Even at first glance, the paints available in the Michael Harding Professional Watercolours range will pique the excitement of any watercolour painter. These are artist-quality paints, finely ground for vibrance and clarity, and each is highly pigmented for a wonderful strength and depth of colour. The range boasts an impressive 136 shades, 92 of which are single pigment colours, which is designed to enable bright, clean colour-mixing. By testing eight colours from the watercolour paint range, I was able to see for myself the wealth of colour and high pigment load that this brand prides itself on – and rightly so, in my opinion.
First Impressions of Michael Harding Professional Watercolours
I must admit, my expectations for these watercolour paints were high, as I know that the Michael Harding range of oil paints already has an excellent reputation. The watercolours arrived in sturdy 15 ml tubes, smartly labelled, with the name of paint, pigment number, and a band of the corresponding colour on the front of the tube. As someone whose organisational skills are not exactly fantastic, I always find this a very helpful feature when it comes to tube paints! The only issue I had here was the colour on the Indanthrone Blue tube: it looks more violet than blue to me, which meant I did grab the wrong paint a couple of times by mistake. The squeezing consistency of the paint was very similar across the eight tubes I tested: creamy, thick, and a little sticky. This I suspect is partly due to the ingredients employed in making these paints, which include high-quality gum arabic and honey.
The care that has been devoted to producing this range was evident in every paint I tested, with each colour boasting its own distinct character. The spectrum of watercolour paints offered is designed to suit any artist’s purpose, boasting historically interesting pigments such as Rose Madder and Lapis Lazuli, as well as many modern synthetics which offer beautiful vibrant colour.
Testing Colours From the Michael Harding Professional Watercolours Range
When selecting my paints, I elected to test a range of brights and darks, six of which are single pigment colours and two of which are blends, as I was excited to see whether there was much difference between them, and just how well these paints would mix.
This paint is perhaps the strongest of all the colours I tested. It is also a surprisingly good mixer: I have found in the past that deep orange tones tend to muddy a little when mixed, as they are often created with a blend of red and yellow pigments, rather than a true orange. Michael Harding’s version of this colour uses a single pigment, PO34, which softens into a pale, elegant wash. This paint is marked as semi-transparent, and when used thickly it has a real robustness of colour. This would be a lovely addition to the palette of any botanical artist or painter of florals, with its range of rich colour.
Rich, bright, and vibrant, this wonderful purple colour is a carefully crafted blend of two pigments: PV19, a violet shade; and PB29, which most people will recognise by its other name: Ultramarine Blue. This becomes evident when enough water or a little salt is added to a wash of Imperial Purple, encouraging the paint to split out and reveal a delightful hint of blue underlying the deep violet colour. This unique combination is what gives Imperial Purple its remarkable intensity. As with all Michael Harding colours, a little of this colour goes a long way, due to the paint’s high pigment load. It is a transparent colour, giving bright, granulating washes, and I think it would be a wonderful addition to a floral or botanical artist’s palette.
This yellow is pure sunshine: a delightfully warm, buttery colour. It is made using PY83, a transparent non-granulating pigment, which gives this paint an admirable, as well as a brilliant intensity. It will stand up to heavy watering-down and can still produce, clear washes of excellent transparency. As a warm tone it tends towards the ‘red’ end of the colour spectrum, and as such is a natural mixer with fellow warm colours such as pinks, oranges, or reds. This is another that I will certainly be adding to my regular palette.
I was so excited to try this colour as Opera Rose is a regular favourite of mine and unlike others, this Michael Harding version, while not rated Excellent or Very Good on their lightfast scale, is non-fugitive, and has a Good lightfast rating. While this means it lacks the extensive longevity of colours with Excellent or Very Good lightfast ratings, such as Orange Sunset and Indanthrone Blue, I think it’s still a worthwhile colour for those who don’t require their works to last for 100+ years in gallery conditions; who paint simply for the joy of it. It’s also wonderfully bright, and utterly, utterly pink. However, for those artists who prioritise lightfastness in their colour palette, then perhaps Opera Rose isn’t for them. While the colour is incredibly vivid when used directly from the tube, it can be heavily watered down to create the dreamiest of rosy hues. This colour lends itself most naturally to watercolour florals or botanical art, however I believe that this colour’s versatility would make it an interesting addition to a landscape artist’s palette as well. It also mixes beautifully with Indian Yellow to create some wonderful sunset tones.
Another of my regular favourite colours, I was thrilled with the richness and depth of colour in this watercolour paint. I have always had a soft spot for Perylene Green as it was one of the first tube paints I ever bought; and as such, I was delighted to find that the Michael Harding version is a true joy to paint with. Interestingly, although known as a green, the pigment behind the beauty of this colour is technically a black: PBk31. Perhaps this is a clue to its intensely dark colour, which could almost pass for black when squeezed fresh from the tube. However, I found this paint works best when mixed with enough water to bring out its soft forested tones. It’s a lovely colour for a landscape painter, and perfect for a plein air kit-palette where space and weight is at a premium, as the range of light and dark tones you can get from this single pigment colour is, I think, a remarkable quality.
Towards the darker end of the spectrum, Michael Harding’s Perylene Violet is a deep and characterful colour. This is a rich purplish paint with lovely dusky hues, which makes it both a good mixer in general, and an excellent neutraliser for other brighter hues of watercolour paint. In addition to this, I found it to be a beautiful, elegant colour in its own right. It can be used thickly for bold dark marks, or mixed with plenty of water for a smooth, soft wash of shadowed violet. This is another single pigment semi-transparent colour, with an excellent lightfast rating and little to no granulation.
This blue has a wonderfully rich, deep-sea colour. When squeezed from the tube the paint is very thick, as are all the Michael Harding Professional Watercolours. When laid to paper the colour is deep yet bright, offering a delightful clarity. But I found when testing that this paint truly comes into its own when mixed with a larger amount of water. The richness of this colour allowed me to thin it right down to create pale, transparent washes without seeing any change in hue or colour splitting. I suspect that this would make an excellent layering colour and is currently threatening to replace Ultramarine in my plein air palette.
One of the few watercolour paints in the Michael Harding range that is not a single pigment colour, Moonlight is nevertheless a beautiful and elegant shade. Crafted from three separate pigments, this warm-toned neutral has a delightful tendency towards granulation, particularly on cold press paper. When mixed with enough water, this paint will readily split out and offer soft pinkish tones underlaid by a hint of sea-green: a unique and unexpected quality that I would certainly like to experiment more with. This paint has high transparency and a good lightfastness rating, as well as being a low staining paint, which means that it lifts well too. I also noticed that when dry, a thick wash of this paint will retain a slightly glossy finish, reminiscent of a shellac ink.
Lifting and Staining Properties of Michael Harding Professional Watercolours
Each paint I tested carried a remarkably high pigment load. Several of the colours I selected had high staining power, namely the Indian Yellow, Orange Sunset, and Indanthrone Blue. As such, these colours are stubborn, and didn’t ‘lift’ well when I attempted to pull some colour up from the paper with a damp brush. However, the other paints were more cooperative. Moonlight in particular lifted very well, leaving clean, bright paper behind on both hot press and cold press sheets.
It seems that the twenty-year wait for Michael Harding Professional Watercolours was well worth it. The high pigment load means that these paints are excellent value, as a little goes a long way. In general, I was impressed by the clarity, the vibrancy, and the sheer beauty of the colours I tested. With a range of 136 paints to choose from, I could only test a fraction of the paints that the Michael Harding range offers; however, I found these to be a very promising sample, and I’m already planning to add more to my collection.
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