Today I present a Daniel Smith Titanium White and Mars Black watercolor ground review. So many puns came to mind for this supply. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. If you are not familiar with watercolor ground, it is basically an absorbent primer that allows one to use watercolor, or acrylic paint/ink, on a variety of surfaces and/or build up texture on surfaces. We start with the main feature, and then a couple little tidbits at the end.
So let’s hit the ground running….
The directions on the jar say:
“An excellent ground for watercolor on all surfaces. Absorbent surfaces: Canvas, Paper, Plaster, Hardboard. Non-Absorbent surfaces: glass, plastic, metal- for best results these will need to be abraded before application of the ground. Thick, brushable and heavily pigmented. Allow 24-72 hours to cure before applying watercolor or acrylics. Can be thinned up to 10% with water. Wash brushes immediately after use.”
Ground from this brand also comes in Transparent and Iridescent Gold, but I don’t have those. These are the 4 oz jars. The Titanium White is also sold by the pint. The white is thicker than the black. I’ve had the white for longer, so it could be due to age. It happens to the best of us. The black has a smoother consistency before drying, the white reminds me of buttercream frosting. The 4 oz sized containers are going for around $11-$12 on Amazon. Looks like it can be found for less expensive prices elsewhere.
I know what the directions said, but I’m often fond of looking past such direction. So I applied these to cardboard, along with Canson XL Mixed Media Sketchbook, a Leda Art Supply Sketch Book, and a small and cheap canvas board. A ½ inch flat brush was used for application- as evenly as possible. They say 24-72 hours to cure, but I’m in Arizona, nothing takes that long to dry here. I gave it about 12 hours on the Canson paper. I probably would have waited longer if I had applied it thicker, was building up the ground for shapes, or layering effects. I want to point out that curing denotes something different than ordinary drying (although I’m not sure what), so my semi cavalier treatment of the product might not be suitable in all locations. A friend on Instagram shared that in her experience, if the white ground didn’t cure for at least 24 hours, it made the paint look chalky. Another friend uses the ground on top of Altoids tins to paint on and pretty up her palettes.
I had some reason for buying the Mars Black, but don’t exactly recall. Probably for space painting, as in- “Space the Final Frontier,” so that’s what I’m going with here. And woo-hoo, now there’s an excuse to use that white watercolor that we’re told not to use! Or use those pastel colors that contain the white pigment in the mix, which professional brands Daniel Smith and Holbein both carry. Aren’t we told to never mix white in with other colors? And why is it included in every palette set when no one uses it, or is instructed not to- taking up space where a more usable color could have been?! I’m pointing these contradictions out because it’s one other reason I’m not compelled to always listen to, or follow directions or rules. My supply reviews have a more adventurous creative flavor, than purist views. What’s not acceptable or popular today, might be tomorrow. So really- just do what moves you, that’s all that matters. I love those pastel colors and have a few from Holbein.
Now after saying all that and experimenting, I’m coming right to it- I don’t like the black ground. Everything I used on it looked terrible. I’m showing these as examples of what NOT to do- cardboard for one, which might seem pretty obvious, but I gave it a go anyway. And to further illustrate that, the black ground looks like bad 1970s velvet paintings. Velvet Elvis should leave the building.
This video shows a close up of Luminescent and Primatek Lines from Daniel Smith used on the Mars Black.
Below- the Mars Black ground painted in a Canson XL Mixed Media Sketchbook. The top row are Luminescent and Primatek Lines from Daniel Smith, pastel watercolors from Holbein, and a few Finetec watercolors. White FW Acrylic Ink was used to make stars, and gaseous clouds in the nebula. I became so displeased with the results that I quit part way through my experiments.
Australian artist Cindy Lane has some amazing galaxies that she paints on black pastel matte using various luminous colors from the Daniel Smith line. Folks on Instagram might be familiar with her artistry. Click either link to see her IG account.
On to these disasters- the cardboard. The black one is especially terrible- I used white and pastel watercolors from Holbein, Finetec watercolor, and then Gelly Roll pen to try and help it some. Egads! White watercolor acted the strangest of all, it was difficult to control in some spots, and looks like a toothpaste stain.
General observations before I get into showing more examples. Lifting paint from the surface is easy to do. Using a pointy tipped fountain pen will scrape through the surface, pens didn’t do that well, I tried a Pigma Micron and Gelly Roll. Pencil worked fine, but I didn’t try to sketch a bunch or erase. The texture of the black ground surface reminds me of pastel matte. The white seems to be a little bit more paper like, but like painting on unsized paper. Images lack definition, aliveness, luminosity and depth, everything looks a little dull. In some cases, getting detail was not easy. Anyone that is better with dry brush techniques, might have better luck using ground. This was a frustrating review to do samples for. To queue the song I was hearing in my head when I thought about presenting these- click here.
Titanium White ground in a Leda Art Supply sketchbook. This sketchbook has thin paper, and doesn’t accept watercolor without deteriorating some, at least the way I use watercolor. I thought it would be a good place to try ground. Most of the watercolors used were Daniel Smith Primatek and they looked the best out of anything, and this is the best example I have. Even the gold ring came out sad and dull.
I applied the ground using a brush and a credit card, and also a more uneven application. It sat for months before I painted on it, so it was plenty cured. Close-up to show texture, which worked great for the rock formations.
Lastly, the white ground on a canvas panel, painted with Liquitex Muted Collection and Transparent Collection acrylic inks, which behave much like watercolor. It cured for the proper amount of time before use. This was also a exercise in frustration. The painting on the left is the ground covered canvas panel. The one on the right are the same paints used on an Ampersand Aquabord, included for comparison. Again, tough to get detail or definition, or depth on the ground surface, and I attempted to put in detail. Blasé. No transparent luminosity like there is on the Aquabord.
All I can do in these reviews is present from personal experience, and anything personal comes with bias- pretty much anything anyone ever shares comes from that place- eye of the beholder and such. Some people might like how the black ground looks. These products might work fantastically for others because of their personal preference and/or skill. I didn’t find a lot of examples out there. Here are a couple of links to artists that used ground, whose paintings look good.
Artist Stephanie Law uses watercolor ground in a lot of her paintings to achieve different textures, and layering effects.
This lady on Wet Canvas has a partial example on canvas.
And now that we are all feeling grounded (if this didn’t work, try “Earthing”), here are some Daniel Smith watercolor swatches on regular ‘ol Canson XL paper. I can’t remember what I was going for here, but they are nice to look at. I figured I would pop them in because I don’t know one person into watercolor that doesn’t like looking at swatches. These were personal notes of a sort, so there is sure to be scrawl and misspellings and the swatches were done at random. Other actual reviews on Daniel Smith watercolors can be found here– Part I, and here– Part II which covers the Primatek and Luminous lines.
Explorers’ Sketchbooks– I asked for this book for my birthday (thanks mom & dad). It’s a beast of a book, textbook sized, and features the sketchbooks from 70 explorers. One modern explorer in there is Wade Davis– Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. If you are into outdoors, nature sketching, exploring, travel sketching, looking at handwriting, old documents, history, anthropology, archaeology, it might be interesting to you. If available, it’s a good one to check out from a library.
In closing, I’m sharing a quote from the brilliant Austin Kleon. Today, I resonate with this all the way.
“Try this: Next time you come across someone’s work and you’re not sure exactly how they do it, don’t ask them how it’s done. Don’t go after the “right answer” like some eager honors student. Look closer. Listen harder. Then use your imagination and experiment with the tools you have. Your bad approximation will lead to something of your own.”
The uniqueness and beauty of your personal artistic expression is just that- uniquely yours, right now, this very day. May it continue to deepen, grow and transform, as you do.
Thank’s for taking the time to read this review, it’s for you. Supply reviews happen when I have a supply to review, and always on a Saturday.
Join us for World Watercolor Group! It’s a group for everyone who enjoys watercolor. It is a very active group. There’s also the #WorldWatercolorGroup tag to use when sharing your work on social media. More info in the link above, or click here.