Monday, April 08, 2013

Which are the best artist quality oil colours? (Results)

The Making A Mark Poll for March 2013 asked Which are the best artist grade quality oil paints?

Just 74 people responded which was less than I was expecting - indicating perhaps that the readership of this blog prefers to create art in other media.  Nevertheless it's a decent number for indicating preferences as this one did.

Three brands were the clear leaders in terms of best quality oil paints for artists.
  • Old Holland Classic Oil Colours
  • Michael Harding Artist's Oil Colours
  • Winsor & Newton Artists Oil Colours
Click the chart to see a larger version of the chart

March 2013 - Making A Mark Poll - Which are the best artist-grade oil paints?
Total of 74 respondents
© Making A Mark Publications http://makingamark.blogspot.com
Three UK/European paint companies came top.  Old Holland and Michael Harding were vying for the top position for the duration of the poll, closley followed by Winsor & Newton.

Three American paints - by M.Graham, Gamblin and Williamsburg occupied the middle ground.

There's then a long list of companies which have fewer fans - however some of these are very small operations

There are even more companies which were listed in the poll which failed to attract a vote at all.  I'll be replicating the complete list in a similar poll on the website which I'll be publishing very shortly.

I next took a closer look at the websites of the two brands which came top of the poll to see why they are so highly valued.


Old Holland Classic Oil Colours

Old Holland Classic Colours have been making colours for artists for over three centuries.  They've been making paint since 1664 - during the Golden Age of Dutch Painting!  Their aim is to produce superior concentrated colours. They use the best pigments and cold-pressed extra virgin linseed oil their paints are used in restoration work.

You might think that a firm with such longstanding traditions would be wedded to the paint production processes of the past.  However in 1985, they created a brand new range of 168 oil paints with a clear emphasis on the the highest degree of lightfastness.  They replaced all the traditional pigments which were not lightfast with modern lightfast pigments which had the same colour characteristics as those produced by the old pigments.

Old Holland Classic Oil Colours Chart
The first time I saw Old Holland tubes (in the old Atlantis Art Store in Brick Lane in East London - before they moved), I remember being struck by the fact that their tubes looked different to those of every other paint manufacturer.  Old Holland creates the colour coding on each tube using a strip painted with the colour in the tube.  There's absolutely no problems with colour printing accuracy with this brand!

However they're not cheap!  There again, the paint is very intense so you're not going to use a tube up quickly!

Note that 90% of the artists reviewing Old Holland Classic Oil Colours on the Dick Blick site would recommend these paints to a friend - they get an overall rating of 4.7 out of 5

Michael Harding Handmade Artists Oil Colours

When I go into the Atlantis Art Store now (four locations later!) - in a street off Brick Lane, the Old Holland Oil Colours are lined up next to the Michael Harding Artist's Oil Colours.

If Old Holland is the standard bearer for the best of the past then Michael Harding seems very much to be the leader in terms of the 'new kid on the block'.

He hadn't even started making paints when I first started going to Atlantis but I've noticed over the years that he gets more and more space - and I hear of more and more artists (such as David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin) giving him strong recommendations.  You can:
Note that he also STARTED by supplying paint to the Royal Colege of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum!

His approach is to handmake paints according to old methods.

You can click here to download the colour info as a pdf - much more informative than the charts created by most manufacturers.  It has really great descriptions of the nature and quality of each colour.  He devotes a whole page of A4 to Cremnitz White! You can tell this is a man who is obsessive about quality!  here's a taster of how he writes about this particular white

It is the feel of this paint under the brush, I think, which constitutes the most compelling argument for its revival. My artist friends have characterized its texture with words like “voluptuous” and “silken”. There is certainly a flow to it which is quite distinct from that experienced using the other oils. One can sense how this had to be the only means by which those precise yet creamy highlights of ruff collars and shot silks were attained by baroque portraitists. 
His Resources and Advice section on his website is amazing.  Do have a read even if you have never bought his paint.

You can go to the Apple Store to download an application for iPad and iPhones all about the paints

Interestingly, over at Dick Blick 100% of the artists who buy Michael Harding Artists Oil Colours would recommend them to a friend and they earn a score of 4.9 out of 5

Winsor & Newton Artists Oil Colours

This poll result means that Winsor & Newton have been named in the top three brands for both watercolour and oil paints.

Back in December they were identified as the best brand of watercolour paints by two separate polls (see W&N: the best brand of watercolour paint for artists)


6 comments:

John Farnsworth said...

M. Graham, my personal favorite, is also a very small company. They are located in the USA. For them to come in fourth in a poll based in the UK is, I feel, remarkable.

Their paints are made with walnut oil and their walnut oil mediums are solvent free.

I have used them exclusively for several years. For the past 938 consecutive days, in fact, and have the utmost respect for them.

Disclaimer: while I am in no way involved with them except as a very satisfied customer, M. Graham does supply free paints for my workshop students' use. For this I am grateful, as are my students.

Thank you for the service you provide to artists around the world.

John Farnsworth Painter/Photographer

John Farnsworth said...

M. Graham, my personal favorite, is also a very small company. They are located in the USA. For them to come in fourth in a poll based in the UK is, I feel, remarkable.

Their paints are made with walnut oil and their walnut oil mediums are solvent free.

I have used them exclusively for several years. For the past 938 consecutive days, in fact, and have the utmost respect for them.

Disclaimer: while I am in no way involved with them except as a very satisfied customer, M. Graham does supply free paints for my workshop students' use. For this I am grateful, as are my students.

Thank you for the service you provide to artists around the world.

John Farnsworth Painter/Photographer

Karen Robinson said...

The reason why I didn't take part in this poll isn't because I prefer other media: I only use oils. It is because I couldn't answer the question: unfortunately, I don't know which the best ones are, Katherine - I use Winsor and Newton Griffin Alkyds (not listed as an option) plus I have the odd tube of other brands to 'plug gaps' e.g. Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Red, but most of them I have never tried and a few I cannot even afford, so I felt completely inadequate to the task of responding. I could only tell you what I like, not what is best!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I was also impressed by how well M.Graham did - although I knew they were well regarded oil colours. Maybe not dissimilar to Michael Harding in approach and operation?

It seems to me there is very much a place for the enthusiast and "artisan" colourman when it comes to oils.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

@ Karen - this poll was for people like you! Hopefully it will provide some guidance as to brands to try in the future.

I couldn't include the Alkyds as strictly speaking they're not oil paints in the professional artist grade sense - although perfectly good paints.

Barbara said...

I'm relatively new to oil and so appreciate this information you've put together Katherine! I don't always have time to read your posts but am glad I could take a moment with this one. Thanks for all you do for artists!



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