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Review: M. Graham Watercolor Paint Basic 5-Color Set

I have tried several brands of watercolors for my sketches and watercolor painting, but I have not tried M. Graham yet. However I have heard some of painter friends recommending and talking about their experience with M. Graham. And if you are also new to M. Graham like me, and do not wish to spend a fortune buying too many paints and then regretting later, the basic 5-color set is highly recommended. This is exactly the same reason I bought the basic set to test before I commit myself to getting the rest of the colors. Even if you are new to watercolor but want a fairly good watercolor paints to start with, M Graham might be the brand you may want to try out, as it has a long standing reputation of producing high quality artist paints.

M. Graham Watercolor Paint Basic 5-Color Set
The basic box set comes with 3 Primary colors, a green and a brown. The color range is quite limited, but I would show how this limited palette is able to offer a good range of colors when mixed. The tubes in this box set are ½ ounce tubes; the Hues are namely, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Azo Yellow or Aureolin, Sap Green and Burnt Sienna.

M. Graham Watercolor tubes

According to known sources, M Graham’s watercolor paints are manufactured with minimal use of fillers or brighteners, so you get real color intensities and good control when you mix your colors due to its heavy pigment load. The paints retain their brilliance even when diluted out. However it also means that the paints are very staining and therefore difficult to be lifted out when the paint dries on paper.

According to some experienced users, lightfastness of the paints is very good and is accurately reported on the products’ specification. The binding medium (from the box) used are medium of gum Arabic and natural blackberry honey that deters the paints from drying out too fast when they are squeezed onto the mixing palette.

Here are the information read off from the tubes:

Permanent Alizarin Crimson – Series 5
Lightfastness II
Vehicle: Gum Arabic
Conforms to ASTM D-4236
Pigment: Diketo Pyrrolopyrrol (PR 264)

Ultramarine Blue – Series 3
Lightfastness I
Vehicle: Gum Arabic
Conforms to ASTM D-4236
Pigment: Silicate of Sodium & Aluminum with Sulphur (PB 29)

Azo Yellow (Aureolin) – Series 2
Lightfadtness I
Vehicle: Gum Arabic
Conforms to ASTM D-4236
Pigment: Benzimidazolone Yellow (PZY 151)

Sap Green – Series 2
Lightfastness I
Vehicle: Gum Arabic
Conforms to ASTM D-4236
Pigment: Chlorinated Copper Pthalocyanine

Burnt Sienna – Series I
Lightfastness I
Vehicle: Gum Arabic
Conforms to ASTM D-4236
Pigment: Calcined Natural Iron Oxide (PBr 7)

Physically the tubes’ metal feels pretty sturdy and doesn’t deform easily. However it is still relatively easy to squeeze the paint out of the tube just with a light pressure. At the same time, with the tube’s medium sized mouth, the flow of the paint when the tube is squeezed is controlled too. The cap is soft to the touch and slides easily without sticking. The cap is reasonably sized to allow easy handling and turning from the mouth of the paint tube. Even if you have tightened the cap too much, it is still quite easy to unscrew it open.

Paint Properties

Basically the hues are brilliant as mentioned. The pigments for all the tubes are so intense you don’t need to squeeze out too much to get a good mixing. Paint texture is very consistent and mixing is easy. Even when the paint is dried on the palette, it is easily dissolved with water again, without loosing any of the paint quality when freshly squeezed from the tube.

In terms of color, I find that the yellow is slightly too intense and bright. It works better when it is diluted with more water. A. Crimson and Ultramarine are both very intense and bright. Their brilliancy retain even when they are very diluted with a lot of water.

The transparency properties of the paints is relatively good. I think Azo Yellow is a little too opaque for a yellow. At the same time, it was quite impossible to lift up Yellow after it is dried on paper. The rest work pretty well.

All the paints in the box mix very well with each other. The intensity and the rich pigments allow even the most subtle change in hue during color mixing. I really like how Ultramarine and Alizarin working so well together, the resulting violet is still bright and transparent with a little Ultramarine sediment in the paper texture.

The result of mixing secondaries of orange and green is not that ideal, as you can see from the result the not so transparent Azo Yellow results in a slightly dirty green and dulled orange. Still works great but care has to be given to not to add too much yellow and balance with sufficient water to thin it out a little.

Mixing Greys

The result is fairly satisfactory. The subtle change in the range of greys is wonderful.

Mixing Greens

In mixing greens, I used the pre-mixed Sap green for the test, instead of using a mixture between Ultramarine and Azo Yellow. Putting Sap Green in the basic set is great because the hue reflects quite closely to the foliage green we see everyday. It is not exactly the green we see in our environment but it is ‘greyed’ enough to be a home-based green to start with while painting foliage.

Adding Azo Yellow to Sap Green in varying amount lightens and brightens the green if you are painting light on trees and grasses. Adding Ultramarine cools off the green and deepens the hue, relatively great for shadows of trees. Alizarin Crimson greys out the green adding more variety to the hue. You may also add mixed orange , violet and even Burnt Sienna to get a broader range of hues and a spectrum of warm and cool greens for your painting. You will also see that from my test, it is easier to add Sap Green to mixed Orange than it is vice versa.

In summary, adding violet to Sap Green dulls the green, whilst adding blue cools off or darkens it. Adding orange is more effective than adding red into green to get a warmer green hue.

Here’s a color wheel for your interest.

Watercolor Wheel
Look at how it is so easy to mix your secondary and the tertiary colors.

The above tests are done on Arches papers.

There may be just 5 colors in the basic set, but these form the limited color palettes sufficient to complete a painting. It is light weight and not too cumbersome to carry around if you are painting plein air. The range of colors you get through mixing these basic 5 colors is amazing. Here’s what you can do with a limited palette.

M. Graham Primary Palette

Seng Poh Road in Tiong Bahru Precinct, Singapore
Title: Seng Poh Road in Tiong Bahru Precinct, Singapore
Size: 11" x 15" (Quarter Sheet)
Paper: Fabriano Artistico
Watercolor: M Graham
Pen: Hero Pen with Noodler's black ink


Find more reviews at Dick Blick Art Materials (US) | Jackson's Art (UK)