Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box, boku undo sumi-e, sumi

DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Set + Gansai + Exotic Papers

Today’s post is about random, and perhaps, slightly different watercolor supplies. Previously I’ve professed my love of all things Japanese, so here we are looking at the Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set -“Japanesque Colour”.  My no supply resolve weakens late at night.  I love having a curious nature, but it often gets the better of me.  This was a cross your fingers and hope for the best kind of purchase. There are quite a few examples below, including some on more uncommon types of paper, and some interesting info in this post.

Made by Boku-Undo Co., Ltd., which has over 200 years of history, in Japan. They are a maker of sumi-e ink and sumi-e watercolor supplies in Nara, Japan.  I’ve gleaned that these are traditional type Japanese watercolors.

These will appeal to some, while others might think…eww.  The colors remind me slightly of the Liquitex Muted Collection colors, only these are gansai/opaque watercolor. I bought my set on Amazon with free Prime shipping. The six large plastic pans come in a nicely textured cardboard box with color swatches under the lid. I lived in Okinawa, Japan many years ago, but I haven’t a clue as to what anything on the box says. I do love an adventure 🙂 


They are smooth like butta’.  One touch of the brush and serious pigment is loaded. Very rich, and very moody.  They blend nicely and lift easily. A mixing area is definitely required. They seem similar in consistency of the popular Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints, but do not leave the same sheen once dry.  They dry matte. There might be larger sets out there that also include these colors.

I have read that the binder used in “gansai,” a traditional Japanese watercolor, which is what I’m classifying these as, can include “glue, starch, gum arabic, beeswax, sugar syrup, sugar, or glycerin.”  The glue is usually made from boiled animal hide. I don’t know for sure  what the binder is in these.  I suspect they don’t contain any ingredients that would make them glossy, because they dry matte. In my opinion, these handle like a good quality paint with a high pigment load, but they do not handle like western paints. I recommend visiting the site Sadie Saves the Day for a bit more info on gansai.  If you are curious, concerned, or doubtful about any of this, don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Vegans may want to skip these or any other gansai paints. If you’re Paleo, you’re good to go, if you are like me, grab a donut and read on.

A very quick test page done in a Canson XL Mixed Media book. Please excuse the other doodles.  I never intended to share this. I was getting my Spirograph on- which seemed easier as a kid.  More swatches and examples coming up.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box swatch on Canson XL multi media paper

The set is muted and dark shades, which I’m calling- red black, yellow black, green black, blue black, purple black, and brown black.  These are what the swatch inside the lid depicts- sort of. The colors in the lid aren’t accurate.  If you think the second color down looks a bit like baby poo, at first glance I did too. The blue reminds me of Daniel Smith Sodalite. The purple isn’t very purple, I’m not exactly sure what that color is trying to be.

In the pans, they are pretty much impossible to tell apart, so if the box gets turned around while the lid’s off, you won’t know what’s what. I’m going to draw an indicating mark somewhere on the box and label the bottom of the pans.  They can be applied thick and opaque, or diluted for a more transparent application.  The swatch below is on Arches 90 lb cold press watercolor paper.  Left side diluted and wet in wet, right side full force with the bottom portions washed out.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolor swatch on Arches watercolor paper

Sample paintings below on several different types of paper.  I don’t think I’ve shared this many examples of one product, so you’ll certainly get a good idea of what they look like. As they say- it takes all kinds, variety is the spice of life, explore, be flexible, go with the flow.  These days I’m more about painting in little journals over making larger paintings- too many books that need reading. I used both the blue and purple in the first two sketches with mountains, but I can’t really tell a distinction between the two colors- disappointing.

First example of mountains and flowers, is in a tiny leather handmade watercolor book filled with Arches 140 lb cold press made by The SpeckledKat. Holbein Brilliant Gold gouache was used as well, I throw gold into everything it seems.  Some of the yellow black was used under the gold in the sky on the left, but really diluted.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on arches 140lb watercolor paper, the speckledKat

Next paper type examples.  Meteor shower in an A6 Hobonichi Techo, with its awesomely thin and amazing paper.  I laid it on thick here, the brown is super dark. These work fantastically on this 52 gsm Tomoe River paper. Also used- Finetec watercolors.  In person, this is really dark and sets a night-time mood.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box watercolor painting by jessica seacrest in a hobonichi techo planner, tomoe river paper

I’ve been using them more diluted, and sometimes mixed with other paints. I’ve fallen in love with them. Even though I joked above about the yellow black color, it works nicely with the green black. The Hobonichi is my daily Doodlewash spot.  Turns out I doodle mountains often. I grew up in Colorado, and where I presently live is surrounded by them.

Many people want a daily practice, it’s not always easy to find time.  I’ll gladly take one of these little 5 or 10 minute sketches over nothing at all, and often they get done just before bed.  At work I open this little planner on my desk, it’s a creative bright spot. I do accounting and the walls are beige…egads- I need this thing.

My sumi-e brush skills were never strong to begin with, but now they are seriously rusty. I tried some fish…let’s just say it’s best I’m sticking with tree like things for these simple examples. Bamboo on practice shuen rice paper (or shuan), it’s thicker than standard rice paper.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on shuen

Some strange trees or flowers, or whatever they look like to you, on standard rice paper. In person, I can tell the difference between the blue black and the purple black here, but it is subtle. A note on rice paper- it’s not made out of rice. There is a smooth side and a rough side. The smooth side is considered the correct side, but either side can be used depending on preference.  It may depend on if one is doing a painting or calligraphy as to what side is preferable.  The painting below is on the rough side.  This paper is very thin, I lay a piece of felt under it before painting. If you are curious about these type of papers, click here for a little more info.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box painting by jessica seacrest on rice paper, Boku Undo Sumi-e, Sumi

And the most interesting of them all and I love it- Yupo!  I feel this is what they look best on. This paper, it’s an adventure for sure, kind of just have to let it do what it wants to do. Guest Doodlewasher, Michele May described it as a balance between control and chaos, which is an apt description of using Yupo.

Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set watercolour box watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on Yupo

Check out the review of neon LUMI Accent Color here, which are a similar type of paints, but super bright. Nothing like going to extremes :).  I’ve never written a review of Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints.  Folks went crazy for those and there is a lot of info available out there. If you have a question about them, I’m happy to answer.

To close with, I’m switching gears.  A while back I bought a pack of unbleached cotton flat cloth diapers, nappies if you are from the UK, to use as brush wipes.  Now they are one of my favorite things.  Since they are the flat square of cotton variety, they’re not bulky. I washed them prior to use.  Beats paper towels for absorbency, especially when folded up. It’s also good to put a paper towel on top of to soak up excess before it hits the desk.  I’ve seen people wrap paper towel around a roll to toilet paper for something more absorbent.  Because of space and aesthetic reasons, I don’t want a roll of TP sitting on my desk, which is in my living room.  This is less waste and they can be folded and refolded for several clean surfaces, and can be washed separately from clothes and such, and reused. They are less likely to blow away in the wind while out sketching- large enough to tuck a corner in a belt loop, or pocket, or under something and still have plenty of surface area for use.  They are inexpensive, but it would be great to go in on a pack with art friends or classmates.  If I didn’t know this was a diaper, I wouldn’t think that it was one.

Cloth diaper used for watercolor brush wipe

Supply reviews are shared with the intention of helping other creatives figure out what supplies might be right for them as they go along in their own creative journeys. I hope that this one helped to broaden your horizons. Many other art supply and watercolor reviews can be found under “Reviews.” May you go forth with the full expression of your creative spirit- it matters and you matter!  Thank you for taking the time to read this review.  Until next time- happy painting and sketching.

I can be found on Intagram- @jessicaseacrest where I’m usually sharing something, and sneak peeks of future items for review show up from time to time.

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38 thoughts on “DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Boku-Undo E-Sumi Watercolor Set + Gansai + Exotic Papers

  1. Enabler, you! Winging its way is the dull, duller, dullest Japanese watercolors. I have a penchant for grayed out colors and look forward to playing with Boku-Undo Sumi-E Watercolor Paint 6 Colors Set. I looked at the 24 color set, but honestly felt there was not sufficient difference from other watercolor sets I own to try and find it. Now, I need to find the nappies. I prefer reusable material to paper towels, except for adhesives and acrylics. As always, thank you Jessica.

  2. Great review! I wasn’t impressed with the initial colors, but when you showed what you’ve done in your sketchbooks – wow! (I like the Spirograph experiments. How I miss my Spirograph!!) Thanks, too, for showcasing different papers. I make my sketchbooks/journals, too, and am always looking for paper possibilities. Using diapers is a great idea – I cut up old dishtowels, but I think the diapers would be much more absorbent. (By the way, it’s snowing on this April day just north of you up here in Colorado.)

    1. Hi Ellie 🙂 thank you! When I did that first swatch, I promptly stuck these paints to the side for a month or so. I’m glad that I eventually picked them back up. All that snow in Colorado brought us some much appreciated cooler temps down here!

  3. That top photo is gorgeous, are the flowers honesty? Also the coniferous trees painting in the next to last picture, and the honesty (?) and blue flowers/grasses painting in the desk planner, both stunning. Brightened up my day!

  4. This is a really interesting and very funny review, Jessica. The inks are so different from anything I’ve ever used and I appreciate the heads up about what to look out for. Thanks for the diaper suggestion – I use blue auto paper towels, much thicker, more absorbent, and more reusable than standard paper towels, but I’ll look for some diapers now. You have fun painting on anything – I bet every book in your house is saying, “Look out, here she comes with more paint.”

  5. Love your reviews. This palette is a beautiful collection of muted colors. So unusual. I’m loving that last painting of the conifers.

    I use old towels cut up into the same basic size as those diapers. Love them! As you say: several surfaces, great texture that gently cleans the brushes as you wipe, just toss in the wash.

    1. That’s a great idea Robin, thanks for sharing 🙂 To be honest, when I did the first swatches of this palette, I wasn’t feeling it. I’m glad that I revisited it.

    1. Hehe, you always give me a giggle Monique 🙂 Thank you. Sometimes the diaper looks better than what’s on the paper, I’ve had some paper towels like that too..hehe.

    1. Thank you Anya, it is an interesting set. When I did the first swatches, I set it to the side for over a month. I’m glad I revisited it and gave it a chance 🙂

    1. For the price, I love them. I use the 0/10 size in the picture (this is an old photo) the most, it’s gotten pretty beat up and the paint is chipping off the handle but the brush is still holding up. I bought another one to have as back-up 🙂

  6. These paints look like so much fun!
    I regularly read your blog, and I was so surprised to see myself mentioned! Thanks for the shout out 🙂
    By the way, I looked at Boku-undo’s site (they make these paints) and they are called e-sumi, or sumi for painting pictures. According to them, they are made with the same ingredients as regular Sumi, although I have to imagine that there is more binder so that they can be used in a pan like watercolor. Either way, these are probably not vegan since Sumi also uses animal products in the binder!

    1. Hi Sade! So nice to hear from you. I’ve enjoyed your site so much. I love listening to you speak on you video. I had it E-Sumi, but then changed it. Perhaps I will change it back. Thanks so much for the info. Keep doing what you do!! <3

  7. I bought a set of the watercolours from Japan since Amazon doesn’t ship to Australia. I asked one of my Japanese friends to translate what’s written on the box and since the instructions state to keep away from heat and sunlight. I have made a light fastness swatch and it will go in the hot and humid Australian weather for a few months. I’m curious to see how they fare in our hot sun. I haven’t painted with them yet other than to make the light fastness swatch but they feel sticky and they are smooth.

  8. Loved this review and it took me back to the 70’s when I was primarily an oil painter and decided to take a series of classes by a local well-known Asian artist, Lily Chen. Unfortunately I don’t have any of the art produced in her classes and sold it all. But I still have the inks, pens and brushes and in a continuing class I learned calligraphy which I still do and enjoy. In fact the Asian art classes are what turned me into a watercolor artist. I do remember seeing some of my art years after it was sold and it had faded a great deal. Why did I still keep all the equipment? Because you can never have too many art supplies (ever!)

  9. Thank you for this wonderful post It is most inspiring. I at the moment am using Mei Liang watercolors and love them… I enjoy using Asia products too. Now to find a durable water color paper too … very new to watercolors so I am in explore mode… hrmmm that will never change though. lol. Thanks again for inspiring 🙂

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