Welcome to Supply Spotlight, a feature on my blog where I review new and unique art supplies. Today’s product is actually from a long-esteemed brand: Sennelier, a French manufacturer with an over 130-year tradition of creating professional quality art supplies. Like many artists looking to switch from student to artist-grade watercolors, I’ve been exploring higher-end products to build a professional palette and heard a lot about the excellent quality—and steep price—of Sennelier’s L’Aquarelle line of paints. But what qualities make them stand out against their competitors? And are they worth the price? Let’s find out.
The L’Aquarelle line consists of professional quality watercolors in both pans and tubes, formulated with honey to act as a “preservative” and to give an “incomparable brilliance and smoothness to the paint” according to their website. The inclusion of honey also makes this paint easy to rewet—more on that later. Sennelier offers 110 colors with different levels of granulation, transparency, and iridescence. To try out the brand, I purchased the Sennelier Watercolor Test Pack of 5 on Amazon.
This set comes in a roomy, well-made tin that can hold far more than the five tubes of paint within it. Because it is metallic, watercolor pans fitted with a small magnet will stick to the bottom of the tray—a bonus if you’re interested in upcycling the packaging, though I’d add a separate mixing area since the cover isn’t enamel and may rust. If you are interested in pouring the tube paints into pans, they will take quite a long time to dry due to the honey in their formula and remain sticky to the touch after curing. However, they rewet very easily—almost like they’re right out of the tube--and leave no tacky residue when applied to paper. I also appreciated how each tube clearly lists pigments, series number, and lightfastness rating on the label.
The set includes three primary colors and two convenience mixes: Lemon Yellow 501, Bright Red 619, Ultramarine Deep 315, Chinese Orange 645 and Payne’s Grey 703. As seen in the color chart below, these paints create an array of colors, from leafy greens to deep royal purples. Though this isn’t a split primary set—usually made up of warm and cool versions of yellow, red and blue—the inclusion of Chinese Orange and Payne’s Grey allows a careful mixer to control the temperature of their colors by adding a little of orange to warm it up or grey to cool it down. It’s a versatile set for mixing natural and harmonious colors. As I often paint characters, I was pleased to find I could create a wide range of skintones from light to deep using Lemon Yellow and Bright Red, with touches of blue to cool down or deepen the skintone. But in choosing that blue, I ran into one of the set’s quirks: granulation.
Granulation refers to a paint’s tendency for the pigment to separate and create distinct pockets of color as it dries. Some paints don’t granulate at all, leaving a smooth wash of one color—in fact, in Sennelier’s test set, the only color that granulates is Ultramarine Deep. This granulation is far less noticeable in washes where only a touch of Ultramarine Deep is added, but when creating deeper skintones or washes with a lot of water, the separation of the blue pigment is very noticeable. I found I needed to swap out Ultramarine Deep for Payne’s Grey as my blue primary when creating skintones, which allowed for a flat, clean wash of color. That said, I don’t dislike Ultramarine Deep’s inclusion in the set: it can be used beautifully in more impressionist portraits or to provide an interesting texture alone or in color mixes.
Opacity, Glazing, and Spread
When compared to an opaque watercolor such as DaVinci’s Terra Cotta, the Sennelier set is highly transparent; this quality stands out when using the paints to glaze—applying wet washes onto already dry paint—and thus allowing the colors to layer on top of one another to produce a kind of depth my student-grade watercolors never could achieve. To be honest, I didn’t understand what artists meant when talking about the “luminosity” of watercolors until I tried out this set. There really is something special to how these paints layer on top of one another, especially on cotton paper. Since watercolor soaks into the fibers of cotton paper and “stains” it—instead of settling on top like on a cellulose paper—I could lay down washes of paint without disrupting the prior layers, letting the colors “shine” though one another. Rather than overworking a piece by fiddling with it too much, I found that the more I added, the richer and interesting the colors became.
Working wet-into-wet was just as easy, though the pigment doesn’t spread as far as some other brands. If you enjoy how QoR, for example, explodes across the page, then you may find Sennelier’s paints a little too controlled.
I have to say, Sennelier deserves its reputation. Though I haven’t tried the entire line, I believe this set is an excellent introduction to the brand, showcasing its unique luminosity, its ability to layer well, and its wonderful color mixing.
Of course, the ultimate test for any art supply is whether it fits your style and intention for your practice. If you’re a painter who prizes very vivid colors or unexpected dispersion of pigment through water, you may find these paints too reserved. They are also quite pricey--at least in my neck of the woods--with 10ml tubes going from $9.07 to $13.62 at retailers like Blick. However, I believe these paints are worth the investment; since I never needed to worry about overworking the paints, I enjoyed every moment using them. Their reliable mixing qualities means you don’t need to buy every color in their line: a few basics will allow you to create everything you need. I’d recommend them for any painter searching for workhorse watercolor staples on their palette.
Have you used this set before? Or do you have an interesting art supply you'd like reviewed? Let me know in the comments below!