Back in July, I was asked to do a review of QoR Watercolors, a new line manufactured by Golden Paints, for the Urban Sketching Symposium in Chicago. Though they provided me with the paint, all views expressed in this blog are my own. This isn't a sponsored post so I'm free to review as I see fit! QoR, standing for "Quality of Results," uses a synthetic binder called Aquazol instead of the more common Gum Arabic. Though it is synthetic, I feel the need to point out it is NOT acrylic since it seems there are rumors to the contrary. Acrylic doesn't rewet with water, Aquazol does.
Aquazol has been used in art conservation work for over 20 years, and unsurprisingly has really great staying-power. Part of the reason it's been so popular for conservation work is it has a longer lifespan than alternate binders, like gum arabic, so work made with QoR watercolors shares that advantage. Aquazol also is clear, rather than the slight amber of gum arabic, and that allows for brighter colors with more clarity. I found this to be especially noticeable in the blues, and perhaps best seen in this painting I did in the studio, from a photo taken in California.
I appreciate their team's dedication to creating a professional watercolor that is the highest level of lightfast and archival as possible. They even discontinued a yellow because it wasn't measuring up. To read more about their lightfastness testing and how to understand lightfastness readings, here and here are two articles that will explain it better than I ever could!
But how are they to work with? Starting from the beginning, they settled well in my pans (see below). Now, a couple months later, some are starting to separate out from the edge of the pans a bit as they're getting a little dryer, but almost all still feel a little sticky (actually, some shrinking and separating from the sides of the pans still feel sticky. Weird!). After a couple of days drying under a fan, they were all dry enough to travel without worry of them slopping out of the pans if my palette was to flip over in my bag.
When it came to actually painting with them....I wasn't totally blown away. I enjoyed them in the studio, they mostly rewet similarly to my other watercolors; colors that don't rewet well in QoR are the colors I have that don't rewet well in other brands either. Thinned out paint on a mixing surface, once dry, is also more challenging to rewet and I found even non-staining pigments to be challenging to get all the way off my palette when I wanted to clean it. The staining pigments also seemed more staining than in other brands. Likewise, trying to pull up dried paint on paper was more challenging than I've experienced in other brands. However, that also means if you're someone like me who likes to paint in layers, you can add wash after wash without fear that earlier layers will rewet.
I started just playing around with the colors a bit, seeing how they reacted and felt on the brush. Here's one of my test sheets, which shows how lively the QoR watercolors can be. I found using them with a little less water was better; washes need to be applied very thinly or else edges flower (more easily than I've found in other brands). You can also see that some colors blend right into each other really well, while others flower more or don't mix, leaving a white edge between them when left to their own devices.
Later, I found when out in the field in direct sunlight that getting them to rewet was even more challenging. You'll experience this in any brand, but when using my QoR and standard (containing Winsor Newton, Daniel Smith, Rembrandt, and M.Graham) palettes back to back in the same conditions, I found my standard to be rewetting MUCH easier (though in the studio it felt similar). This was especially surprising considering my QoR paints had only been in the pans a few days, and the standard palette had been panned weeks ago.
Here's a painting I did in Times Square, as my first foray into using QoR for urban sketching. I was in full sun...and it was a challenge. I found it necessary to put down a full layer of water before doing any washes, otherwise the paint would sink right into the paper and I'd end up with brush marks all over (check out the shadow in the foreground for a great example of this). This happens in the studio, too, but much less noticeably (and yes, it does happen on both cold press and hot press paper, though it is certainly more pronounced on hot press). Usually as long as the edge is wet you can draw out the paint and have a uniform wash, but alas. Despite brush marks, QoR tends to spread well in water, making it great for well-planned larger washes (preferably with water down first), but makes it very hard to have a wash that blends out as the edge of wet paper usually fills with paint. Something to look out for!
Something I noticed while working with QoR, is that there is less color shift as it dries. What you put down wet is basically what you get when it dries, which is great.
I did a lot of tests against Daniel Smith watercolors, since I happened to have their test sheets on hand (and it's mostly what I use anyway) and was able to try many colors by the same name out against their QoR counterparts.
(I was running out of Daniel Smith Payne's Gray, that's the only reason it's so light)
By the time I got to Chicago I had a better handle on how much water I needed to use and when I needed to put water down first and when I didn't. Here's two paintings done purely with QoR (and pen), from my Chicago trip!
At the end of the day, they were comparable to other professional watercolor brands, and a handful of colors may eventually work their way into some of my palettes,* but I'll mostly be sticking to what I already use. They ARE compatible with gum arabic-based watercolors, so you can add QoR colors into your palette without doing a complete overhaul.
A huge thank you to Raylie, who put me up for the gig, the crew at Urban Sketchers who let me talk at the symposium, and to the great people over at Golden for generously sending me paint to try out!
To read more about of QoR, check out these articles about the differences between binders and properties of QoR and about the science of Aquazol.
*I'm looking at you, Mars Orange Deep, Indanthrone Blue, Cobalt Teal, Cobalt Green, Ultramarine Violet and Cerulean Blue Chromium!