I Go Into Facial Overwhelm and Play with Pre-2004 Lukas Watercolors

October 26, 2016

Left: Lukas Pan Watercolors (with pink Montana Marker background) on a Pentel Brush Pen (pigment) in an 8 inch square Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook.

Note: In this post I'm writing about pre-2004 Lukas Watercolors, read the whole post for the complete story to avoid product confusion.

The availability in my area of the Niji Waterbrush in about 1999 or 2000 changed yet again how I kept visual journals. Previously to that some friends who traveled to Japan in the 1990s had Nijis but I didn't.

I chose to keep my visual journals in color pencil. Watercolor was kept in the studio.

But once I had that waterbrush my mind turned to taking watercolors out in the urban "field." (I had been taking watercolors and travel brushes into the wilderness.) My thoughts turned to pan watercolors and I ended up buying a 50-color set of half pans of Lukas watercolors.

The set was of course unwieldy, the colors problematic, and I reverted almost immediately to my Daniel Smith palettes. And in due course I started messing with my color selection in that Daniel Smith palette—which you can see here, if you go to "Leisure Reading" and click on "Educational Content?" There you'll find a write up of that color transition. And you can see the rationale behind some of my culling of colors.

I continue to mess with which colors I use and I've got a couple posts I need to finish writing about the last two transitions!

Recently however I've been reorganizing the studio. For me that means getting rid of things I haven't used in a long time, moving stored items, and also moving books, books, books.

During the process I found the old Lukas set and decided to play with it a little, even if just in the studio or out to lunch with friends. It's still too unwieldy for me to lug about if I'm going to be standing and sketching.


Above: Detail of today's image.

As for the "facial overwhelm" you can read what I wrote about that if you look at the journal page itself. Just click on the main image and you'll see an enlargement. Clearly September and October have been "fraught" months with me not getting out much. 

The problem with the Lukas watercolor paints, and what I can't seem to get to show up on the scans, but which you can see in person, is a slight milkiness to the Cobalt (which makes sense because when using less expensive pigments manufacturers tend to put white in cobalt watercolor).

But there is another aspect to the paint that was bothersome to me. They didn't move in a way that I expect watercolors to move. They didn't flow, but stayed put, sort of like the ox gall-less Holbein formulation (but I find Holbein much more workable).

The flow issue wasn't simply because I was working on a non-watercolor paper. I do that all the time. And I had previous days' work with my Daniel Smith Watercolors on this paper to mentally compare "action" with.

Additionally some colors rewet into lush puddles of thick, almost gouache-like opaque paint, and other colors were so anemic that I knew they would never be used by me, even for sketches.

Puzzled by these results, and by the need to clear out everything that doesn't need to be here and isn't being used and is simply taking up storage space, I went to and checked out what Handprint had to say about Lukas watercolor paints. It seems that pre-2005 paints had some "issues" in pigment choice and composition which would explain the types of working capabilities I was experiencing:

The pigments are milled to a uniform, bland texture, which is possible because the paints contain a very heavy load of brighteners and fillers, visible as a whitish opacity across all the colors (even the normally transparent quinacridones and phthalos), and as a whitish sludge in sedementation tests. In addition, the cobalt blue is lightened with chinese white (PW4) and even the relatively inexpensive ultramarine blue is boosted with phthalo blue (PB15). The pigment load is relatively low, so the colors seem to wash out under even moderate dilution. Finally, Lukas does not consistently provide pigment ingredient information or health warnings on the paint packaging (as required by the ASTM labeling standards) or at the company web site; the pigment information is included in a marketing brochure which must be ordered from the manufacturer.


Handprint did update the listing in 2004 and mention the reformulation of the paints, so people with paints after this date might find a different experience than I've had with mine—but I'm uninterested in buying a new set of paints I might also not enjoy. 

I did some more tests with this older set to see if I could "live with it" for quick studies, but it soaked through a printmaking paper I routinely and safely paint on with Daniel Smith Watercolors so I was frustrated. It's the same type of behavior I find with dye-based products on the paper I was using. I just didn't want to deal with the frustration.

But what to do with the paints? I don't like throwing things out—though even expensive junk is still junk and I can be cold and do this.

I hate giving young artists bad products. I know that anyone I gave this set to would have trouble with mixing colors because of all the multiple pigments in each paint.

Instead I gave the set, with ample warnings and caveats to an experienced color theory friend to play with. Now it isn't my problem any more.

The whole experience did leave me with with a hankering for some different blues. Those experiments will continue with my Daniel Smith and my Schmincke pan palettes.

If you've been using Lukas watercolors that you are positive were made after 2005 (and you know they aren't simply old stock you bought), and they were made with single pigments, write to me sometime with a sample sketch and let me know how you like the paints and how they work for you. 

    • Kiki
    • December 13, 2016

    Hello Roz, interesting that you had so much trouble with the old Lukas watercolors! My very first watercolor set were Lukas tube paints, bought in 1992. I still have the leftovers of this set, and apart from some issues with very different drying on the palette (some paints would never dry, other would dry to rock and crack) I would say these paints behaved ok. Then, in 2012, I bought some Lukas 1862 (that´s the artist grade) watercolor halfpans for a mini travel palette. From my experience with the old paints and the info on Handprint that the paint formula have been improved, I expected no problems. But to my dismay, this paints are horrible – very weak pigmented and somehow milky and opaque, with a whitish deposit developing on the surface of several pans. They are supposed to be all single pigment – no idea, what the whitish stuff is?! As my local art supplies store just had changed their watercolor stock from Schmincke to Lukas (because “Schmincke is too expensive…” :-/), I am pretty sure that these are the “new” paints. My other watercolors are from Schmincke (both the Akademie line and the Horadam line), White Nights and Daniel Smith, and I would rate all of them, including the Schmincke student grade and the low-budget White Nights, much higher than the new Lukas paints.

    Greatings from Germany, Kiki

  1. Reply

    Kiki, thanks for writing in. What you write is very interesting. Please note that I actually enjoyed working with these paints when I first got them, and even on this image in today’s post, but what bothers me is the milkiness and other factors that don’t happen with the other paints I now regularly use. And I don’t want to have stuff around that I don’t use any more.

    What puzzles me is that you seem to have purchased your set in 2012 gave you problems. And you know they were new. Sigh. The whitish stuff is probably what Handprint refers to.

    Daniel Smith I definitely rate as a high quality watercolor. It’s the one I use. It meets lightfast requirements and standards, has excellent pigment load and I simply love it’s workability.

    I also sometimes use Schimincke Horadam watercolor PANS from the factory and they are also artist quality and I have great results with them.

    Both brands also for the most part have single pigment paints so selections are easy to make and combine, and when they do have more than one pigment in a paint it’s clearly labeled on their packaging—all stuff you would expect from a quality brand.

    Sorry the Schmincke Horadam are so expensive in Germany. I would have thought they would have been a little less expensive there.

    I am everyday grateful that there is so much demand for art supplies in the US that we can get so many brands here at really low cost.

    Sorry you’re having trouble with the Lukas from 2012. I hope you find something that works for you.

    • Kiki
    • December 14, 2016

    Oh, the Schmincke watercolors are reasonably priced here – actually a bit cheaper than what you pay for Daniel Smith in the USA. But the Lukas paints cost another 30-50% less than the Schmincke: eg. 7,25€ for a whooping 24ml-tube! In my tiny hometown, watercolor is mainly used in school or classes at the adult education center, so for most customers of the local art supplies store, it seems that price matters more than quality. Hence the preference for Lukas, I think.
    My own palette is nowadays based on Schmincke Horadam with a few special pigments from Daniel Smith. Although I really like the Schmincke paints, I would use some more Daniel Smith paints for special effects, granulation etc., but these paints are really exorbitantly expensive over here.
    Every now and then, I pull my Lukas set out, do a few test swatches to discover that this paints are really as weak as I remembered and then toss them back in the drawer. Thank god there is mailorder, so I don’t have to use this stuff ;0)!
    But I still wonder how all this positive reviews of the Lukas watercolors came about…

  2. Reply

    Kiki, it’s a puzzle.

    I would pass your set on to someone else so you don’t waste any more time on them.

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