Traditional watercolor, gouache, watercolor inks. Just when you think you know them all there comes yet another kind of watercolor! Like many ‘new’ discoveries, Gansai Tambi watercolor has been around forever. So what is it, and how is it different?
Gansai – A Little History
Gansai is a traditional form of Japanese watercolors based off of Sumi inks. They were poured into large pans suitable for the large brushes used in Japanese painting and formulated for Japanese rice papers. We’d probably call these paints student-grade because they were a cheaper form of paint, meant for quick sketches and underpaintings. They were and are used by professionals today, for that very same reason.
The colors were meant to match the natural colors of the Japanese landscape, and while most are very similar to what you would find in Western paint boxes, many are slightly different.
They were made in a wide range of colors, so that you wouldn’t have to mix your own. They were meant to be cheap, convenient and quick to use for those on-the-spot sketches.
These watercolors only come in the pans — that is part of what Gansai means.
Gansai paints are similar to traditional Western watercolor, but they don’t act or look quite the same.
The binder used is different from the gum arabic commonly used in the Western world, and create a semi-glossy to glossy painting. Some people say they have a pastel-like finish, but to my eye, the finished paintings look more like acrylic.
But they perform like watercolor when you are using them.
They are easy to wet — it takes very little water to get them going. However, they perform better with wet-on-dry than wet-on-wet. Paints on rice paper can easily bleed, so Gansai were formulated to stay in place.
While the color flows easily from the brush to the paper, they don’t flow much once they are on the paper. You are less likely to get *blossoms or bleeding, but it’s also harder to get soft, blended edges or colors that mix by running together on the page.
*Blossoms, aka blooms, cauliflowers or backruns. When you add wet paint to paint that has started to dry, you get a liquid flow that pushes the paint into flower-like shapes. These shapes dry with hard edges (darker at the edges) and are difficult to remove.
At full-color the Gansai are opaque, but you can control that with the amount of water you use.
I have found the paper you use makes a big difference. I’ll talk about this later with my example paintings.
Today’s Gansai is still poured into those lovely, large pans and may be more lightfast than the traditional colors.
I grabbed a half-pan and a full-size pan from a couple of well-known U.S. watercolor brands, to show you a comparison. The Gansai pan is 48 mm x 28 mm (1.8 in x 1.1 in).
The Gansai Tambi pans can be bought separately and average about $8 to $10 USD. For comparison, I did a quick search on Amazon for half-pan paints, student grade, and found prices around $9 USD to $12 USD.
Dipping your brush into these smaller pans, especially the half-pan, can damage a larger brush by bending the bristles. So the pans themselves are almost worth the price, if you use larger brushes.
Gansai Tambi from Kuretake
“Gansai” means a solid paint made from pigments, and “Tambi” means aesthetics.
When these words are combined “Gansai Tambi”, they become Kuretake’s brand product name.
Today I’m reviewing Kuretake’s 48-color Tambi set. Kuretake also offers these watercolors in different sized sets, individual pans and as part of several kits.
The Tambi sets come in these distinctive green cardboard boxes.
They have a protective plastic insert.
The 48-color set includes an empty printed color chart on both the inside lid of the box and on a separate sheet. A full-color printed chart also comes with the set, in case you don’t want to paint your own.
The nice thing about the empty chart is that you can paint the colors showing masstone (the color with no water added) and also what it looks like at more watery tints.
I use the lid for identifying which color is where in the box because it stays with the pans. The extra chart is more helpful for deciding which color I want to use and how much water I’ll want to add to it.
The box is light, but has nothing to keep the lid closed, and the pans are loose, not fastened in any way. This and the overall size of the box, means this set wouldn’t be very practical for travel.
You might think, with loose pans, that they get jumbled up and out of order. But the bottom inside of the box lists the color name and a number associated with that color.
The bottom of each pan is labeled with its identifying number.
So it’s easy to keep them in the right order and you can easily take out a few colors for traveling. The numbers help you put them back in their proper place when you return.
The paints may be cracked or have bubbles when you open the box, but that doesn’t affect the quality. It’s just part of the pouring process.
The colors lift easily, even once they are dry.
The colors included in the 48-color set are Rose Madder Deep, Carmine, Rose Madder, Red, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Aureolin, Lemon Yellow, Greenish Yellow, Olive Green, Lime Green, Sap Green Light, Sap Green, Hooker’s Green, Sap Green Deep, Forest Green, Turquoise Green Deep, Viridian, Malachite, Horizon Blue, Ultramarine Pale, Turquoise Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, Indigo, Blue Gray Deep, Imperial Violet, Cobalt Violet, Purple, Lilac, Cherry Blossom Pink, Rose Beige, Natural Beige, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Maroon, Indian Red, Raw Umber Deep, Black, Gray, White, White Gold, Bluish Gold, and Gold.
Because Gansai colors were formulated to use on rice papers, they don’t flow like most Western watercolors.
They are also often used for underpaintings, where you want lighter colors because you’ll mostly paint over them.
My usual test worked well to create an underpainting.
I wet down the paints and let them sit to moisten. This isn’t really necessary with these paints, but I wanted to be sure they were really juicy. I saturated the paper with water, until there were puddles. I wanted everything to be really wet. I dropped the colors on the sheet at random.
You can see that the colors have a limited flow. Gansai Tambi don’t usually have much color-shift*, but I knew there would be with this much water.
*Color-shift – Most paints in any watercolor medium tend to be lighter once dry than they are wet. Water is brighter than paint, so often the more water the brighter the color when wet, and the duller it will be once dry.
Once the paint dried I painted one of my loose and lovely gardens. I made use of the Gansai opacity, adding light color over dark. But in some areas, I used enough water to make the paints transparent.
Used with less water, the colors are bright, and vibrant. When this was finished and dry, there was very little color-shift.
I mentioned earlier that Gansai was formulated for Japanese rice paper. I happened to have some Etegami paper, which is card stock weight, so I used it for this painting.
There was almost no flow to the paint, which is how Gansai is traditionally used. It takes a little getting used to, but that’s what is fun about it!
I’ve used Gansai Tambi in the past, and already knew that I preferred using it on a harder surfaced, smooth paper. My tests for this review haven’t changed that preference, and this is probably the paper I’ll use most often when using them.
Not all papers accept wet mediums like watercolor. Gansai Tambi will work on more of these papers than most watercolors. This makes them a good choice for journaling of all kinds.
My last test was to try the Gansai Tambi on black watercolor paper. Since the colors are opaque, the lighter ones show up beautifully on black paper.
Kuretake’s Gansai Tambi dry with a semi-gloss or glossy finish. Originally used with large Japanese brushes on rice paper for quick and efficient paintings or underpaintings, they perform better when used wet on dry paper. The paints don’t flow like Western watercolors, giving good control but limiting wet-on-wet effects.
They are an affordable and interesting change from traditional Western watercolor, yet not so different that they are difficult to use.
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, 48 Colors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, 36 Colors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Set Of 12
Legion Stonehenge Aqua Cold-press Black Watercolor Paper
Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbooks
Akashiya Etegami Postcard Size Paper — Pack of 10 Sheets
Disclaimer: I received this 48-color set of Gansai Tambi watercolors from Kuretake for the purpose of this review. I received no other consideration, though this post contains affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in