Michael Harding watercolours – a big decision that I’d like your help with!

Itchy brushes?

I don’t know if it’s the time of year, or the time in my life or I’m just feeling a little restless but, after being steadfastly loyal (on the whole!) to the Winsor and Newton Professional range of watercolour pigments, I’m considering a change!

My current palette mainly consists of the same 18 or so pigments, on top of which I have a couple of other tubes such as titanium white that I might use on occasion. I’ve used the Winsor and Newton Professional range pretty much exclusively since I started painting. My reasoning was that if it was good enough for the likes of Edward Wesson and Edward Seago, then it was good enough for me.

I was also of the belief that at the stage I was at as a painter, the difference between say Winsor and Newton and Daniel Smith pigments probably wouldn’t make or break any of my work and that my main focus should be on learning how to paint with what I’ve got!

More recently, there have been some economic reasons too. I tend to buy all of my paints second-hand on eBay, which saves me a small fortune in paints! It also means that I’ve amassed quite a large stock of paints, many of which are ones that I know I will use, some of which are colours that I’m unlikely to venture near but which came as part of a job lot of paints. Any move towards a different range of paints will most likely mean me having to spend more money than I currently do!

Just a few of the paints I’ve amassed….

I have dallied with other brands, mainly Daniel Smith, but I’ve never quite come to terms with extravagant naming conventions, so am never quite sure what colour is being described.

Recently, however, I’ve had my head turned by a relatively new range of watercolour pigments made by Michael Harding. He’s far better known for his oil paints, which have been in production for many years now, but his range of watercolours is relatively new to the market. I’ve seen that they’re available at both Ken Bromley Art Supplies and Jackson’s Art Supplies, where you can also see a review of these new pigments.

For anyone that might be interested, here’s a colour chart that I downloaded from Ken Bromely Art supplies:

I think part of what’s driving my dilemma is pure restlessness, a desire to try something different. I’m also wondering however if a different brand may well have different qualities about it that might make a difference to my paintings.

After initially thinking that the only way to find out would be to buy a complete set of colours to replace my existing pallette, the realisation that this approach would cost me in the region of £150 made me think twice! What if I really don’t get along with them, that’d be a terrible waste of money!

Where I’m currently at is:

  • Sharing my dilemma with everyone here is case anyone has an opinion or any insights to offer about Michael Harding watercolour paints or other manufacturers that you think I should definitely be considering
  • Choosing a small selection of my most used colours from my palette to test and compare (here I’m thinking Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna and maybe Alizarin Crimson
  • Not doing anything at all and seeing if this restlessness passes of its own accord!

I’d really welcome any advice, opinions or experiences that others might have before I splash out on what may well turn out to be a fruitless exercise!

In other news

Following last week’s post I’ve been keeping up with some more of my figure work, this time returning to a view that I first painted back in 2016 after a trip to Paris. Sadly this photograph doesn’t do this image much justice but the light was going and I had to get this photographed in time to post it!

Sketch of a crepe seller on Pont Alexandre III Bridge in Paris (2022)

What’s interesting is that I didn’t refer back to my first effort until I came to write this post, and suddenly seeing the two efforts side by side is quite illuminating – and not necessarily all in a good way! Here they are side by side:

I’ll leave it to others to judge but I think I was perhaps hoping for something a little more startling! I’m not going to stew on it for too long for fear that I decide never to pick up a brush again!

Before I get too despondent! Here’s something much more cheerful that is also quite seasonal!

I was delighted to sell this painting, ‘From the edge of the pumpkin patch, Poynings’ on Sunday 30th October!

From the edge of the pumpkin patch, Poynings

It was purchased from my website, almost a year to the day after I’d painted it, and obviously just before Halloween! At the time of writing this it’s still in transit to the buyer so, as ever, my fingers are firmly crossed that it’s well received!

Thoughts on Michael Harding watercolours – a big decision that I’d like your help with!

4 thoughts on “Michael Harding watercolours – a big decision that I’d like your help with!”

  1. Alas, John, the predicament of all watercolour artists, and probably of all artists generally. I have not used the Michael Harding watercolours and will not until I use some of the paints I have accumulated but which have been sitting in boxes for years.

    One thing I can say for almost certain is that your paintings won’t improve with the acquisition of new paints, regardless of how well they are marketed. Is there something you feel your current choice of paints is not providing? I can’t comment on MH specifically, however, one thing a new brand could do is make the painting process somewhat more enjoyable. One thing about W&N I did not like was how hard some of their paints dry on the palette. This is also a problem with certain Daniel Smith colours like Viridian and Cobalt Violet. I found when painting from dried paints, using another brand has made a difference for me and has made the process more enjoyable.

    From reading your blog for a while, it seems like you have a very definite set of colours that you like to stick to. I think it would be a good idea to try one tube of MH paint of your most commonly used colour and compare it with your W&N standard. I think French Ultramarine would be a good choice because it is in every palate and it is one of those colours that can vary between brands quite a bit. It is also the kind of paint that has a bit of life to it as it granulates and behaves in differently in each brand. If this proves to be preferable, when the W&N colour runs out, you can replace it with a MH colour.

    If you are feeling restless, I think you might actually benefit more from adding some new colours to your palette, rather than the same colours in a different brand. For instance, instead of Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre, try some of the more vibrant Quinacridone colours like Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet or Orange and Quinacridone Gold. Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet is called Brown Madder in the W&N range. Unfortunately, W&N does not have a Quinacridone Burnt Orange. This may add more variety to your palette and 5ml tubes of each would not be very expensive.

    On the other hand, adding new equipment, while exciting, can often slow the painting process down and make the whole activity of watercolour painting, which is already challenging enough, even more difficult.

    Best of luck and I look forward to reading what you decide.

    1. Hi Conor and many thanks for such a considered response! I’ve done a great deal of umming and ahhing over this, and here’s where my thoughts are now! I agree that new paints won’t make me a better painter. What they might do, however, is make my paintings better! I realise this may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but I think there may be a subtle distinction here! Without wanting to create a spoiler for my next post – I have taken the plunge! I did consider just going for a single tube to compare (and had earmarked ultramarine as I use it a lot), but as I’d just sold a painting a little bit out of the blue, I thought I’d try a few of my staple colours as one of the things I’m keen to see how they mix. I’ll reveal which in my next post!

      I have, on occasion tried to introduce a different colour (and I did dabble with brown madder) but I still tend to up gravitating back to my favourites. I think this is because even though I’ve been using the same palette of colours for some years now, I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what I can do with them! Whenever I try a new colour, I think it takes me back a step or two but I should probably be a little more adventurous! I think that we might be in similar situations with boxes of unused paints! I’m already in a dilemma about what to do with all of the Winsor and Newton paints I have, some of which are colours that 0I do use, but some are colours that I’ve very unlikely to dabble with! I feel the pressure on these new paints is now greater than ever!

  2. Mrs Barbara Halsall

    I also saw the MH range offered at Ken Bromley and had similar thoughts. Having used WN almost exclusively over the years.
    It is a dilemma, in my case, I need to stop thinking new materials will make my paintings get better and the cost is such a consideration right now when I have so many paints in the drawer. I am going to resist temptation and look forwards to seeing what you decide to do. Changing brushes is a different matter and sometimes inspires and relieves a bit of boredom.

    1. Aha, Barbara, I see we find ourselves in very similar situations! I’m half tempted to email MH to see if they might be able to characterise what sets their watercolours apart from Winsor and Newton! I think I’m going to wait a few more days while I mull it over but I think I might start off with a little order of my core colours. Who knows, if I like them… and with Christmas just around the corner, they’d make perfect presents (for me of course!) I’ll let you know how I get on!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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