Instead of the usual watercolor class last week, we went on a tour to the local M. Graham paint factory. Though small, M. Graham sells their paints internationally and they are considered one of the best quality paints around. Notably, their watercolors are made with honey, rather than the glucose that most vendors use. This keeps the paint moist, so you can squeeze out the color onto your palette and it will stay almost as fresh as if just squeezed from the tube (note: some colors dry out more than others). They are also noted for the amount of pigment they use per tube, resulting in beautiful bright color.
Unfortunately, photography wasn’t really feasible because the rooms were small and with 18 of us, I couldn’t really get into position for clear shots. Otherwise, I’d have had a few photos for you.
I was impressed at how small the complex was. There are nine employees total, one building with three rooms. Two milling machines, a labeling machine, and a mixer are pretty much all the equipment needed.
I was surprised to learn that it isn’t necessarily the cost or scarcity of the pigment that drives the price of the paint. Things such as the weight of the pigment, which will determine how much to use per pound, make a big difference. For instance, some of the most costly paints are the cadmiums, and one of the cheapest is ultramarine blue. Yet most cadmium pigments run around $20 a pound vs $120 for the ultramarine blue. The difference is that very little of the ultramarine blue is needed to create a tube of watercolor paint — maybe 1/6 of a pound. It can take several pounds of a cadmium to make a tube. Economics in action!
Even though we didn’t have a painting class, our teacher, Kathy, asked us to paint something water-related so I did another waterfall. I started out with my values too dark, and though I love the Strathmore Aquarius II paper, it doesn’t allow you to lift paint very well. Given the colors I was using – M. Graham Gamboge, Phthalocyanine Blue and Quinacridone Rust, I ended up with a brighter painting than I intended. I may go back later and add more darker values, but I decided to wait and see how the painting appealed to me after letting some time pass.