I decided to see what one of the older and professional companies would come up with in the $15-$20 range of mini watercolor sets and bought myself a Sennelier Aqua Mini Watercolor Set.
Size: 4 x 2.6 x 0.9 inches
Weight: 2.4 ounces
No of Pigments: 8
Colors: PY74-Primary Yellow; PR242-French Vermillion; PB15, PW4-Cinereous Blue; PB29, PV15-French Ultramarine Blue; Pg7, PY155-Phthalo Green Light; PB29, PY153-Sap Green; PBk7-Burnt Umber; PV19, PB15, PBk7-Payne's Gray
- Pigments are rich, easy to moisten, blend well and create great washes.
- Pigments are made with honey (some people wouldn't like this).
- Set comes with a small brush.
- Container is metal.
- Container fits in your hand.
- Package gives pigment index numbers, lightfastness and opacity information
- There are only eight colors.
- Pigments are in molded plastic rather than pans.
- Brush is so small that use is very limited.
- There is a plastic film window in lid of tin that is breakable.
- The pigment cakes are of different size.
- There is no mixing space.
- All the colors lean to warm.
Look and Feel
While I feel the pigments are well worth the price, the packaging and brush are disappointing.
In the watercolor industry, each pigment color is assigned an index number designed to give you information about that pigment. PB means a pigment is blue, PR green, PY yellow, etc. Most professional brands will label their colors with the pigment index (mixed colors may have more than one index number) as well as information about lightfastness (how quickly the color might fade) and opacity (how much you might see through the color once it is on the paper).
Sennelier has included all this information on the box. However, since the box is small, the print is very small. I had trouble reading the index numbers.
All the colors have a lightfastness of I or II, which is very good. A rating of one means the color should stay true indefinitely, while II means it should stay true for a long, long time.
The colors that are opaque are colors that I would expect to be opaque in nearly any brand. It's hard to explain, but there is a difference in how colors are opaque as well. Opaque colors can be chalky or just opaque no matter how light a wash you use. These are opaque in the good way.
There are only eight colors, where most comparable sets this size and price range have twelve. I feel the quality of the paint offsets this, and the color choices are good. The only rider to that, is that all the colors are of a warm temperature (leaning toward red and yellow). If you need of prefer a cool palette, this won't be the set for you.
I only had to add the slightest amount of water for the pigments to become moist.
The set is about the size of an altoids tin, easy to fit in the palm of your hand or in a pocket.
There's no ring on the bottom to help you hold onto the tin while painting in the field. In this case, the set is so small, I don't think you would need it. Personally, I never use those rings, and prefer not to have them, but that's a matter of taste.
The set does come with a brush. It's is so small! I won't say it is useless, but I could barely do a color chart with it. The brush is decent in the amount of water and color it will hold, and keeps its point. It is good for drawing fine lines, but will in no way be versatile enough to be the only brush you need.
The set comes in a sturdy metal tin -- except -- for some unknowable reason, Sennelier decided to put a window in the lid. It is made of plastic film that will be easily punctured or pulled free of the tin. It also makes the lid unusable for mixing.
The paints themselves are set in a molded plastic package, sort of like you might get cookies in.
The cakes are easily dislodged.
The other oddity is that the pigment cakes are of different size. I'm not sure if this reflects the cost of the pigments themselves or was simply carelessness when the paints were poured.
The tin is deep enough that you'd be able to add more paints and/or a small brush underneath the plastic molding.
Both these paintings were done in the Global Art Materials Field Watercolor Artist Journal Hand Book, 7 by 10-Inch that I'm using for the '52 Weeks of Watercolour Birds'.
I only used the brush that came with this set to do the eyes, and beak of the birds. It does work nicely for that.
For this first painting, I used my go-to Silver Black Velvet brushes. I was able to get vibrant colors, and washes thick enough that is was easy to use the scraping technique in the background.
I used a cheaper brush - a Lukas size 8 for this painting. I was also experimenting with a Silver Scrubber brush, using it to lift color for a softer look. I shouldn't have done that on this paper. That red blot on the throat is a result of overworked paper.
Still, even with my lack of technique, and a cheap brush, I was able to get a nice blend of color, and the soft misty look I was going for.
OverallWhile the packaging disappoints, the pigments don't.
If you are looking for starter/travel set that is all you need in the field this is not the set for you. If you are a casual painter, doing watercolor sketches or using the paints to color things in, then you might want a more complete set, but would be happy with these colors. If you are looking for a set with excellent pigments, and don't mind carrying a brush/mixing palette separately then it would be a good set for you.
I'm still mulling over ideas, but I'll figure out a way to fix that window, or just move the paints into a different tin, and I have a good set of travel brushes. If I could only have one travel palette, this would probably be my choice because of the quality of the paint. That's my focus.
Disclaimer: I bought this Sennelier Aqua Mini Watercolor Set on my own dime. Sennelier did not ask for a review or send me anything, and probably won't even take notice of this review. I was curious about the set, and thought my readers probably were too, so I reviewed it.