Until this past year, I used almost exclusively M. Graham watercolors and never had a single problem with them. M. Graham was the first brand of artist-grade paints that I invested in, and I was immediately hooked. They wet easily, have vibrant color, great flow and dispersement along with little drying shift. Good stuff!
I had heard of others having problems with M. Graham watercolors, but I confess that I had a hard time believing them. These watercolors were always ready to pack within 24 hours of my squeezing them into pans and always stayed put in my palette.
Last December, we moved from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian mountains, and my M. Graham troubles began. No matter what I tried—slowly filling pans in stages, days of drying, switching palettes—most of my M. Graham watercolors stayed a soupy mess.
M. Graham's consistency is visible in the above photo. Even though I'm careful to keep this storage tin flat, the paints stick to the top of the palette and still find a way to leak out of their pans. How in the world, I just do not know.
In the hopes that M. Graham could solve my woes, I reached out via email. Twice. When I didn't receive a response, I reached out to the company via their online form and received a response from Elke who holds an official title of "M. Graham Color Maker."
After several back-and-forth emails where I shared additional information, Elke could offer no solid answer to why I suddenly began having issues with their watercolors. I do know what is NOT causing the problem, and I've listed these below.
It's not a reformulation.
My first question to Elke was, "Has your formula change?" I was hoping that this was the case and I could use my magic super powers to convince M. Graham to go back to their old formula, but she informed me that nothing has changed at the M. Graham factory. Alas, the fault may lie with my locale.
In her attempts to help this desperate artist, Elke kindly (and unexpectedly) sent me the palette in the above photo, but this palette is rough on brushes. Plus, I don't want to deal with the mess regardless. These containers won't keep watercolor down in the bottom of the pan where it belongs. Instead, I'll be in for a surprise every time I pop a lid.
However, I'm sharing Elke's suggestion just in case you think this solution might work for you.
It's not the heat or humidity.
The coast was the most disgustingly humid place I’ve ever lived. And I grew up in the Southeast, an area known for massive humidity and mosquitos the size of vultures. While living at the coast, M. Graham watercolors stayed put during daily treks to the beach, marsh, and maritime forest (fav habitat of massive mosquitos). In 102-degree temps with 98-percent humidity, M. Graham watercolors stayed motionless.
Our biome in the mountains is categorized as a temperate rainforest—incidentally, just like the Pacific NW where M. Graham paints are crafted from scratch. Our average temps are at least 10-degrees cooler than the coast, and though we have a decent annual rainfall, the overall humidity is very low.
Yet, regardless of this cooler, drier atmosphere, M. Graham watercolors refuse to dry in my palette.
It's not just certain colors.
Okay this is only partially true; some colors like Cerulean Blue and Terra Rosa almost never stay put. But sometimes other colors like Cobalt Blue and Pyrrol Red stay tight in their pans, and other times they decide for no apparent reason to give me grief.
You can see in the palette above how, on this particular day, Cobalt Teal and Cobalt Violet decided to make a mess. The very next day, Pyrrol Red and Cerulean Blue acted like liquid, but the cobalts stayed put.
Go figure. My best attempts could discover no rhyme or reason for the madness.
The Final Straw
Even though I had slowly culled the most miscreant colors, I was still hanging onto a few of my favorites until this past fall when my family and I took a day trip. When I opened up my sketching pack, I found M. Graham paints everywhere! These watercolors weren't content to simply leak out into my palette but decided to break free and wiggle their way across my everything inside my pack, ruining several items in the process.
(If you look in the lefthand corner of my urban sketch at this post, you can see Terra Rosa stains on the pages of my sketchbook. Yep, that's what I'm talking about.)
Unfortunately, I think it's just the nature of this brand to be rather unpredictable in its viscosity.
Needless to say, I’ve almost completely given up my ex-favorite brand. At first, I greatly missed the quality, flow, and boldness of M. Graham watercolors, but I tested a lot of paints this past year and found that American Journey and Da Vinci flow fairly well and are beautifully vibrant but aren’t catastrophic in my palette.
So what about M. Graham watercolors?
For certain situations, I still recommend M. Graham watercolors. I've tested and used this brand extensively and, except for a handful of colors, I've been extremely pleased with their entire line. They are absolutely beautiful watercolors that perform very well. However...
To be on the safe side, I only recommend M. Graham watercolors for studio use.
If you must travel with them, an airtight palette like the one above could be a decent solution, but you may still wind up with paint on the lids and sidewalls of your containers.
In other words, a mess.