30-Color Koi Watercolor Pocket Field Sketch Box Review #SakuraOfAmerica #Koi #Watercolor

Today I am reviewing the 30-color Koi Watercolor Pan Set, which is one of the items I received in return for some artwork that Sakura of America shared.

If you are here for the giveaway (a black tile Zentangle® tool set, a set of 6 Pigma Micron pens in assorted colors, and a Sakura pen pouch), please go here.  This giveaway ends tonight.

If you have spent any time in an art or craft store, you have probably seen a Koi Watercolor Pocket Field Sketch Box.  They've been around for years, and are available in 12, 18 and 24 colors. NOW, they are also available in a 30 color size, and that is the set I am reviewing.

Size Dimensions for both sizes: 6 3/8” x 4 5/8” x 1 1/18"

  • Waterbrush 
    •  9mL reservoir barrel
    • Size 6 brush tip
    • Plug for water barrel
  • Dabbing sponge
  • Detachable, pegged palette
  • Snap lid that acts as an easel for postcard size paper
  • The  secures to the kit base either to the right, left or center sides
  • A base pull-down ring 

Look and Feel
The Koi Watercolor Pocket Field Sketch Box is a compact set of watercolors, designed for the person who wants to carry their paints everywhere.  They are also handy for the casual, once-in-a-while painter who wants something they can easily store when not in use.

To give you an idea of the size, you can see that the set is easily held in one hand.  Keep in mind that I have small hands.

Cake watercolor (aka pan watercolors) sizes are usually called half-pan or full-pan size.  I don't believe there is a standard for those sizes, but I believe these are smaller than the average half-pan. The whole kit is smaller than most (for this amount of colors), so that isn't surprising.

Everything is laid out nicely for carrying.  The waterbrush is in two parts (more about that in a moment) so you do have to put it together for painting.

As with most travel kits, the paints are close together, so cross-contamination of color is possible.  If you do get another color mixed in, it is fairly easy to wipe it off with a wet brush or moist towel though.

The small pan size doesn't work well with large brushes, but the expectation is that you'll be using the set for small paintings and smaller brushes will be the norm.

The set does include Chinese White, Payne's Gray and Ivory Black.  There is a purist point-of-view that the only white should be the white of the paper and the only gray and/or black should be mixed from other colors.  That said, if you are painting on the go, where spontaneity is the prime goal, it isn't going to hurt to use those colors once in a while. If you really don't intend to use those colors, you could pop them out of the set, and add other colors of your own.

There is a mixing palette with pegs that fit into the set.  When the set is closed the palette sits over the paints without actually touching them.  When you are painting, you can remove the palette and either put it in the lid, or use the pegs on one side.

The lid can be used like an easel for a postcard-sized piece of paper, or instead, for more mixing space.

The waterbrush barrel can be filled with water, and holds enough that you could probably do a postcard sized painting.  Much more than that, and you'll need to have an extra supply or water (or you can refill the brush at any available sink). There is a little black plug that you can put in the barrel opening to keep the water from leaking out while the set is closed.

The brush tip screws on and off of the barrel, and comes with a tip to keep the bristles from getting bent or splayed.

The bristles are a synthetic plastic that hold up reasonably well (I've used these brushes in the past).  They will stain, but it doesn't affect the paint color.  They're wonderfully easy to keep clean.  A quick swipe on a towel, and you're ready to load up the next color. If you use the brush too much while it is dry, or press down too hard while painting then the bristles will start to splay, and may eventually stay that way.

You do need to learn how to control the amount of water that flows from the brush. It's easier than you might think, and the tendency is to squeeze too much, getting huge beads of water.  Those beads are great for dropping onto the dry paint to pre-wet them, or if you are using wet-in-wet, but can cause back-runs and bleeding if you get them accidentally.  A little practice, and you'll be fine.

The set includes a synthetic sponge, that can be use either for clean-up or for texture in your paintings.

There is a plastic ring on the bottom of the set, that you can slide your finger into to help you hold the kit, if needed.

Packaging counts! There is a color chart on the back of the box that the set comes in.  While you should always make your own chart to see what the colors truly are, this could be cut out and kept with the set to help you learn and/or remember which colors are what.

There are also instructions on how to assemble the watercolor brush.

Performance - Koi Waltercolors

When it comes to evaluating the performance of this set, there are two parts--the waterbrush and the watercolors.  I debated about including examples done with another brush, because I think the waterbrush is the most limiting aspect of this set.  In the end, though, I decided that I was reviewing the whole set, and for clarity, should only include examples done with items in the set.

I started out with a with a color chart, of course.  Always a good way to learn not only your true colors, but the range of each color, how opaque or transparent it is, whether it granulates (takes on a sort of salt & pepper effect) and whether it moves well in water, or tends to resist spreading.  Once you know these things you can plan for certain effects and know which colors will work for that effect.

The colors included are Chinese White, Lemon Yellow, Aureoline Hue, Permanent Yellow, Permanent Yellow Deep, Permanent Orange, Jaune Brilliant, Vermilion Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Crimson Lake, Quinacridone Rose, Purple, Cobalt Blue Hue, Cerulean Blue Hue, Ultramarine Deep, Turquoise Blue, Prussian Blue, Indigo, Permanent Green Pale, Permanent Green, Viridian Hue, Permanent Green Deep, Sap Green, Olive Green, Yellow Ochre, Light Red, Burnt Umber, Sepia, Payne's Gray and Ivory Black.

I dropped a large bead of water on each color to pre-moisten the cakes, and let them sit for a moment.  Then, using the waterbrush, I picked up pure color without adding any more water.  I lay down a stroke of color, then immediately squeezed out a small bead of water, and laid down a second stroke, just along the edge of the first.

All of the colors softened nicely, and gave me a good solid stroke of color.  All of the colors moved well when water was added except for the Sap Green.  This means the Sap Green won't give you lots a gradations in tint, but is a good color to use in smaller areas where you don't want the paint to run.

Veridian Green and Permanent Green Deep seemed a little chalky, with solid bits appearing in the second stroke.  These are normally granulating colors, where you might expect a salt & pepper effect, but the bits seemed a bit large.  I didn't see any bits while painting the remaining examples, so it might be something settled during shipping, or it could be the paint isn't quite consistent all the way through. 

Overall, though I was impressed with the depth of color, and didn't find the greens disturbing. 

My next test was a 4"x 4" painting on a 140 lb cold-press high-end student grade paper.  I drew my flowers using a Pigma Micron, because I wanted to test the brush in small areas, and knew it would be easier to note if I were filling in a pre-drawn area.

As cold-press papers go, this was a fairly smooth one.  I actually used a lot of water, and was surprised at how much color remained once the paint was dry. 

The colors were nicely transparent, allowing both other colors and the line-work to show through.
The brush is very good for small spaces, and holds quite a bit of color.  Once you get the hang of how much water needs to be squeezed out, and when not to squeeze any, you can get smooth coverage and build up gradual glazes (glaze is the watercolor terminology for layers of paint transparent enough to let previous layers show through).

I've been painting a bird once a week for the '52 Weeks of Watercolour Birds' event, and decided I would this week's bird (a Blue Tit) using the Koi set.  I had already done my preliminary sketch in pencil on a piece of Shizen Hotpress watercolor paper.  This is handmade, soft and has quite a bit of texture, so I knew it would be more of a challenge for the pigments.  The painting is approximately 7" x 10".

Here I found the limitation of the waterbrush.  The brush is too small for a very large wash, and though the brush picks up quite a bit of pigment, it releases it quickly, so where I would normally stroke a sweep of color from one side to the other, I had to keep picking up new pigment.

Given the paper, I expected less intensity and some trouble building up darker values, and that is what happened.  I think I would have had less of those problems with a different brush.  As it was, I was happy with the results. 

Since coloring books are so popular right now, I wanted to see how the set would work for that purpose.  Last year I reviewed the Majestic Mandalas Adult Coloring Book by Orna Ben-Shoshan, and decided to color a page from that book for my last example.

These pages are 12" x 12" in size, so it took a great deal of time to paint.  I was able to lift color a little bit, which was good because they all came out so bright.  I needed to get a little value contrast.

The waterbrush was great for all the detail, but I did have to take extra care with how much water I squeezed out.  I also did this in one setting, which was a mistake.  Afterward, my wrist ached from all the brushing and squeezing.

The paper quality of coloring books varies tremendously, so these paints wouldn't necessarily work in all cases.  But if you wanted to use watercolor as a medium for coloring, this would be an excellent set for the purpose.

Given the price point for this set, the colors are surprisingly bright, spread well, and blend nicely.  To my eye and experience, I would consider them high-end student quality. The set is a good size for travel, and for easy storage.

This is a good set for beginners, supplying a large range of colors for a decent price, while avoiding many of the pale pigments that end up frustrating so many.  The set is good enough for experienced painters, as well, who might want a set for on-the-go quick watercolor sketches.

Disclaimer: I received this 30 Color Koi Watercolor Set as part of a thank you for artwork that Sakura of America shared.  I was not asked to do this review, and received no other compensation. All opinions are my own.