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Lightfastness Tests: Cheap Joe’s American Journey Watercolor Sticks

July 10, 2013

130708CheapJoesWCSticksLeft: Lightfastness tests I did with this product. See the top of each half sheet. The right side sheet was kept out of the light and the left was exposed. Read below for details.

Ever since my beloved Stabilo Tones have all but disappeared I've been looking for a watercolor "stick" or crayon that would hold up to work and to light, and be fun as well.

To that end I tested the Daniel Smith watercolor sticks when they first came out a couple years ago (or longer, I forget). I found them very stiff. Sure you could draw with them, but it wasn't the type of smooth waxy line (and here I mean waxy in a good way—flowing) I was used to in other stick products that dissolved with water.

Of course the positive part of the Daniel Smith watercolor sticks was that they were made with their watercolor pigments and so you could count on their pigments. But if they weren't fun I knew I wouldn't use them. (Also I am not one of those artists who wants to carry sticks of pigment around to use as "pans.")

When Cheap Joe's catalog announced that they were bringing out watercolor sticks in their American Journey line I at first didn't think much about it. Then I was reading a catalog one day in an odd moment and noticed some language that suggested they might be waxy (in the good way). So after some more thought I ordered up a set last winter and did a lightfastness test.

Now I believe that Cheap Joe's makes great products so I wasn't expecting to have colors fail the test, but lately I've been doing tests of everything that comes into the studio, even if it is a company I've dealt with before. And some companies are getting cagey about their advertising copy.

As you can see in the charts there is little fading even when left for 5 months in direct sunlight. What you can't see on the chart is whether or not I had any fun factor while applying the color.

Here's the good news, not only don't they fade, but they are "waxy" in feel, in the good way. If you are used to using Caran d'Ache's Neocolor II line (watersoluble crayons) these will feel similar, and that can be a lot of fun. American Journey Watercolor Sticks are not as smooth and blendable as the Neocolor II, but they are quality pigments and it's a move in the right direction.

I got a color chart at the time, either in a catalog or in the package but can't find it anywhere. I know they listed the pigments used in each stick. Since I can't find the chart here, and haven't found it on their website I don't want to use my memory to state whether these were mostly single- or multi-color pigment sticks. If you turn up a color chart on their website which has eluded my efforts, please send me a link.

In the meantime you know they are around. As to fun factor, it's something I'll have to report back on a little later. My time for testing this year was eaten up with family obligations. At the very least I know I'll use these for sketching at life drawing. I think people who like to sketch in color and then like to dissolve parts of their sketch and add additional wet media will enjoy working with this product. While they are waxier than other watercolor sticks I've tried, I didn't have the ease of blending with my finger that I get with a watersoluble crayon. So there is a continuum. I guess I'll just have to sketch Gert and see how fun they are.

They dissolve easily, and completely. The charts I make for watersoluble products always* show a solid block of color and then a block which has been diluted. I find that often in the diluted swatch we can see which "portion" of the color fades out. Any perception of fading after this exposure seems so slight when I compare the actual charts that I'd have to chalk it up to differences in how much water I might have used for the individual blocks. In other words human inconsistency.

Anyway, that's what I pulled out of the window today to share with you.

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•Almost always—the chart I post later this week has no dilutions on it.  

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