As an artsy child, the default gift from any family friend would be a cheap set of watercolours. Though it was a thoughtful gesture, they were frustratingly low-quality, even for a child. Consequently, as I became a teen and more serious about art, my impression toward watercolours was not great, if not outright resentful. Then, when I was 16, a family friend (flatteringly) sent me my first set of artist-grade watercolours — the St. Petersburg White Nights pan. They were unlike anything I’d ever used. More than a decade later, as a professional artist (according to my tax return, not just by the grade of materials I use), I am loyal to these paints despite plenty of experience with different brands. I still even have the original paints I was given (a testament to their longevity) and only upgraded to a new set a few years ago.
Here’s what makes these paints so bloody good: First — and this has nothing to do with their quality — each individual paint comes wrapped in foil. Unwrapping each one feels like unwrapping a sweet or a little present, which is just a pure joy. As for the paint quality, the colours are very vibrant and opaque, with a creamy texture from the gum arabic base — they act almost like gouache. Unlike many other brands, the colours never look chalky and the texture never feels dry — even in the pan that I’ve had for years. Though I understand some painters prefer a lot of translucency in their paint, I love the high pigmentation of these as it allows for a greater variety in depth — it’s nice to get a true black colour payoff in shadows without having to resort to switching to a different type of paint. Levels of transparency can still be easily achieved with careful water control, so the colours are very buildable.
For any artist, professional preferences and your own personal style will come into play when it comes to materials. Personally I hate watercolour tubes as I find that they’re very wasteful for my purposes (though the White Nights paints do come in tubes if you prefer). I much prefer the pan packaging, as they last much longer and you can also take individual paints out of the pan, which can be handy on small work surfaces. This also means you can buy additional individual paints and customise your pan. The default colour selection is ideal for me — I love that there are two variants of black (Payne’s grey and neutral black — one that can come across as a true black or a cool grey and another that can be washed out to a dark brown). There is a good range of all colours, specifically reds. The selection feels very deliberate and thought out, and despite having a fairly small pan I have never felt that there was a gap.
The paintings I made years ago still remain just as vibrant as they were when I first painted them, even if I’ve had something tacked on a wall in bright light — I feel that the high pigmentation contributes to the longevity. The box comes with a plastic palette to aid with mixing colours, though unfortunately the plastic has a tendency to stain, which may be the one downside. They’re also at a great price point — though they’re not exactly cheap, they are still far cheaper than other artist-quality watercolours — but of arguably better quality.
And the paper I like to use …
I always use the Daler Rowney Aquafine Watercolour Paper as you really do need something truly sturdy when using watercolour paints of any quality — there is nothing I hate more than warped/cockled paper, which will ruin even the most beautiful artworks. This paper is 300gsm and acid free, and I’ve never had any issues with buckling — I actually often use spare sheets (i.e., discarded/abandoned/ruined paintings) as mixing palettes, even for gouache or acrylic.
The Strategist UK is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Read about who we are and what we do here. Our editors update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.