Watercolor travel set mess

Upon request, I decided to come clean about one of my other obsessions: travel watercolor sets. I’ve been compiling sets for about a year, not including super budget (sub-$20) sets, and have included the picture above as proof of my collection addiction. I just love watching the colors bead off a brush onto paper. And those little individually-wrapped pans of watercolors are like candies to me. I can’t resist them.

However, I sort of hit the “watercolor set overload” this fall and I didn’t do much with them for a couple months. Then a couple weeks ago I got a wild hair and bought a new set. Why? Buying a new travel set of watercolors is not unlike buying a new fountain pen, and sometimes its just the pick-me-up I need to get me back into the habit of using the ones I already have. I bought a relatively inexpensive Van Gogh 12-color set (approx. $25 from my local Blick art supply shop).

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set

The Van Gogh set comes in a locking, white plastic box that is about 4×6″ in size and maybe an 1.5″ thick. Its a bit larger than the more commonly used Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Pocket Box but what I discovered once I started using the Van Gogh kit was that it contained, not one but, two layers of mixing trays.

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set

The paintbrush that comes with the kit is a pointed #6 synthetic travel brush which I originally dismissed as likely to be an inferior freebie brush but it turned out to be a very good little brush. The point is quite good and makes it easy to get a good crisp edge. Also the end of the brush can be used to wrench out the mixing tray to reveal the open well below.

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set

The end of the brush can also be used to wrench out the individual pans of watercolor should you wish to remove them or need to replace them. That alone is reason to keep the brush, even if you are not inclined to use it for painting. I ended up loving how much water it held and how fine a point it has maintained. I’ll be curious to see how long it lasts.

Van Gogh Travel Watercolor Set swatches

In swatching the paint colors I was quite pleased to see how clean and vibrant all the colors were. The twelve colors included really are quite sufficient for most painting needs. I love that the set includes an opaque white  for mixing and adding highlights. I know adding white to watercolor is heresy but sometimes its the shortest distance to the color I want. I also love that the set includes Payne’s Gray instead of a black.

Towards the bottom of my swatching, I did some color mixing in an effort to test how cleanly the Van Gogh paints would mix and what range of other colors I could get. I was actually quite pleased at how easily I was able to make many of the colors, often mixing just two colors together. I do plan to do further practicing with mixing and color theory but I think the nicest thing about the Van Gogh set was that it is not overwhelming. I like trying to mix my own colors and the Van Gogh set does the mixing nicely.

All the watercolor color swatches

After doing some successful painting with the Van Gogh set, I was ready to pull out the whole mess of watercolors again to see what else I have and figure out if less is more or if more is more.

So I spent some time swatching out every pan and palette of watercolor that I had to see what I had. I have an array of Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Winsor & Newton (pan and tube) and Winsor & Newton Cotman (student grade). I also did some research online about what more experienced artists recommend for we are more novice with watercolors. In the end, I’ve decided to put the Sennelier paints aside for the moment as the colors tend to be darker and, when I swatched the colors, they looked almost opaque and a little streaky sometimes which I think would frustrate me as I’m painting, especially being as new to watercolor as I am. The Daniel Smiths, while lovely, are a little funky (some have sparkle or will dry two different colors so they are probably a bit too experimental) so I shelved most of those colors for later as well.

Van Gogh + supplemental set

In the end, I pulled out a few of the additional Winsor & Newton colors like the Opera Rose, Permanent Magenta, Turquoise, Cobalt Blue, Green Gold, and Burnt Sienna plus a black, and a couple Daniel Smiths and made my “supplemental palette” to have some additional colors to play with. I’ll probably keep these on my desk to experiment with in the coming weeks and depend mostly on my Van Gogh palette to get me practicing with color mixing. I have gotten so spoiled working on the computer over the years that I feel I’ve forgotten a lot of my color mixing and color theory skills. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to mix that Opera Rose.

Supplemental Watercolor Set

If you’re considering a foray into watercolor painting, I think the Van Gogh set is a great option. The combination of good colors, a good assortment of palettes and a good brush make it a perfect starter set.

The Van Gogh swatches were done in a Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media Art Journal and the large page of swatches was done on a Fluid 100 hot press watercolor block.

4 Comments on Review: Van Gogh 12-Color Travel Watercolor Set

    • Thanks so much! I shot the photos using a combination of natural light and a camera-mounted strobe unit. Then I color-corrected the images in Adobe Ligthroom CC. Colors did shift a little bit from image to image as the sun was setting and it was a bit overcast but I’m glad you found the images fairly accurate color-wise.

  1. Opera Rose is not a permanent pigment and is fluorescent only use it in a decorative way and not for an archival work. Blick lists the formula content and qualities of every paint they sell,if you click on the paint number then the pigment identity above the swatch,this is an important research tool for all.Many paints are repeated with different names but the same pigment formula.Hope this helps you.

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