Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Favorite Tools of Zoltan Szabo | Watercolor Art Supplies

Today’s post features a beloved watercolor artist who is no longer with us. Zoltan Szabo (1928-2003) traveled around the world teaching, and fortunately published several books on art and watercolor. Enjoy the following excerpt on art supplies from his 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques. ~Cherie

Watercolor art supplies | Zoltan Szabo, ArtistsNetwork.com

Favorite Watercolor Tools from Zoltan Szabo’s 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques


I have designed my own slant bristle brushes made from natural firm bristles in a variety of sizes (1″ to 4″), and enjoy using them for rich dark colors. The soft slant brushes (1.5″ and 2.5″) are also my own design and are most useful for delicate, light and wet washes. I also use a no. 3 rigger brush and a palette knife. As you probably noticed, all of these tools except the rigger are flat brushes. I prefer them because the corner can be used like a pointed round brush, whereas a round brush cannot make a wide stroke to imitate a flat brushstroke.

Watercolor art supplies | Zoltan Szabo, ArtistsNetwork.com

Slant Bristle Brushes: A: 3” Zoltan B: 2” Zoltan C: 1” Zoltan
Soft Slant Brushes: D: 2.5″ Zoltan

Watercolor art supplies | Zoltan Szabo, ArtistsNetwork.com

Soft Slant Brushes: E: 1.5” Zoltan
Flat Brushes: F: 1.5” Zoltan Aqua Broad Flat
Other Brushes: H: #2 bright oil (China), I: #3 rigger

Watercolor art supplies | Zoltan Szabo, ArtistsNetwork.com

Flat Brushes: G: .75 Richeson 9100 Soft Flat
Palette Knife: J: #814 Richeson


My favorite papers are 300-lb. cold-pressed Lanaquarelle (French), 300-lb. cold-pressed Arches (French), and Noblesse (from Holland) made by Papierfabriek Shut Bv. I use 300-lb. weights strictly for convenience, because heavy papers don’t buckle like thinner ones when they are wet. But heavy papers soak up more paint than the thin ones, so you have to compensate for the loss of color by painting a little richer.

The makers of the Noblesse paper seem to have found the best solution. They have mounted a thin paper onto a heavy rag board so that the paper doesn’t buckle. The mounting material between the paper and the board keeps the water from penetrating too deep into the board, so the colors stay very intense. The result is a flat, workable surface and a high degree of color survival.

Watercolor art supplies | Zoltan Szabo, ArtistsNetwork.com

Watercolor Paints: K: Winsor & Newton, L: Maimeri, M: Blockx

Watercolor art supplies | Zoltan Szabo, ArtistsNetwork.com

Brush Blotter: N: Roll of toilet paper wrapped in Bounty paper towel
Palette with Lid: O: Zoltan Szabo palette


Most of the time I use three brands of top quality transparent watercolors, though I’ve enjoyed painting with a few others as well–Lucas, DaVinci, Rowney and Holbein, just to name a few. My first choice is Maimeri, then Blockx, and of course, Winsor & Newton. All three are old, proven and reliable companies and their products are consistently of the highest quality. They honestly declare the permanency level of all colors in their literature. In the case of Maimeri and Blockx, all their colors are declared permanent. Winsor & Newton also calls most of their colors very permanent. However, because Winsor & Newton also serves the commercial art field (where permanency is not essential), they make some semi-permanent colors as well as a few outright fugitive pigments. It’s good practice to check the declared permanency level of any color of any brand before you fall in love with it.

caption: Emerald Tree (watercolor, 19×28) by Zoltan Szabo. Collection of Gianni Maimeri

Palette and Brush Blotter

I use a plastic palette with a lid of my own design. I squeeze out my colors in advance and let them dry. Before I start painting, I moisten the colors and use them in the same consistency as if they were just freshly squeezed out of the tube. Because only a thin layer at the top is wet, I feel free to pollute one color with another while I paint and mix back and forth. To have lots of pure pigment available at any time, all I have to do is wipe off the thin contaminated layer from the top of the color and there is the clean paint waiting to be used.

I also make a moisture-controlling contraption out of a roll of toilet paper. I take out the center core, flatten the roll, and wrap a few sheets of lint-free paper towel on the outside (folded to the same width as the paper roll). I then tape its edge to stop it from unrolling. The toilet paper is very absorbent but it breaks down quickly when it is moistened, releasing tiny particles that can be carried onto the painting by the brushes. The wet-strength paper towel (Bounty) around the roll prevents this from happening. The absorbency is still there but the surface will not break down even in heavy use. Because the brushes usually absorb too much water when they are dipped into a bucket, I make a habit of touching my brush to the paper roll’s surface before I dip into the color. Controlling moisture in the washes begins by controlling it in the brush. Continue reading when you download Zoltan Szabo’s 70 Favorite Watercolor Techniques…


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