At the end of 2018 new watercolor paints produced by Roman Szmal Art were launched on the Polish market. You’ve already probably come across different reviews of these paints and have heard some opinions on them, but let me add my own. I’ve decided to share my views as I truly believe these watercolors are worth trying out. These are watercolors we can be really proud of!

Let’s start with their availability – you can easily buy them both: online (Jackson’s Art, maluje.pl, szal-art.pl) as well as at local art stores. I think there will be more and more shops happy to sell them in the near future. In Poznań, for example, they’re now available at the Matejko store. Having them at a local art store is an advantage as it allows you to check them out in person, see the actual paints and the color palette. And as far as the Aquarius paints are concerned, it is a real treat to see both: the watercolor pans and the palette, as they look very appealing on the shelf.

For now the paints are sold only in full pans. The dimensions of pans are about 27x15x8 mm and they fit a standard watercolor box. What is unique about them is their packaging. I think they might be absolutely one of the kind as they’re wrapped in a silver foil and a strip of watercolor paper on which there’s a hand-painted (not a printed one!) color sample of the exact paint that’s inside. That’s why when we check the watercolors in a store we can put them side by side, compare different tones and shades and be sure to see what the actual color looks like when it’s dry.

The color palette and pans

The color palette itself is impressive too. When spread out it measures around 95×32 cm. It consists of 4 pages with hand painted rectangular samples of 4×2,5cm, which means these are not some mini spots but they’re big enough to see the actual color.

I’ve chosen to share this particular sample from the color palette for purpose, as it’s an example of one of several separating colors. Look how well visible the separated pigments are! It’s Mineral Violet, made of two pigments PB29 and PV19. As you can see, below each sample box, all the most important details about the given color are provided: the number of the color, its name, pigments included, lightfastness, tinting strength, granulation and transparency.

The same info is available on each watercolor pan. On top there’s a logo and a color sample, on one side the color’s number and the company’s address and on the other side the Aquarius brand name and the most important details about the paint (pigments, granulation etc.), finally on the bottom there’s the name of the color and its bar code.

About the paints

Szal-art.pl store provides the following description of Aquarius paints:

The palette includes 140 colors:
– 117 mono pigment;
34 earth tones (all of which are made from natural rock pigments, not synthetic iron oxides);
9 modern quinacridone colors;
several separating paints, among which there are unique tones as: Aquarius Green, Przybysz’s Grey, Ocean Blue, and olive greens.
All AQUARIUS watercolors have an excellent lightfastness (minimum rating of 7 on Blue Wool Scale), which means the colors will not fade for at least 100 years (if applied correctly).

117 single pigment colors are a treat for artist as myself, who pay attention to pigments. I personally prefer single pigment colors, so I’ve been given more than plenty to choose from. The 140 colors provided enable you to create practically any set you need. If you buy individual colors from different brands, because one company has some tones you use and another one different ones, there’s a huge chance that you’ll find all of them in the Aquarius palette. This means you can buy your whole palette from one manufacturer and that’s a big advantage!

But coming back to the description of colors. There are 34 earth tones, and they’re not synthetic. Those of you who paint landscapes will surely find a lot of amazing colors here. Even though I don’t use many browns, I was impressed with these lovely shades. They made me want to paint something with them! My favorite was color number 235 – Natural Sienna Monte Amiata. Not only did I fall in love with the name, but it also evoked some great memories of travels to Italy.

Quinacridone colors include organic pigments which make for the best characteristics of watercolors. That’s why they’re favorites of watercolor painters all around the world. They’re transparent, vivid and lasting, easy to lift out, great for flowing on the paper and mingling with other colors. There are 9 colors like that in the Aquarius palette, such as very versatile Quinacridone Gold or Quinacridone Red.

Separating colors are those, as the name suggests, which after applying them on the paper separate in such a way you can see individual pigments. These tones are very unique and rare. The Aquarius offers quite a few of them. To make the layers more visible it’s necessary to use plenty of water. Here below are a few examples:

Painting with Aquarius watercolors

These watercolors are perfect for layering. Most colors are transparent. Transparent layers made by optical mixing don’t surprise, which is a plus, because if we’re used to some particular color combinations, Aquarius paints will deliver them. They work very well while mixing different colors too.

I suggest following Roman Szmal Art on Facebook, as you’ll find works and reviews by different artists, not only from Poland!

“Tales from the Czech rose garden”, 38 x 27 cm (15″ x 11″). This painting is painted entirely with Aquarius watercolors. I used: Nickel Azo Yellow PY150, Natural Sienna Light PY43, Quinacridone Burnt Sienna PO48, Pyrrol Red PR254, Quinacridone Red PV19, Magenta PR122, Ultramarine Blue GS PB29, Phthalo Blue GS PB15:3, Hooker’s Green PY150, PB27.

“New Adventure”, 34 x 24 cm (13.5″ x 9.5″). I used the following colors: Cobalt Blue PB28, Magenta PR122, Phthalo Green BS PG7, Deep Green Gold PY129, Cyprus Burnt Umber PBr7, Italian Burnt Sienna PBr7, Gold Ochre PY43, Indanthrone Blue PB60, Benzymidazole Yellow PY154, Hansa Yellow Deep PY65, Scarlet Lake PR188, Pyrrole Rubine PR264.

Unfortunately I can’t share the whole video at the original pace, as it is part of my Online Watercolor School.

A monochromatic Snowdrop, 24 x 22 cm (9.5″ x 8.5″). I used Neutral Tint PB60, PBk6, PV19.

My thoughts on the paints

The collection of 140 colors is really impressive, and I’m very happy I can find so many single pigment paints with just one brand. Out of curiosity I compared the Aquarius colors with the Winsor & Newton color palette, which I use most often. Yet such a comparison can be used only to see if a tone we like will look as usual, giving us no surprises. However each company has their own color palette and their unique characteristics, so we can like a particular tone or not, but it’s a very personal choice. That’s why I ask you to treat the information below as just some guidelines/benchmarks. Bear in mind that if a given color differs in tone, it doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, it’s just different.

Comparing colors wih the same pigments I noticed what follows (I used the following abbreviations – WN= Winsor&Newton, AQ= Aquarius):

  • PY129 (WN – Green Gold, AQ – Deep Green Gold) – WN is more green, AQ is more on the yellow side;
  • PB60 (WN – Indanthrene Blue, AQ – Indanthrone Blue) – AQ is cooler, darker and more muted;
  • PB15:3 (WN – Winsor Blue GS, AQ – Phthalo Blue GS) – WN is a bit more on the green side
  • PB28 (Cobalt Blue) – AQ is clearer;
  • PR179 (Perylene Maroon) – WN is more brown, AQ is more red;
  • PBk31 (Perylene Green) – WN is darker and more vivid;
  • PB27 (Prussian Blue) – AQ is definitely more blue;
  • PV14 (WN – Cobalt Violet, AQ – Cobalt Violet Deep) – they are very different; WN is more on the pink side;

My little discoveries:

  • Quinacridone Gold AQ has only two pigments PY150, PO48, which means the ingredients are the same as in Quinacridone Gold by Daniel Smith. WN in turn includes 3 pigments, which makes it more on the brown side and less golden and luminous.
  • I knew there are French Ultramarine and Ultramarine Blue, but Aquarius offers one more shade – Ultramarine Light. They all share the same pigment PB29, but each color looks different. French Ultramarine is warmer and more granulated, Ultramarine Light looks similar to Cobalt Blue, but Cobalt Blue’s tone is cooler.
  • A very interesting color is Aureoline (Hue) PY151 (don’t mistake it with fugitive Aureoline PY40!); it’s very similar to PY154, but clearer and maybe a bit warmer.
  • Impressive granulation of Aquarius Black PBk11 is definitely worth mentioning.
  • My beloved greens – Permanent Green Light PY154, PG7 is a very light, bright green, it reminds me of May Green by Schmincke Horadam or Phthalo Yellow Green by Daniel Smith. Sap Green is very intensive, made of two strong pigments PY150 and PG7 – I think it’d need something to tone it down. Aquarius Green PY150, PBr25, PB29 – a very nice color, muted, natural green ready for use, I think it’d be perfect for painting grass and leaves. And Hooker’s Green is probably my favorite, although Aquarius Green is not far behind. Hooker’s Green looks like a more green and vivid version of Aquarius Green.
  • It’s the first time I came across pigment PY74 (Hansa Yellow Medium), because Daniel Smith uses pigment PY97 under the same name and I used this one too. PY74 is a beautiful, sunflower yellow, something between PY154 and the former New Gamboge PY153, or a bit darker PY65. A really lovely shade of yellow.
  • It was only the first time I could use PO59 Permanent Orange. In general, the Aquarius paints include a lot of new pigments I’d never come across before. I like this tone of orange a lot – it looks like a light orange – it’s warm, light, sunny and transparent.
  • PB16 Phthalo Turquoise – another new for me – a beautiful, deep turquoise.
  • PV37 Dioxazine Violet. Winsor&Newton has Winsor Violet PV23. They are very similar, but I like the one by Aquarius more as it’s a bit warmer. PV16 Manganese Violet is another lovely shade of Purple, more pink than PV37. To tell the truth, I love all purple tones in the Aquarius palette!

To sum up, in my opinion the Aquarius watercolors are great paints, which are surely better than, so often recommended and compared with them, White Nights paints. I can’t say for sure now if they’re as good as Winsor&Newton, because I haven’t tested them for long enough, but they’re certainly not paints for students only. We should be happy that they’re Polish, because it means they’re cheaper and easier available. So if you think of buying new watercolours – be sure to try out the Aquarius ones! I definitely recommend them.

Color swatches

I used Arches CP, 300 gsm (140 lbs) paper for the swatches.

And now it’s time for a visual feast. Each swatch is labelled with the color’s name, pigments included, its number, brand symbol (Aq) and a square informing of transparency/opaqueness of the color. Vertical black line is made in ink, which enables you to see how transparent/opaque a given color is. Next to the black line there’s a lighter stripe made as a result of lifting out. I created the swatches in different ways: partly wet on dry, partly wet on wet, and after drying up I added an additional stripe wet on the dry (it’s on the right side). And in the bottom left corner there’s a color’s number.