We urban sketchers are always looking for the best tools to use on our sketching adventures. Whether you’re out to sketch for an hour here or there or take specific week-long sketching ventures, it’s important that you have a set of materials that work for you both in terms of practicality, affordability and usability.
Here is my review of a watercolour set and sketchbook that I’ve been checking out lately:
- Paul Rubens Watercolour Set of 24
- Paul Rubens Watercolour Sketchbook
Let’s look at each item in more detail.
Paul Rubens Watercolour Set of 24
These are ‘artist grade’ watercolour paints from China. Now, I have tested inexpensive watercolours labelled as ‘professional’ before, that certainly are not artist grade. However, I can confirm that this set from Paul Rubens is indeed lightfast and therefore I can back their claim of being ‘artist grade’.
Listed below are the colours included in the set of 24. You will notice two things.
- Nearly every colour in the set is single pigment. The three exceptions to this are Paynes Grey (made from PB15, PB29 andPBK9); Yellow Green (made from PG36 and PY74); and Tree Green (PG36, PY12, PR101 and PW5)
- The ‘Lightfastness’ rating is high (i.e. good) – 8 on this scale means totally lightfast. The scale runs from 1. There are no colours under 6 in this set. Three colours have a rating of 6: Madder Red, Paynes Grey and Prussian Blue.
- Permanent Lemon Yellow : PY3 – Lightfastness 7 – Half Transparent
- Cadmium Yellow Medium: PY35 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
- Indian Yellow: PY83 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
- Cadmium Red Light: PR108 – Lightfastness 8 – Half Opaque
- Scalet: PR123 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
- Madder Red: PR177 – Lightfastness 6 – Half Opaque
- Violet: PV19 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
- Permanent Violet: PV23 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
- Cobalt Blue: PB28 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- France Ultramarine: PB29 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- Sky Blue: PB36 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
- Sea Blue: PB15.3 – Lightfastness 7 – Opaque
- Prussian Blue: PB27 – Lightfastness 6 – Half Transparent
- Paynes Grey: PB15, PB29, PBK9 – Lightfastness 6 – Completely Transparent
- Yellow Green: PG36, PY74 – Lightfastness 8 – Half Transparent
- Tree Green: PG36, PY12, PR101, PW5 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- Hooker’s Green Brillight: PG17 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- Pozzuoli Red Ochre: PR101 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
- Burned Sienna: PB7 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- Emerald Green Deep: PG7 – Lightfastness 7 – Completely Transparent
- Burned Brown: PBR7 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- Yellow Ochre: PY42 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
- Umber: PBR7,PR101 – Lightfastness 8 – Completely Transparent
- Coal Black: PBK7 – Lightfastness 8 – Opaque
Interestingly, one reviewer who conducted a lightfastness test (by leaving a chart of swatched colours in direct sunlight for several months) found that Madder Red (lightfastness rating of 6) and Yellow Green (which actually has a lightfastness rating of 8) were the two that faded slightly. All the other paints held their colour perfectly.
The Paul Rubens Watercolour Set of 24 certainly has the wow factor when it comes to presentation. It comes in a beautiful cardboard box that matches the colour of the watercolour tin. Now, baby pink is not really my jam but you can’t deny that it does catch the eye. It is certainly different. St Petersburg White Nights have some sets available in lilac but I have not seen pink on offer like this before.
Will it put some people off? Yes.
It puts me off, I’ll be honest.
But, now I know how good these paints are, I would think again, or at least overlook it. From the Paul Rubens website, it does look like they make the sets available in other colour tins, such as baby blue and navy blue, however, at the time of writing, I can’t see that they are available to buy (at least in the UK/US via Amazon).
Despite the colour, the tine comes in a box with a beautiful cloth wrapped around it. I couldn’t decide if this was just a presentational element or if the cloth is meant for wiping your brush on. It would seem like a shame to ruin it to be honest, but then I think what other purpose will it serve? So the jury is still out as to whether I will use it as a brush rag!
These paints have been available to purchase on Amazon since 2018. They are affordable (approximately US$40 / £40) and are comparable to watercolour paints that are 3 times the price from brands such as Schmincke and Sennelier.
They have had excellent reviews from other watercolour sketchers and crafters. I can firmly throw my hat in the ring and say these paints are vibrant, fun to use and affordable. For urban sketching, I would certainly be tempted to use the set of 12 but as someone who tends to use a limited number of colours, it has been really nice to have 24 colours at my fingertips to paint with. Not that I paint with my fingers…there’s definitely some brushes involved.
You can get the Paul Rubens watercolours in a set of 12, 24 or 48. There’s also a glitter/metallic set of paints (I haven’t tried them, they don’t appeal to me). As mentioned, I have seen photos of a baby blue tin and a dark blue tin but can only see the baby pink option available on Amazon (both UK and US). The colour doesn’t massively appeal to me but I shall overlook it!
Paul Rubens Watercolour Sketchbook
You can actually buy the Paul Rubens watercolour paint set and travel sketchbook in a bundle together on Amazon here.
The travel sketchbook I received is once more in pink but you can buy this sketchbook in black too. On the Paul Rubens website, it looks like it is available in baby blue as well but I can’t see that colour for sale on Amazon (at the time of writing).
I have the smallest size – 195mm x by 135mm. It’d just a tad smaller than A5. In the picture above it looks like portrait orientation but the one I have is landscape, with the elastic band secured on the shorter side. This actually suits me perfectly. I use both orientations but predominantly landscape. It’s only recently I have been trying portrait formats with the Hahnmenuhle Watercolour Sketchbook.
Specifications of the Paper
From reading the product description on Amazon, it appears this paper is 100% cotton, which I find very surprising, mainly because of the price the sketchbook retails at. The paper is 140lb / 300gsm.
The paper is also labelled as hot press, although there is a very slight texture to it. I generally use cold press paper. It varies from brand to brand but a lot of the time it is the sweet spot between textured enough for watercolour to do its thing but not too much where it ends up tricky to sketch with my pen. It certainly wears down my fineliners if the texture is too rough.
The Paul Rubens website doesn’t go into much detail about the specs of this sketchbook but we can see the paper is listed as fine-grain cotton pulp.
I found the water sat on the surface of the paper rather than soaking in (especially if you use a bit more than you should – oops) so it did take quite some time to dry. I do have other 100% cotton papers. I do not use them much as I am more of a sketchbook-er but I crack them out for the odd commission.
The paper in this sketchbook didn’t really seem to act like the 100% cotton paper I am (vaguely) used to. But if we take away that aspect, I was still happy with how this sketchbook behaved for my style of sketching and painting, and my expectations based on many other sketchbooks I have used.
Construction of the Paper
The pages of the sketchbook are perforated so you can tear them out easily. I suppose this makes it easy to tear out a page if you don’t like it. Although I advise against that. It’s a sketchbook after all and not everything you do in it will be perfect but it’s always an opportunity to learn. But you know – if you hate it that much – you can easily get rid of it. We’ve all been there many a time!
On a ‘glass half full’ side of things, it makes it easy for you to tear out if someone loves your sketch and wants to buy it. It does happen! Ok, not to me, but I have heard it happen to others.
The cover of the book is leather in appearance, there is a pocket at the back where you can keep tickets, stickers, flyers etc. There is a ribbon bookmark and as mentioned an elastic band to keep the sketchbook together. A tried and tested format that most travel watercolour sketchbooks now have.
Testing the Paper
I tested the paper by firstly swatching the colours of the Paul Rubens watercolour set – a great way to beak a sketchbook in by the way.
After this I did some wet on wet ‘noodling’ just to see what was what, get used to the paint a but, the paper a bit etc.
I then went on to paint a sunset scene directly in watercolour. I rarely do direct watercolour paintings and it’s not my strong suit either. However, after the usual panic that it looks like a 5-year-old did it (is this mean to 5-year-olds?), it actually started to shape up quite nicely.
By the way, if you want to see the full Youtube video of this test, click on the image below:
That’s not to say this paper is bad! It’s just better for watercolour sketching – and generally by that I mean ink and watercolour or line and wash. In fact, I was very satisfied with how this paper performed under the layers of water and paint I added.
My next and final test was something I am far more comfortable with – a sketch of an old door in ink and watercolour. I had a lot of fun sketching this, the paper was great, I love how smooth some of the wet in wet effects were and it was easy to draw on in my usual way.
Overall I am very happy with this paper and the format of this sketchbook. I will certainly be using it for both urban sketching and sketching at home. I would definitely consider buying one, perhaps even a larger version. I think the sketchbook is a comparable price with a Moleskine Watercolour Album and of comparable quality.
As well as the sketchbook, Paul Rubens offer a paper block. This is where the paper comes in a pad but is glued on all sides except for an opening where you can slide in a palette knife or something similar to carefully separate the sheet from the pad. It’s useful so you do not have to stretch or tape down paper when you want to paint. This is also advertised as 100% cotton. Confusingly, the picture of it looks very similar to that of the watercolour sketchbook so do read carefully when you are ordering from Amazon.
I can’t comment on the block, just warning you it’s available and looks similar to the sketchbook at first glance.
I do want to link to the sketchbook here but I cannot seem to find it on Amazon.com, however, here it is on Amazon.co.uk
Overall Conclusion on Paul Rubens Products
I am really happy I had the opportunity to try these Paul Rubens watercolour paints and sketchbook out. They were sent to me for free for review purposes and to be honest and I had low expectations but since trying them out, followed by reading other people’s opinions on them, I really am very happy with them.
I think the watercolour paints are the real standout product. The quality of pigments, the lightfastness and the way they interact are all excellent – especially when taking the price into consideration.
The sketchbook is totally fine, it doesn’t blow me away but it is completely in line with other sketchbooks in a similar format and price point so I would be totally happy to use these sketchbooks on a regular basis, especially for urban sketching.
I think the matching pink watercolour set and sketchbook is a strong statement I am not ready to make yet but I appreciate the quality of presentation of both products nonetheless.
I hope this has been a useful review and helped with any ponderings you’ve had as to whether you should buy either of these products.
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