The watercolour sticks are a relatively new product from Winsor & Newton. It's better to think of these watercolour sticks as water-soluble crayons because they probably meant to be used as such.
The watercolour sticks come in a range of 48 colours. You can buy the colours individually or get the box set that has 10 colours. I bought my set at US$60 in 2015 but the price has come down currently to under $50.
These are the colours in the box set:
- Winsor Yellow (PY154), LF1, Semi Transparent
- Cadmium Yellow Hue (PY65, PY97, PW6), LF2, Semi Transparent
- Cadmium Red Hue (PR255), LF1, Transparent
- Alizarin Crimson (PR83), LF2, Transparent
- French Ultramarine (PB29), LF1, Transparent
- Prussian Blue (PB27), LF1, Transparent
- Winsor Green (Blue Shade) (PG7), LF1, Transparent
- Yellow Ochre (PY42, PR101), LF1, Transparent
- Burnt Umber (PBr7, PR101, PY42), LF1, Transparent
- Ivory Black (PBk9), LF1, Opaque
There are some peculiar colour choices. The first would be the inclusion of Alizarin Crimson which known to be a fugitive pigment. There's no Permanent Alizarin Crimson in the range of colours for the watercolour sticks. Secondly, I would have preferred Winsor Blue (Red Shade) over Prussian Blue. A brighter cool blue would be more versatile when it comes to mixing.
When I first opened the box, I found the sticks to be quite small. It's about as thick as a wooden pencil's diameter except the sticks are rectangular blocks. The difference in size between the WN sticks and Daniel Smith sticks is quite clear.
Here's a quote from Winsor & Newton regarding how the sticks were made:
Using the same professional grade pigments as Professional Water Colour tubes and pans, they produce vibrant colour both wet and dry, creating powerful drawings and paintings alike.
Unfortunately for me, I did not find the watercolour sticks to be as vibrant compared to their tubes and pans. I have read other reviews online and most were positive. I wondered if they were using the same product as I am, or if they have used better quality water-soluble sticks before. The negative reviews talked about the same experience that I faced.
Since the watercolour is in stick form, it's natural to use them like crayons. I applied the sticks on coldpress watercolour paper and they can lay down pigment on the paper quite well, and layering with other colours is also possible.
My disappointment comes when I dissolve them with water. The resulting wash looks pale to me. I pressed hard to put down as much pigment on the paper but the result is still not as vibrant as I want. It is best to use these sticks on durable paper because to dissolve the pigment totally, the brush has to go over it several times and lousy paper would have the paper fiber come off in no time. The pigment does not dissolve totally so result may still look slightly grainy.
Here's how they look on hotpress paper.
To get a more vibrant wash, I used the sticks like I would normal watercolour pans. I dissolved the pigment from the stick and applied the wash with a waterbrush. I managed to get more vibrant colours, but it's still nowhere close to those I can get from pans and tubes. I start to wonder if it's because of the binder used but there's no info on that.
Lastly, I wet the paper and used the sticks on wet surface. This is the only technique that's able to achieve a more satisfactory level of vibrancy. They can blend nicely on wet surface although Even so, after the surface has dried, like all watercolours, the colours become lighter. But overall, it is significantly more vibrant compared to dissolving the pigment on paper.
One nice thing that I really like about the sticks is you can wet them with a waterbrush and create splatter marks by running the brush off them. With pans and tubes, to do the same, I would use my fingers or a card to run across the bristles. It's more convenient to do that with the watercolour sticks.
If you want, you can break the pieces and use them for laying down larger areas of colours. Since the sticks are rectangular blocks, you can use the edge to create sharp lines.
Compared to the Daniel Smith watercolour sticks, WN sticks are harder while the DS sticks are more gluey, softer, like oil pastels.
Best use for these watercolour sticks
Watercolour pans and tubes are great at creating flat washes, large washes.
The watercolour sticks are great at creating textures so it's probably best to play to their strength. In stick form, they aren't the best medium to use for creating details. I use them for colouring large areas on wet surface. Because the sticks can create textures, they are good for colouring things like tree bark, roads, tiled roof, and other textured subjects.
I felt the quality of the sticks can be better in terms of vibrancy. I'm saying that because I've used other products such as the Caran d'ache Neocolor II Water-soluble Pastels, Derwent Inktense Blocks and Daniel Smith Watercolour Sticks and they are all more vibrant when dissolved. Alright, so the Neocolor II and Inktense Blocks may have questionable lightfast ratings, but Daniel Smith watercolour sticks also uses lightfast pigment.
The Winsor & Newton watercolour sticks have limited use when used on dry paper, which is not an issue if you have no intention to dissolve them. Ultimately, it depends on what you want to create and achieve.
If you have been using these watercolour sticks, I would love to hear about your experience with them.