Zenso watercolors are handmade, hand mulled with homemade binder. They are available in pan (aka cake) form and as dotcard sampler packs, such as I’m reviewing here.
Cheetarah, the creator of Zenso Watercolors is a Mixed Media Artist with a love for watercolor, Fountain pens, and Science Fiction, who has turned her hand to making and selling watercolors. Though, we’ve never met in person, we both belonged to the VivaLasVegaStamps! design team once upon a time, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. I was thrilled when she offered to send me some of her dotcards.
Her paints are made with artist grade pigments, and natural materials. These include a vegan humectant, clove oil and gum Arabic. She uses ethically sourced mica for the shimmer paints.
And what are dotcards, anyway? I’m sure many of you know, since they are popular with many companies for selling samples of paint colors. A dot of paint is squeezed onto paper and allowed to dry like a pan (cake) color. When you get them, you gently pry the dot from the paper and stick them in a palette or pan.
Cheetarah’s paint dots are a good size. I’ve done five postcard-sized paintings and a chart so far, and I believe I’ll have enough for at least another two and possibly more, depending on how much water I use.
Humidity and temperature, as always, can affect the dots so that they arrive cracked or too sticky to remove from the paper (this is true of all dotcards, not just the ones from Zenso watercolors). Placing the sticky ones in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes will dry them out so they can be pried loose.
I have a couple of ice trays with lids, and I put my dots into this, added a little water, and my paints were ready to go.
Some of the dotcard sets come in surprise packs with randomly chosen colors, and some are based on the latest paint set.
I received two of the confetti surprise sets. The colors included were:
- Shadow Moon – neutral Dark Grey with an interference blue shimmer
- Moonstone – muted stone Grey, with a warm green undertone and pink granulation
- Moonlit waters – Dark blue with a kiss of reddish pink shimmer
- Winter Sky – Dark Blue with a hint of soft purple
- Psylocke – mid tone pink, soft purple with blue/gold shimmer
- Twilight – a matte, granulating Mauve purple with blue undertones
- Secret Garden – shimmering green
- Pining (for you) -spruce blue green with violet granulation
- Medusa – deep teal green with granulation and red brown separation
- Frozen Orchid – description not available yet
- Midnight – description not available yet
If you aren’t familiar with watercolor characteristics, Cheetarah’s paints are a good example of them, and a way to learn how to use them. For instance, masstone (aka overtone) is the color you easily see, and undertone is the tint that you may or may not notice right off. In the chart above, Moonstone has a definite grey masstone, and a greenish tinted undertone.
Granulation means the paint has different sized particles. The heavier ones tend to sink into the wells of the paper, giving the color a pebbly look. Moonstone also has a pinkish cast in the darker areas. My scanner didn’t pick that up very well, but in real life, if you move the chart around, the pink flashes, ever so faintly, when the light hits it just right.
The same is true with the shimmery colors. The scanner fails to pick it up very well, but in real life it’s beautiful to move the painting around and see what happens as the light hits the shimmer.
Medusa is another granulating color, but it also has separation. You’ll notice the darker streak in the middle where the reddish brown separated from the teal green.
The word ‘characteristics’ says it all. It can be easier painting with well-blended colors that give you the same exact result every time, but paints like these give your work character. You can create fabulous textures, and intriguing blends of color that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
Every one of Cheetarah’s colors will be different, but based on my selection, they will all be beautiful and interesting. She does a good job of describing the characteristics (all the descriptions above came from her), and I found her descriptions spot on for the paints that I received.
One of the charms of small handmade watercolor companies is that the colors available change constantly. There are a limited number of sets and once it is sold out, it will probably never be seen again. You need to be quick if you want to get one!
This does mean that a color you love may never be available again. Or then, it may pop up in different sets.
Cheetarah has monthly updates with different color themes. At the time of this writing, she just finished with a set called ‘My Secret Garden’ (which I believe has already sold out). Her inspiration was based on a color scheme based off the Japanese animated film ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. An earlier set, Daughters of Triton, was inspired by the animated film ‘The Little Mermaid’.
The sets themselves vary not just in color but in how they are packaged. Some are in tins, some in ceramic palettes, and who knows what the future will bring.
Cheetarah doesn’t always list the pigments in her paints or all characteristics such as transparency or lightfastness, but questions about them are welcomed.
The sets may also be available in dotcard samplers.
The dotcards come in surprise packs of five, like the two I’m reviewing here. With these, you get a random assortment of colors. They may contain colors from past sets, current sets, or even test colors for sets yet to come.
The down side is that you don’t know what colors you’ll get. I love the colors I received, but with no yellows or reds, it did limit what I could paint. The up side is that it becomes a challenge to use what you get, and may inspire you to create something you would not have otherwise.
The fun thing with granulating colors (of any brand) is that you can get different effects according to the paper used, and the amount of water used.
After doing my chart, I already knew that I could get great granulating effects on rough paper.
So for my first test painting I used a cold press watercolor paper. I just played around with shapes, and let the paints flow together. I was looking to see what the characteristics of the paint were, and what color mixes I came up with.
The selection of colors I received may have been random, but they all worked together beautifully.
Although it’s cold press, this is fairly smooth paper. I still saw lots of granulation and separation. I found I could increase or decrease these characteristics easily by the amount of water, and by layering wet over dry. When I rewet or lifted color with a damp brush, I was able to get some granulation back.
The colors lifted easily. This was partly the paper — it’s great for lifting, but none of the paints I received were staining.
What surprised me most was how bright the colors were once dry.
I can’t say they didn’t change, because some took on the pebbly look of granulation or separation, but the colors didn’t lighten all that much from wet to dry.
This painting made me think of a Dalek’s garden, lol.
For the next work, I went back to the rough paper that I used for my chart. Since I had already seen how much granulation and separation there was, I decided to do another play test. I wanted to know if I could avoid those characteristics on this paper, if I wanted to. Some people don’t like granulation or separation, but might like what the colors do without it.
I was still playing and not putting much effort into the actual subject, so my manatee came out looking more like a mutant hippopotamus, lol. But, even with this rougher paper, I was able to control how much the characteristics were apparent, keeping them where I wanted them.
Now that I had a better idea of how the paints worked, I got serious.
These particular colors are perfect for both the colors and texture of stone.
Again, I went with stone, but in this painting I tried to show how the same colors, at a different tinting strength, could also convey the brightness of light, and softness of fur.
For my last example painting I went for the shimmer.
Once again, my scanner failed to capture the shimmer, but I could get some of it with my camera if I shot at an angle. These aren’t bright sparkly colors, but colors that gleam, like something shiny faintly glowing in the shadows.
Overall, this last painting gives me the feeling of a tapestry, rich and textured. I’m not sure how much of that comes through in the photo
Zenso Watercolors is based in the Netherlands, so delivery time is usually 2-28 days, depending on your location. I’m on the West Coast in the U.S., and it was close to the 28 days. Mind you, the last order I received from Canada took 24 days. Plan accordingly when you order.
From the Zenso Watercolor website:
Zenso watercolors is about sharing small Serendipitous hand mulled batches of color.
In Zen, ensō (円相, “circular form”) is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.
The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterized by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics.
Zenso watercolors is based on the principles of these aesthetics. We would love for you to enjoy the freedom in expressing your creativity with these small batches of handmade watercolors and micro journals.
You can purchase Cheetarah’s paints and mini-journals at the Zenso Watercolor website.
For the latest information on the current colors available, check out Zenso Watercolor on Instagram.
You can see her artwork at her Miss Thundercat Instagram account.
You can see her video tutorials on Youtube.
- ZenArt Black Tulip Watercolor Brush Set
- Hahnemuhle The Collection Watercolor Pad 140lb Rough 9X12
- Hahnemuhle Cold Press Watercolor Postcard Tin
Disclaimer: I received two sets of Zenso Watercolor Dotcards to use. I was not asked to do a review. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.