because of that issue with listing. These colors don’t stay down very well. They always want to come off the page if there is any sort of agitation on top.

So I normally only use these paints if I am going to be doing a painting that doesn’t require a lot of layers, or if I want to use them on top of already painted layers.

They glaze well, and are very vibrant.

Vibrancy

Extremely vibrant, obviously full of pigment. Beautiful. There are variations of tone within each color.

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Extremely High Pigment Load No pigment information on the tube
The Most Beautiful Granulation Difficult to Rewet
Very Vibrant Lifts easily
Unique Pigments Extremely Expensive
Questionable Lightfastness
Strange Names
The line is full of overly complicated convenience mixes

Who is it for?

Obviously not a reasonable person.

Not for anyone who is a stickler about single pigment paints or lightfastness.

I will probably continue buying these pains, but I will attempt to be aware of the limitations of the paint and careful about the lightfastness.

This brand is definitely a “luxury” brand if you think about the price and the lack of functionality. This isn’t really a brand that you go to for consistency or predictable quality. This is a brand that you go to because there’s just something about it that you love, despite all of the negative aspects.

So this is for somebody who has already tried artist grade watercolors, and is already very comfortable with them, and wants to be a little silly with their paints.

The Last Word

  • Price: ★
  • Quality: ★★★
  • Overall: ★★

Official Website

Availability

In Europe

Other Discussions

What is Gansai? | Watercolor 101

What is Gansai?

You have probably heard of the big brands like Kuretake Gansai Tambi, or Kisshou Gansai, but what is gansai really?

Gansai (顔彩) is traditional Japanese watercolor. In English, we tend to refer to both types of paints as simply watercolor. However there are two words for these types of paints in Japanese. Gansai is written 顔彩 and the type of water colors that are more traditional in the West (also called transparent watercolors) are written 水彩.
While Western watercolor is traditionally bound with gum arabic, gansai is bound with a combination that could include glue, starch, gum arabic ,beeswax, sugar syrup, sugar, or glycerin [1][2][3][4]. The glue is made from concentrated collagen and gelatin that has been extracted from animal and fish skins through boiling [5] [6] . When the pigment and binder is mixed together, they are dried in pans. Those in large square pans are called gansai 顔彩, and those in round dishes are called teppatsu 鉄鉢 [7]. They can also be formed into a sort of watercolor pastel/crayon that is called bouenogu 棒絵具 [8]

What is it used for?

More Convenient Version of Iwaenogu 岩絵具 or Suiengou 水干絵具

Iwaenogu 岩絵具 is a type of traditional Japanese paint which is generally made from semi precious stone and other pigments (such as Cinnabar, malachite, azurite, lapis lazuli, etc.) that have been crushed and mixed with the same type of glue that is used in gansai by hand right before it is used[9]. They are very expensive and available in a range of particle sizes.
Gansai is not made with the same type of very expensive pigments used in iwaenogu. Generally, gansai uses the same pigments as suiengou 水干絵具 [10]. Suiengou is made from fine pigments or dyes combined with chalk made from shellfish [11] or purified clay [12]. The pigments are also a bit cheaper than iwaenogu even though they are still of high quality and very lightfast. Just like iwaenogu, suienogu is sold in pigment form and must have glue added to it just before painting.
Since gansai has already been mixed at the proper ratio and is already dried in a pan or dish, it is much more convenient to use than iwaenogu. It’s like the difference between using Western pre-made pan paints versus making your paint by yourself each time you are going to paint a picture.

Underpainting for Iwaenogu 岩絵具

Both suiengou and gansai are often used as the underpainting for iwaenogu because they are much cheaper than the expensive pigments used in that type of paint. By painting with one of these two, the artist can cover up the white of the paper or cloth and provide a ground for the Iwaengou to stick to [13].

Sketching and Etegami [14]

Because it is not as expensive or difficult to use as iwaenogu or suienogu, gansai is often recommended for sketching. Iwaenogu and suienogu are not as convenient as gansai, since they come in pigment form and must be combined with a binder right before painting. On the other hand, gansai is already premixed and in a container, so they are ready to go whenever the feeling to paint strikes you. That makes them a perfect sketching medium.
These are also the reasons that make them great for etegami or Japanese picture postcards. Etegami are meant to be fast, casual, and imperfect. They are full of simple, bright colors and drawings that are meant to express emotion more than accuracy. So this quick medium is also suited to these types of drawings.

Characteristics

Vibrancy and Opacity

When gansai is watered down it retains its vibrancy more than Western watercolors do. Also,gansai’s binder can give it a shiny finish.
Gansai tend to be more opaque than transparent watercolors. Remember that these paints were formulated to work on Japanese paper. Transparent watercolors do not show up very well on Japanese paper, and the additional opacity of gansai help them to appear on the paper with little bleeding.

Lifting

The binder adhesion in gansai is weak compared to other Japanese paints. As a result, they tend to lift much easier than most transparent watercolors, even when dry.
There are a few things that could contribute to this. When gansai is used on Japanese washi paper, it doesn’t lift as easily as it does on Western watercolor paper, especially when used with ultrasoft Japanese goat-hair brushes. Traditional Japanese paintings are and also not as dependent on layering as Western watercolor paintings, so there is less opportunity for the paint to lift when new layers are added.

Colors

The colors of traditional Japanese gansai sets are often different from those in transparent watercolors. These paints were created for Japanese picture painting, which comes from a different tradition than European painting. Japanese colors are also based on colors that can actually be seen in nature, which would probably explain the abundance of blues and greens in many gansai palettes.
The colors can give a calm and peaceful feeling to the viewer because they are not overly saturated.

Pans

Why are gansai pans so big? Japanese brushes can be much bigger than Western-style brushes, so they need a bigger pan to ensure the brush hairs are not damaged.

Mixing

Gansai were not made to be mixed in the same way that transparent watercolors are. This is part of the reason that many gansai sets do not come with a mixing palette.
I have read many reviews that say that gansai paints get muddy when mixed, this makes sense considering the traditional background of the paints, however I have never experienced this. The colors I have been able to mix from gansai have been very clear and bright.

Quality

Many reviews disparage the quality of gansai because they don’t act in the same way that Western watercolors do. I think that this is unfair. They are not the same type of paint, so they can’t be expected to behave in the same way.
Of course, just like there are high-grade and low-grade watercolors, or high-grade and low-grade oil paints, there are high-grade and low-grade gansai paints.

Western Paints (eg: Winsor and Newton, Schmincke) versus Gansai

Western Paints Gansai
Come in half and full pans Generally come in one size pan
Gum Arabic binder Binder may be a combination of glue, starch, gum arabic ,beeswax, sugar syrup, sugar, and glycerin
Tend to be more transparent Can be more opaque
High quality versions mix well Can be more difficult to mix 3 or more colors
Varying staining levels Mostly lifts very easily
Dries Matte Dries Glossy
Available in Tubes Not available in tubes

Links

About Gansai

About Traditional Japanese Painting in General

About Japanese Colors

Blue and Green

Other Colors


  1. http://www.tanseido.jp/item/c00049/  ↩

  2. http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/260614/meaning/m0u/  ↩

  3. https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7September5September5%E5%85September7#.E6.97.A5.E6.9C.AC.E7.94.BB.E7.B5.B5.E5.85.B7  ↩

  4. https://swu.repo.nii.ac.jp/?action=pages_view_main&active_action=repository_view_main_item_detail&item_id=178&item_no=1&page_id=30&block_id=97  ↩

  5. http://zokeifile.musabi.ac.jp/228%86Thu0/  ↩

  6. http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/260614/meaning/m0u/  ↩

  7. http://ameblo.jp/saibyou/entry–12019174174.html  ↩

  8. http://zokeifile.musabi.ac.jp/%E6%97Thursday5%E6%9CThursdayC%E7%94SeptemberB%E7September5September5%E5%85September7/  ↩

  9. http://www.geocities.jp/wa_style_site/nihonga/nihonga2  ↩

  10. http://zokeifile.musabi.ac.jp/%E6September0September4%E5September9September2%E7September5September5%E5%85September7/  ↩

  11. https://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1335140508  ↩

  12. http://www.kissho-nihonga.co.jp/products/suihienogu/  ↩

  13. http://zokeifile.musabi.ac.jp/%E6September0September4%E5September9September2%E7September5September5%E5%85September7/  ↩

  14. http://www.kuretake.co.jp/create/letter/index.html  ↩