Art: Art Supply Rabbit Hole

I have been on an acrylic monotype bender this year, but I hope to return to watercolor painting again. I do it in flurries, and I’m overdue for a return.

I use transparent Japanese, Holbein brand tube watercolors (primarily: I also like a French brand); Swiss watercolor pencils and crayons; and I have a German travel set of watercolors I bought at a museum in Switzerland on one of my last trips there, but haven’t used much since. I also have a tiny mixing set of Holbein’s opaque gouache, which I love, and can mix just about any color I need from. I’ve gone through multiple tubes of it, and love its dense color.

I have enough supplies. Probably. I’m always missing a shade of green or blue that can’t be mixed, but I surely have enough.

Anyway, there’s a type of Japanese watercolor that I (somehow) do not have. It had escaped me, because we call several things “watercolor” in English, but they have different names there.

The paint is called gansai. It is often mineral based, opaque, and generally not vegetarian in composition, commonly using animal skin binders. I wanted to know more about it, to see if a vegetarian version is available, and to know if it offers colors I don’t already have in the only big set of paints I’ve ever bought, which is a set of Holbein’s “antique” Japanese colors.

Does Holbein offer a gansai range? Yes! But only in Japan: the product isn’t available through their US distributor. Also, they don’t address my animal ingredient concern, so I may need to ask.

Is it similar in color range to Holbein Irodori Antique Watercolors? Well, this was a hard question, because that set is no longer listed on the Holbein sites. Why? It has been replaced with a full line of Holbein Irodori GOUACHES!

[insert sound of me, a gouache lover, losing my mind]

Oh oh oh oh oh… I need to know more about this, and found an Irodori fan who runs her own art supply shop in Hanoi to share her insights:

Knowing that I already love gouache complicates my research into gansai… Though it’s not like a huge box of tubes and all the related equipment is very portable, and I was looking for something portable in this instance. (During my business travels, I used the portable tools and got satisfactory results. While I’m at home, the bulky tube paints give me better results, but require more space and equipment. Since I created work while traveling to justify that purchase, this means I can justify having both! 😀 )

So, setting aside how gorgeous the gouache looks (though there are only a few colors that I feel I can’t go on without in that new line), I chose to go back to research gansai.

Is there a vegetarian Gansai: YES! My local supplier, Jet Pens, offers Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, and specifically notes that they contain no animal products. Hooray!

Did I see other magical things during this research? Oh, goodness yes. Tons of tours of various art supply shops in Japan, plus this gem on one VERY SPECIAL art supply store:

My mind is filled with colorful paint fantasies now… I’ll try not to talk about paint again until I show you something I’ve made with it.

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