DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Letter Sparrow Handmade Watercolors

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on yupo

Today I present a six half pan Limited Edition Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card from Letter Sparrow handmade watercolors.  A dot card sample of Indigo was also included. I’ll present some simple swatches and examples, and a couple of short videos that highlight the paints. Should you fancy these paints, their’s a little something for you at the end.

Handmade watercolors are all the rage these days!  So that there is hopefully no confusion, I preface what I’m about to present with this – especially for you Stan if you are reading this.  Handmade watercolors handle a bit differently than commercial brands.  I like handmade watercolors, so of course my writing is going to reflect that view.  Some people do not like how handmade watercolors handle/look. They are often more semi-transparent when used concentrated, especially mineral and Mayan pigments. Those down there on the dot card, look transparent to me.  They typically lift easily. Some handmade brands or pigments have a finer consistency than others.  In my opinion, the Letter Sparrow set has a fine consistency. Handmade watercolor is not inexpensive.  Half pans for this brand start at $9. Just like commercial brands, each maker has their own formula and process, and price range. They are all a little different. I consider handmades a creative investment, but I realize they aren’t for everyone.  The good thing is, there are plenty of watercolor options out there for wide variety of preferences and budgets.  Let’s move on to the exploration!

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on yupo

First a little bit about the owner of Letter Sparrow- Kelly Hollstrom.  Kelly is delightful and enthusiastic- a woman with a vision for her business who has had the foresight to change with the market, and region she relocated to.  In her career, she’s taught hand lettering and workshops.  When we were interacting, she had an air of buoyancy and excitement about her.

“I love watercolor, lettering, calligraphy, nature, food, gardening, traveling, and being with my family & besties. I’ve lived and traveled all over the U.S. I’m married to an amazing guy. He’s a pastor on staff at a great church right outside of St. Louis, MO. I homeschool my fun & imaginative son during the day and run my business for 2 hours in the afternoon and after my son goes to bed. I’ve never run my business full time, even when I was doing hand lettering & workshops. We got 2 puppies in January so we’ve been busy with them.

My inspiration for making paints is mostly nature and art. I just naturally grab colors from things I see and love putting them together to make my limited edition sets. My sets are usually only available for the month they are sold in. This is because I have SO many sets planned.

About my paints:

I started making watercolor paint in August 2016 and started selling them the very end of November 2016.  Most of my paints are single pigment and non-toxic. I plan on putting complete pigment info, lightfastness, opacity, etc. on each listing this summer.  My binder is all natural and includes pure ingredients.” 

Urban Watercolor Sketching by felix scheinberger

What exactly are handmade watercolors you may ask? This is general info, and not brand specific. They are usually pigment and a binder- gum Arabic. Sometimes other ingredients are added, like honey, clove oil or other preservatives or moldicides. Gum Arabic is the hardened sap from the Acacia tree, and is the same binder used by commercial brands. The ingredients are mixed and hand mulled with a muller and mulling slab- those are usually made out of glass. Then they are poured into pans and left to cure for a period of time. It is a time consuming process. Pans may need to be filled more than once due to shrinkage during the curing process. This process can often take weeks. Good raw pigments to make paints with can be expensive. There are plenty of books and info to be had about pigments and paint mixtures in general. I’ve enjoyed the pigment stories and info in this one- Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Schienberger. It’s enough info to be interesting, but not too much to be overwhelming.  Plus you get some painting techniques and lessons too.  His style is unique, loose and fun.  I recommend using the “Look Inside” option before you buy, or check it out from the library to see how you like it.

Back to the paints.

All the reviews in the Letter Sparrow Etsy shop are 5 stars. One set that originally caught my eye was the LOVE-ly set– French Red, Super Sparkle Gold, Ultramarine Rose, Sterling Silver. The gold really is super sparkly.

The word that came to mind when I opened the Summer Nights palette- enchanting. It brought to mind the feeling of deep enchanted and magical forests.  “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” – John Muir.

This little set is richly pigmented.  Aubergine Violet, Gray Ochre, Sterling Silver, Veronese Green, Nitroso Green, Sparkling Gold.  The Silver and Gold are very shimmery.  All rewet easily.

This video features two colors- Aubergine Violet and Sterling Silver in a Midori Kraft Paper Spiral Ring Notebook.  I was able to get a lot of depth and variation with just the Aubergine Violet.  It has amazing tinting strength and I found it interesting to work with.  It’s a lovely color, and can look almost black when used very concentrated.  I’m fond of painting on non-traditional papers, this post features a few.

The swatch card that the tin came with is hand lettered and painted, and has magnets on the back so it stays in the lid for storage- I like that it came with it’s own swatch card.  The half pans have magnets on the bottoms and the colors are written on the sides. Below, I put a black line under the Sterling Silver and Sparkle Gold swatches, they cover really well. Dry swatches on the left, and wet in wet on the right. I used all the colors but the gold in the little mountain sample.  Swatches and sample done on Arches 90lb cold press watercolor paper.

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on yupo

I took a video of the swatch above to show the sparkle.   For some reason I couldn’t get it to show up clear and crisp in this post.  Technologies!  Anywho, if you want to check it out, I posted it yesterday on my Instagram account.

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest in a hobonichi techo planner

One thing that I’d like to mention for the Hobonichi enthusiasts- this brand worked well on the fabulously thin Tomoe River Paper← that’s a link to fountain pen inks being written on the paper- mesmerizing.  This is the paper used in the Hobonichi line up.  In my experience, not all handmade watercolors are satisfactory on this paper. If you are curious about the Hobonichi, here’s the link to the Japanese site. Because I use an A6 size Hobonichi Techo as an art journal, there are a boat load of examples on my Instagram account- @jessicaseacrest.   If you are curious, check out my feed and/or ask me questions in the comments below.

It’s apparent from my examples lately, that I’m presently stuck on trees. I’m also into Yupo right now- both sample paintings are on that.  If your not familiar with Yupo, it is “a synthetic (polypropylene) substrate…with a non-porous surface that repels water.”  It is super fun and feels like an adventure every time I use it.  Click either of those Yupo links for more info.  This version here is the white, but it also comes in translucent.

Magical Mushroom Forest

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on yupo

Usually I’m all about the gold, but I was so fond of the Sterling Silver I had a hard time moving on to the gold.  But you can see some of it here in the 15 second video.

Because I have trouble not going full tilt with the pigments, sometimes my best service in showing them is with odd swatches.  Arches 90lb cold press watercolor paper was used- dry paper on the left, wet in wet on the right.  This helps with spotting similarities in colors too.  Mostly those seem to be the two greens and the two darker reds.  I ran out of room on my first attempt, so I did it again on a larger piece.  I especially fancy the Apricot.

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on yupo

I love how these colors look together.  Used- Apricot, Turquoise, Sky Blue, Lavender Blue, Plum, and some of the gold from the Summer Nights set.  The Plum was really fun on Yupo, it has a depth to it.

Handmade watercolors by Letter sparrow Summer Nights set and a French Mineral dot card, watercolor painting by jessica seacrest on yupo

I’ve enjoyed this brand, it’s beautiful, and they offer interesting curated sets. I like featuring and supporting small businesses and makers. There is one thing that seems to run through all handmade watercolor makers that I’ve interacted with or purchased from- a passion and enthusiasm for their products. The Summer Nights set featured here will be available next Saturday on the July 15th restock. The half pan set is $59 and the full pan set is $107. Check out Instagram- @lettersparrow for photos of previously released sets and swatches, or Facebook.com/lettersparrow.  A link to the shop in case you want to check it out and ♥ it. Questions about the paints- email Kelly at lettersparrow@gmail.com. Here is the restock schedule:

“Limited Edition Summer Schedule:

July 15th – The “SUMMER NIGHTS” set and the “BLUES SET”

August 5th – The “LETTER SPARROW 12” and the “GREENS SET” 

September – The “LETTER SPARROW 24” (perfect for Christmas gifts!) and The “EARTH SET”

Kelly offered this 10% off coupon to Doodlewash readers- use coupon code: LETTERSPARROW.  It’s valid until August 31, 2017.  Yay- thanks Kelly!  And thank for the opportunity to enjoy, and review your paints.

There are several other reviews on Doodlewash of handmade watercolors- Greenleaf & Blueberry, Pfeiffer Art Supply & Redwood Willow, and Anthesis Arts.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this review.  I’ll be back soon with another one 🙂

Happy painting and sketching!

Celebrate World Watercolor Month with us during the month of July! Click here for more info.World Watercolor Month July 2017 Header

Hi I’m the Doodlewash Supply Blogger and offer reviews of various types of art supplies, watercolors, and helpful tips. I approach artistic expression with a light-hearted point of view. I love to see, and support others opening up to, and embracing their creative process with any medium or creative expression. Follow me on Instagram!

Recommended1 recommendationPublished in Art Supply Reviews
23 Comments
  1. June Hadaway 4 months ago

    Pretty colors. Thank you for sharing.

  2. M. L. Kappa 4 months ago

    That Yupo paper looks interesting! I don’t know if it exists in Europe, tho… The paints look lovely, but I had to replenish my DS stock recently, so no more shopping for the moment, I’m afraid 😳

    • Author
      Jessica Seacrest 4 months ago

      I would thing Yupo is in Europe, it’s been around for a while. If you every find it, let me know 🙂

      • M. L. Kappa 4 months ago

        I did, on French Amazon! Will try it.🌺

  3. zuzala 4 months ago

    Yea!

  4. […] via DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Letter Sparrow Handmade Watercolors — Doodlewash […]

  5. Sandee Setliff 4 months ago

    Love your reviews!

  6. nkvorka 4 months ago

    Thank you Jessica, great review. I already encountered Letter Sparrow through your postings on Instagram. I have the Lovely set and also the French Mineral set. They are wonderful. I hope to get the Summer Nights palette next week. Thank you too for introducing me to hand made watercolors.

  7. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 4 months ago

    One of the most fun reviews to read, Jessica. Thank you. I especially liked Kelly’s description of her life and her paint-making process. And what a treat to watch you turn the paper so we could see the gold and silver paints shimmer. Out of my budget for now but who knows the future, right?

    • Author
      Jessica Seacrest 4 months ago

      Thanks Sharon, I also enjoy the part where we get to learn a bit about the person & their life 🙂

  8. Kashfia 4 months ago

    Dear Jessica,
    I was thinking of purchasing the 2018 hobonichi for watercoloring with relatively light washes. I have paint for the major commercial brands (Dan Smith, Holbein, Da vinci, Sennelier…) but is there a specific type watercolor that works best on this journal? Shall I look into Sumi inks perhaps?

    • Author
      Jessica Seacrest 4 months ago

      Hi Kashfia, all those you mentioned work great. The paper can really take just about anything. You shouldn’t have to buy any special media for it…unless you want an excuse…hehe 😉 I’ve also used acrylic ink, sumi ink, fountain pen ink, Neocolor II, Inktense, and cheaper watercolors like Angora and Gansai Tambi, all worked well. Yay you! So fun 🙂

      • Kashfia 4 months ago

        Thanks Jessica! Guess I try some fountain pen ink then 🙂 the new hobonichi is on sale early September right?

      • Author
        Jessica Seacrest 4 months ago

        I think so. I was thinking it was Sept/Oct time.

  9. Elizabeth Metz 2 months ago

    First, I fell in love with Redwood Willow after reading about it here.

    Now, I have yet another obsession, because these look *amazing*.

    Thanks? 😀

  10. Susan Cuss 1 month ago

    I’ve never tried handmade w/c paints before, but these colours look wonderful. Now I’m tempted. Too bad I missed the discount. Thank you.

  11. Kyra Vicory 4 weeks ago

    I want to try these so bad! I wish my watercolor budget had a bottomless pocket haha Will add to my wish lit for christmas! haha

  12. Kyra Vicory 3 weeks ago

    I recently got the sampler card from etsy and was really impressed.

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