Van Gogh Watercolor Review

Imagine getting a box from Royal Talens in the mail that included a half pan of every single paint in their Van Gogh watercolor line and a pocket box to create your own palette. Yes, that really happened to Sandra and me!

Van Gogh Half Pans - All 40 In Core Watercolor LineI’ve seen Van Gogh watercolor paints featured on artists’ Youtube and Instagram feeds from all over the world during the past few years, but I didn’t know much about them. As I worked with the paint I received, I realized the Royal Talens color team developed a method for producing vibrant, transparent color at a fraction of the cost of most paint.

Experimenting With Van Gogh Watercolor Paint

Like a capsule wardrobe, I found that almost any of the Van Gogh watercolor paints I laid next to each other or mixed worked together because they were created with the same set of about a dozen pigments. To keep things interesting, Van Gogh utilizes another dozen “spice” pigments that add character to the standard mixes.

The Van Gogh line of watercolors is mostly transparent, highly pigmented, and rewets easily. Color numbers are printed on the sides of the half pans for easy reference. While some of their colors are created with unconventional pigment mixes, the overall look is harmonious and mixtures are clean. Van Gogh watercolor is a line of colors that functions like an experienced watercolorist’s personal palette.

Van Gogh Watercolor Paint Swatches
Colors shown here on Hahnemühle Harmony (top) and Hahnemühle Expression (bottom)

Investigating The Van Gogh Watercolor Sketcher’s Box

An empty 24 well palette box was also included with my shipment. Van Gogh designed several thoughtful elements into their pocket box:

Van Gogh Watercolor Sketcher's Box

• Plenty of space around half pans to accommodate large brushes and prevent contamination.

• Generous wells in the lid come from the factory with a finish that puddles rather than beads. The lid can be held under a faucet for cleaning without getting water into the paint, but you may need a toothbrush and toothpaste to remove stains.

• A well holds a strip of sponge for tipping off brushes or keeping pigments moist when the box is closed.

• A place to house a full sized favorite brush offers additional convenience.

• At 5.5” x 8.5” x .875” the Van Gogh box would be considered a studio palette rather than a pocket palette by most Americans, but it stacks with a standard A4 sketchbook.

• A little adhesive was needed to keep the half pans securely in their wells. (Pro tip: If a color block falls out of the half pan during unwrapping, push it back in upside down and it won’t budge again)

Building My Custom 24 Color Van Gogh Palette for Nature Sketching and Landscapes

My first thought when creating my custom palette was to put in the single pigment colors from the Van Gogh line as split complementaries, and then add convenience colors to complete my box. As I worked more with the paint line, I decided instead that my goal with this 24 well box was to create a set that allowed me to paint with minimal mixing so I could maximize color play once I got to the paper.

Van Gogh Watercolor Dream Palette Sample Swatches
My Van Gogh Watercolor Pocket Box choices for Spring and Summer

Watercolor in general–and nature work in particular–is all about gradation: warm to cool, light to dark, one color into another. I opted to set up my palette with colors that would naturally gradate into the colors on either side in hue and value. For the summer, I focused my efforts on bright primaries and a wide range of earth colors. As the year turns, I’ll replace some of the bright choices with richer, muted tones. By placing my chosen paints into the box in a “Z” shape, the pocket box as a whole gradates from warm to cool and light to dark going left to right.

Putting My Custom Van Gogh Sketchbox Through Sketching Tests

Saturated and low flow, Van Gogh paints perform best with traditional brushes on cotton paper; but will work on the sized cellulose watercolor and sketch paper found in most watercolor sketchbooks. The only problem I ran into was bronzing (an area that develops a smooth shine caused by too much pigment). No chalkiness was present, even in the few colors that were semi-opaque.

Van Gogh Watercolor Painting of Sketcher's Box - Doodlewash
Paint performance on 300# Cold Press Hahnemühle Leonardo paper.

I sketch with up to three watercolor passes over an ink drawing. I didn’t experience any issues with lifting or muddling on cotton paper, and was able to manage three passes with a light touch in sketchbooks. I occasionally chose to add a watercolor medium to my water supply to enhance flow, and the paints responded with more movement and glow. Overall, the selection of colors was intuitive to use and mix, and I achieved expected results.

I’m also excited about many of the new colors Van Gogh will be releasing soon: pyrrole orange, turquoise, the dusk colors, and even some of the novelty interference and metallic choices. I’m sure my palette will change when those options become available. I hope the new paints have the same harmony and performance as the classic line I tested. (Royal Talens is a World Watercolor Month Official Sponsorfollow Royal Talens North America to stay up to date on the new colors!)

Have you used Van Gogh watercolors? What Van Gogh pigments would you choose for a personal palette? Let me know in the comments below! 

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews

36 thoughts on “Van Gogh Watercolor Review

    1. Same for me! I’m so excited to try some of your triads. For anyone else reading this, you absolutely have to go over to Sandra’s review. She chose sets of triads, including some unconventional ones, and created a “set of sets” that is going to be super fun to work with.

    1. Thanks, Linda. The paints were fun and easy to work with, and had a HUGE color payout. I loved how the whole line coordinated. That box is exceptionally well designed–I could even use my 1″ flat. Good luck in the giveaway!

  1. great review, I’m currently learning watercolor and I love flowers so the two have been a fun to do together, still have tons to learn and both reviews have been very helpful. it would be fun to win these colors to try them out and create more flowers

    1. Ha! I feel the same way when I read reviews. If you want to just dip a toe into the Van Gogh pool, try Permanent Red Violet and Sap Green. Gorgeous on their own, and a wide range of umber browns mixed.

  2. Always love reviews, but this one especially. The colors, swatches, artistic “flair” of how you both selected to show your values in each color. Thank you for always caring enough about us far less in the know like myself. A lot of the explanations elude me, as I’m SO new to watercolor that I feel less privileged to read, attempt to understand them. Gosh Sandra, Charlie and Becci, you’re innately and enormously gifted! It’s a pleasure just to view your swatches with the Van Gogh pans. Your color charts were stunning. Beautiful, beautiful palette choices and demonstrations. THANK YOU!

    Fanna Turano
    Denver, CO

    1. Thanks for your kind words and feedback, Fanna. Collaborative reviews like this one are fun to create because you get to turn around and see how another artist handled the same supplies. Never hesitate to ask a question if there’s something more you want to know or something you don’t understand. I generally cut my review material by more than half to keep the length manageable to read. I look forward to seeing your art!

      1. Thanks, Bekki! Out of the several hundred I’ve painted, I only like about 5 — really, really like. Squeamish, as there’s such amazing talent on Doodlewash. I loved reading about Eunice Miller and her paintings. Our stories are similar, but her paintings are very good. Soooo much to learn, remember, incorporate. I’ve read hundreds of art books this year. I’m better, but a long way to go to feel proud. I appreciate your willingness to answer questions, Bekki. And I look forward to more of your art! What a fantastic site DW is for me. I eagerly look forward to each new artists’ work. I learned with Birgit O’Connor first, now I’m also following Hazel Soan and Jeremy Ford. Happy week everyone, and good luck on the paints!

    1. 😜 Aren’t I just??? Good luck with the giveaway. If you want to get a feel for these colors, try Permanent Red Violet and Sap Green. They were two of my favorites, and mix to create a range from mossy green through raw umber to raw umber Violet.

  3. Great review. I don’t have any of these paints but they look amazing. For my palette I would choose vibrant bright colors to include also a white and grey. I love your sketch as well. So much fun and whimsical.

    1. Your palette looks exceptionally similar to mine already 🙂 I also try to keep a palette where I don’t have to mix colours a whole lot, specially when I am travelling. I don’t use red often, so it also gets overlooked by me a lot. I recently started experimenting with using it to warm up other colours. Apart from the reds that you and I both have in our palettes, I also like to use Madder Lake Deep, specially with DS Quin. Gold or even yellow ochre. Together they create a really pretty reddish yellow.

      Sorry for the long answer, I am sure you understand the enthusiasm 🙂


  4. I have a small collection of artist grade watercolors, yet I always find myself reaching for my DIY candy tin palette of Van Gogh Watercolors. They are definitely the best of the student grade paints and so fun to paint with because of how well they mix and compliment each other. The Van Gogh Sap Green is hands down the best convenience green in any watercolor line, and I am pleased to that they used PY129, a pigment that is generally higher than series 1, to make this color. PY129 gives this version of Sap Green a luminescence that other versions lack, and this convenience green mixes well. The Van Gogh Payne’s Grey is also my favorite mix of this color. Thank you so much for such an excellent review of this brand of watercolors!

  5. Thanks for your review. I have the 12 color set and love how easily the colors mix and work on cotton paper. Since I’m new to all this, can you please explain further about the medium you used in the water to help the flow?

    Thank you again for the great review!

  6. A great and helpful review. I just decided on Van Gogh watercolors (again*). I chose colors from the Talens palette (I have a lot in common with Yours). However, Your samples are more accurate, I can see that many colors look a lot different than on the Talens website. Really thanks.

    * My first student set was 12 halfpan (Van Gogh). Recently, I returned to watercolors, tried W&N, thought on Seenelier, about White Nights or Roman Szmal aquarius. However, the transparency of the Talens is best (especially for beginners).


  8. Very nice review. What a fantastic way to swatch the paint!! Yeah! I will copy your idea! I really enjoy Van Gogh watercolors. I am learning watercolor using them. See, 4 years later and someone around the Globe is reading your review and feeling great just to see nice colors and a different way to display them. Thank you! ;D

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