And the siren sings…

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.

I’ve been working in pencil too long, does my head in. Pigments are my true love, and always will be. They’ve been singing to me lately, which leads me to the matter of paints. A while back, a friend was thoughtful enough to send me a whole bunch of watercolours they weren’t going to use (Hi, Kestrel!), and I about screamed with delight when I saw the Sakura Koi paints. I haven’t had those in ages, and I love them. Love them to pieces. I’m not impartial to Sakura; I have a whole lot of their markers in my studio, and their products have never disappointed.

I’ve written before about the sheer gougery in art products, everything costs a bloody fortune. Just trying to recoup your materials cost in any given piece can seriously hike the price you end up asking. There is, of course, a staggering amount of snobbery in the world of art supply. Many people end up convinced that name equals quality. Sometimes, it does. Other times, not so much. Some people are so convinced that name equals quality, they don’t pay any attention to the actual quality of the product. This is oh so true when it comes to paints. The best way to insure the quality you want is to make your own, but that does your wallet no favours. Back to the Sakura Koi – the set I bought ages ago, I did buy because of price. Sakura manages to attach a reasonable price to their products, which is not a crime, in spite of many people thinking so. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pigments, clear, bright, and luminous. It’s very easy to get distracted by the ‘big’ names, and spurn the reasonably priced stuff, but it’s truly worth your while to give the reasonable stuff a try, there are many gems there which you won’t be disappointed in at all, and they’re a kindness to that wallet too. The 18 set shown runs around $27.00 these days, and the tubes are a very generous 12 ml, so they’ll last a long time.


  1. says

    Oh my goodness, am I ever with you on this! Most of my paints were purchased at a local discount store, and I’ve never bothered to learn the name of the manufacturer.

  2. says

    It can be surprising, the quality you can find with the cheaper stuff. Sometimes, it’s honestly shit, but if it is, at least you didn’t spend a fortune on it. I’ve ended up paying premium price for some paints that weren’t worth a penny.

  3. kestrel says

    Oh yes -- art materials are SO EXPENSIVE. And yes, the name brands -- wow, gasp, pretty hard to justify prices sometimes. I saw someone who charges (for their oil paintings) X per square inch. It’s interesting to try and figure out what X will have to be just so you can break even on materials. If you can’t at least break even on materials it’s like you can’t afford to sell that piece!

    Another thing that costs a grundle for me anyway are the tools. I ordered a teeny tiny set of leather carving tools from one of the top tool makers on the planet. I had to wait two years (that’s how long his list is and he makes tools pretty much every day) and my final bill was about $500.00. I’ve also got a tool that cuts, bevels and skives leather lace, and that baby cost me close to $400.00. And yet I could not do my work without the proper tools. I sometimes quite cynically think that I’ve spent so much on tools I will never break even on them, unless of course I can manage to live another hundred years and I’m real certain that is not going to happen.

    So glad these paints ended up with a happy home! I like them a lot, and honestly could not understand why everyone around me kept trying to steer me to more expensive paint. I thought they did the job wonderfully.

  4. kestrel says

    @chigau: oh yeah. Big time. To the point where, if you take a workshop with a Big Name Artist, they will even tell you to only buy certain paints and brushes. Or they will at least say something like “bring artist quality paint, not student quality”. Now part of it is they might be used to working with certain paint but good grief -- yellow ochre is yellow ochre. The student quality isn’t made of ground-up crayons, for crying out loud.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    As an archaeologist, I know about ochre as pigment.
    I think I could work up a bit of performance for the Big Name Artist Workshop:
    *raising one eyebrow*
    You buy your paints?
    From a merchant?

  6. avalus says

    Ah yes, the curse of the artstore. One of the few occasions where I think: “I really could need a bunch of money right now, look at those colours!” I usualy bought what I could afford, with a destinct “quantitiy over quality”-mentality (I painted with acrylics only).

    @ chigau: Ochre, i remember this as a pigment, too. in middleschool I made my own ogre paint, from appropriate sand, ground down, water, eggwhite (and something else I do not remember anymore). It was für an art project, decorating/painting a wall in the School building using ancient and medival paints.

    Also great point! Those peddlers of paint are sure unworthy sources for the true artist (TM). :D

  7. says


    To the point where, if you take a workshop with a Big Name Artist, they will even tell you to only buy certain paints and brushes.

    That’s because a lot of them are shills, and that’s how they get their supplies for free.

  8. says

    All this talk of ochre reminds me of New England’s ancient inhabitants who used red ochre in their burial rites. Of course, white settlers took the ochre from the graves. Because it never occurred to them to respect indigenous graves.

  9. rq says

    ogre paint

    I say use the cheap stuff! I can realistically only afford student-grade, and since I make art to make friends and colleagues happy and don’t expect it to last hundreds of years (would be nice in some weird way, but honestly, more than useless to me), any talk about fading or discoloration or unsuitability is excessive and unnecessary.
    However, I’ll have to see if this brand is available here, because good value for good quality is still a nice thing to have. Sort of like buying a fancy affordable pen for signing stuff even though the regular ball-points work fine when taking notes -- sometimes it just feels right.

  10. says


    However, I’ll have to see if this brand is available here, because good value for good quality is still a nice thing to have.

    Yes, it is, but in the snobbery of the art world, people act like that’s some kind of horror. I really appreciate all of Sakura’s products, their Micron markers are fabulous, and they don’t cost a bloody fortune.

  11. Mak, acolyte to Farore says

    I remember when I first started out in watercolor how useful Handprint was at the time. I had basically no clue how to pick out any of my supplies, except that the stuff I used at school was frustrating to the point that I swore off watercolor for years before deciding to give it another chance.

    What surprised me was how varied the different qualities of paints and brushes were, and how their prices varied even more. I also learned right off that Winsor & Newton was ridiculously expensive and of questionable quality compared to the cost, and I had absolutely zero need to buy even a single tube or brush, no matter how many books stated that they were essential to quality work. I latched onto a few Escoda sable brushes and some M. Graham paints instead and I loved them so.

    I still have the Escoda brushes (and recently bought one of their synthetic sables to try out, since the cost of sable has been skyrocketing out of pace with its quality to the point that even Escoda is like ‘lol screw this’, and I’d really like to find a synthetic that actually performs like a sable), and actually still have my original tubes of M. Graham. They still work pretty good despite the tubes pushing over ten years old at this point.

    But I wanted to replace some of the tubes that started going bad and holy crap, the prices have gone up since then. I guess the cost of cadmium and some of the other pigments is a big factor in that, but it’s still pretty disappointing, and I kind of wonder if they’re still as good as they were ten years ago.

    You’re absolutely right in that with many art supplies, you really do get what you pay for. But like… surely there’s a limit. Paint makers have to make money too, but when is it really a matter of quality and material, and when does it start being about expanding profit margins? Or when “quality” becomes marketing jargon… (“Forty bazillion color levels! Sure the human eye has a limit to how many colors it can see, but look at how big our number is!”)

    I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about those Koi paints and now I really want to give them a try. I’d be more inclined to practice/experiment with a cheaper set, since I won’t be worried so much about “wasting” a bunch of money that I can’t afford to replace, and it’d be nice to have something cheap that still has nice bright colors and reasonably good stability.

    (Amusingly, while idly browsing some office supply store, I found a set of greyscale prismacolor markers at a fraction of what they cost at the Michael’s next door. I still couldn’t afford them, but… welp, never buying them at Michael’s. Heh.)

  12. says


    Yeah, Winsor & Newton, I won’t touch their products anymore. Shoddy and unbelievably overpriced, and they keep raising the price on everything.

    Sakura has small sets of the Koi paints, very affordable. You won’t be disappointed, they’re lovely to work with. Prismacolor, oy. They’re my colour pencil of choice, being that I can’t even think about buying Caran d’ache, and they are too expensive as it stands, at 2 bucks a pencil. You can find some surprisingly good deals at office supply. Right now, I’d be happy with an overpriced Michael’s, because the only art supply here is fucking Hobby Lobby. I don’t shop there anymore, haven’t for a long time, but one thing I noticed first time I was ever in the store was that the only “reasonably” priced goods were their own house brands under various names. They only stocked the big names and their crap. All the good quality for a reasonable price stuff? Nowhere to be found.

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