Agapanthus Flowers on the Île de Bréhat, Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours, (50x50cm)

Haidee-Jo Summers reviews the unique colours of Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours.

I jumped at the opportunity to try Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours for the first time, although truthfully I didn’t expect them to be very different from the oil paints that I am familiar with using.

After all, how different could a tube of artists’ quality paint made by a reputable brand, using high pigment content with a quality oil binder and untainted by cheap fillers or extenders, be from another? So I popped the new tubes in my pochade box and off I went about my business.

First impressions

Field with Daisies, Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours, (20.5x25.5cm). My first try with my new Williamsburg oils.
It didn’t take me long to realise that Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours are very different.
The colours I received were almost all unfamiliar to me and when mixed reacted differently to how I expected– I found that I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next.
For example, I had taken the colour Sèvres blue to be akin to cerulean blue but its strength took me completely by surprise.
There is a transparent brown, a brilliant, spicy orange – alizarin orange – the likes of which I wouldn’t normally use, and courbet green, which seems more black than green.
Top tip
When you have become very familiar with your materials it’s a good idea to shake things up a bit by trying some new colours – it’s quite an eye-opener.
The variety of characteristics among these colours initially took me by surprise but I subsequently found that this cannot be perceived as a fault.
These paints are handmade in small batches and uniformity is not the desired outcome; I think you will really enjoy the experience of trying these oil paints if you are used to paints with more conformity across the range.
I started to cherish their fluidity and strength of pigment.
I found that some of the colours dry to a matt, almost chalky finish, so in my opinion the paintings would benefit from being varnished.


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Italian earth colours

I was concerned at first by the grittiness of some of the earth colours, as I am used to much smoother paint, but I discovered that with handmade paints different pigments are ground to different levels of coarseness.

The reason some of the earth colours have a consistency that reminds me of fine sugar granules is that the makers believe that each pigment has it’s own ‘personal best’ with regards to the way light bounces off the paint, revealing its truest colour. Hence some pigments look better in the paint if they are less finely milled.

There are 13 Italian earth colours; all are authentic and come from the regions in Italy made famous by these pigments. They are said to be the very same as those used by the great Sienese and Florentine masters.

Of those, I have tried Pompeii red, Italian black Roman earth and Italian lemon ochre, which has a soft, sugary texture and resembles wet sand in appearance.

All the earth colours will appeal to those painters who want to explore their unique texture and enjoy using natural materials with historical origins.

Personally I love the idea of buying some new colours, particularly for travelling to a country or region that the pigment originates from.


There are also 13 French earth colours, which Haidee-Jo explored. You can read her findings by


Incoming Tide and Bather, Bréhat, Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours, (25.5x30.5cm) I painted this on the beach, en plein air.
I found a mix of Italian lemon ochre, Italian Pompeii red and a touch of Sèvres blue made great sand colours.

Unique colours

The choice (and names) of colours in the range is quite breathtaking. Although the paints are made in the United States, pigments are sourced from all over the world.
Some of the colour names that beg me to try them include the exotic sounding Egyptian violet and cinnabar green light; Provence violet, which comes in ‘bluish’ or ‘reddish’, Italian pink and the curious sounding Turkey umber.
Among the 150-plus colours available are also those you would expect to find such as cadmium yellows and reds and cobalt blues.
I haven’t tried all the colours in the Williamsburg palette by any means, but those I have been most impressed with are permanent yellow medium, alizarin orange, fanchon red, yellow ochre (domestic) and courbet green.
There are many more that I intend to try in the future as my collection grows.
Because of the variety of texture and finish across the range of colours there is always going to be an element of surprise when first ordering a new one.
Of course a standard colour such as yellow ochre will vary from brand to brand anyway, but some of the colours in the Williamsburg line are unique to them, which is appealing in itself.

Agapanthus Flowers on the Île de Bréhat, Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours, (50x50cm) This was painted en plein air.
I found courbet green extremely useful for Agapanthus Flowers, above.
Thinned with dammar glaze medium, it was used for a fast-drying under painting when I blocked in the dark masses of the trees, hedge and foliage. I later used it almost entirely unmixed for the dark hedge area behind the flowers.
Kings blue came in very useful for the blue-lilac agapanthus flowers.

About Williamsburg

The founder of Williamsburg, artist Carl Plansky, obtained his first mill from fellow artist Milton Resnick. The mill was in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, and Plansky proceeded to make paint for himself, Resnick and other artist friends, experimenting with making an oil paint that was richly pigmented and dense.

Eventually the paints became so popular that he started to sell to the American public, with great success.

Carl Plansky died in 2009 but the company continues to source the finest raw materials from around the world. It is now owned by Golden, makers of premium quality acrylics.

Where to buy

Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours can be purchased from Jackson's Art Supplies by clicking here and from art shops and other online retailers.

Final thoughts

I am glad I have been introduced to Williamsburg oil paints. We put so much of ourselves into each and every painting it feels good to use colours that have been made with such care and attention.

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