I’ve been on a quest the last few weeks to find my ultimate ultramarine blue and I wanted to share the results with you — but first, the backstory!
I’ve been using ultramarine blue from Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton and DaVinci interchangeably for years now and wasn’t truly satisfied with any of them. I mostly paint in a hot, dry climate but sometimes take my paints on adventures to more humid areas and I’ve been encountering some issues, namely:
- Daniel Smith (DS) dries rock hard in the pan and takes some effort to rewet the paint to get it usable again; I cringe using it with my good brushes
- Winsor & Newton (WN) is my trusty reliable as far as rewetting goes, but it was weaker in mixes than DS and it’s more expensive here where I live
- DaVinci (DV) rewets easier but it has an odd, almost plastic-y feel that I don’t really like
I went on a mission to try and find an alternative and picked up M. Graham (MG), Schmincke (S), and Holbein (H) paints to try. All of these contain the same single pigment, PB29.
A friend also told me to try adding a few drops of glycerine to Daniel Smith’s paint to help with rewetting so I wanted to try that as well — these swatches are labeled DS w/G. You can find glycrine at some grocery stores or here on Amazon.
How I Tested the Paints
I wanted to test the paints both in the studio and out in the field in the heat, so I took them on several hikes and did some quick swatching and tiny paintings.
Here are my results!
In the Studio
I started by testing the paints in the studio, just doing some quick swatches and mixing them with my most common mixes of DS quinacridone gold, transparent red oxide and quinacridone rose. Note: it was 81 degrees F in the office lol — in April!
Click on an image to see it larger:
The swatch to the right was done by putting down a thick patch of ultramarine blue and then wetting the side of it to try and force a bloom/see what would happen.
After doing some swatches I decided to do some quick little paintings to try and get a better feel for how the paints handle — tree time!
You can really learn a lot by doing some tiny paintings — more below!
Out in the Field
I took my palette out on several hikes, all in the upper 90’s. The last hike was an especially good test as it got up to 95 F and I went on an 8 mile hike — the weather app said it was 106 with the heat index.
They’re all really lovely paints in their own way, and it was a really interesting experiment to get to try them all!
Here’s a blurb about what I learned about each brand:
- I was a little leery about trying MG as I’ve had some bad experiences with other pigments not setting up in the pan, but so many people recommended it on Instagram that I had to give it a go. I’m happy to report that while it never dried hard in the palette, it stayed put and didn’t make a mess!
- It’s a beautiful color and a real pleasure to work with, however, it handled so differently than all the other paints that it really broke my flow. The paint was kind of the consistency of room temperature butter — so odd
- It’s really highly pigmented — a little goes a long way! You can see this in the swatches were I added water between them.
- Not as granulating as DS or H
- Consistently easy to force a bloom or backrun, something to watch out for.
- Schmincke rewets like a dream and is really easy to work with — truly beautiful and almost transparent/not as granulating.
- It’s a weaker mixer than what I’m used to and can’t stand up to DS transparent red oxide or quin rose. I think if it was on my palette I’d go through a lot of it/have to refill often.
- If the rest of your palette is Schmincke I think it would be a great choice as it mixes fine within their line, but sadly mine is mostly DS and WN.
- Holbein has so much granulation — even more than DS! It’s amazing mixed with transparent red oxide.
- I tested ultramarine blue deep, and it leaned more towards red than what I’m used to and threw some mixes off. I suspect that their ultramarine blue pale is more of a green shade and if it wasn’t for some problems that I encountered I’d try the pale version as well
- It took significantly longer to dry than other brands out in the field
- The paint in the pan got a little syrupy in the heat
- The pan stuck to the lid of my palette. I’ve had this happen before with other brands and is not a good sign of things to come!
Daniel Smith with Glycerine
- I added one tiny drop of vegetable glycerine to the pan and stirred it in well with an awl (you could use a toothpick). It really made a big difference in re-wettability! No more rock-hard paint!
- It behaved oddly in the field, tho — the hotter it got, the more the paint got tiny bubbles in it! This was in paint that I worked with the brush with some water on the mixing area of the palette, then the bubbles were visible when I painted the swatch on the paper.
- It had weird fractal patterns in the dried paint! It kind of reminded me of QoR.
- If I was just going to use the paint in studio I’d go this route as it’s a really lovely version of ultramarine blue and the glycerine makes it easy to rewet.
And My Winner Is
I’m going to keep Winsor & Newton in my palette — it feels like a long walk to get right back where I started lol! WN doesn’t rewet as easily as S or MG, but it’s a trusty friend that I can rely on. :)
Here are some references that I used while researching brands:
- Handprint.com is an excellent resource for geeking out over pigments!
- Jane Blundell has a comparison of ultramarine blues here.
- Dr. Oto Kano has a super useful Colossal Color Showdown video comparing ultramarine blues, with even more brands than I tried! I always love her videos, so much good info.
Affiliate links to purchase these paints on Amazon:
- Holbein ultramarine blue deep
- M. Graham ultramarine blue
- Daniel Smith ultramarine blue
- Winsor & Newton ultramarine blue (green shade)
Hope that helps someone out there! Let me know if you have any questions, and I’d love to hear about your favorite ultramarine blue and what the climate is like where you usually paint!