Meeting Roman Szmal

Last Summer I met Roman Szmal, the man behind the lovely Aquarius watercolor paint. He invited me to meet him at Kunstburg. That’s the Dutch art supply store that sells his paint. And although it’s all the way on the other end of the country, I didn’t have to think twice about it.

Pigment Talk

It was a lovely meeting, both with Roman and the people behind Kunstburg. We talked about pigments a lot, which was really great. When do I get the chance to talk to someone who knows that much about pigments!? It was very interesting too to talk from artist to chemist and vice versa, because approaching pigments from using paints is something completely different than approaching them from the manufacturer’s side. There are so many questions that popped up afterwards, so many new questions that arose from the things we spoke about, but they will have to wait until the next time we meet.

The Urban Sketching Box

Roman gave me his newest set of paints to try, the Urban Sketching Box. It’s a little travel set of 12 half pans. It was composed especially for (urban) sketchers. I put ‘urban’ between brackets because I think this set is great for any sketcher, also for those who love painting landscapes. It’s a travel kit that – on first glance – holds some unusual choices of color. But in using them, it turns out they are very well composed and really great to work with. I worked with the set for a couple of months now and I notice myself reaching for this set as often as I do for the ideal watercolor set I composed for my work last year.

The translation of color

I made a video review about this set and below the video you will find high-resolution color charts that I made so you can check out the colors. A little disclaimer: keep in mind that colors are impossible to bring across as they are exactly. My configuration, your configuration and every technical station in between affects the image you get to see. From my end I edited the photos to make the swatches look exactly like they do on paper. Hopefully they come across really well on your end.

For this video I didn’t do a live swatching but showed the painted charts instead. Please let me know how you like that in the comment section.

Urban Sketching Box Color Chart

This is the color chart of each individual paint that I swatched. You can find the high resolution version for download here. What stands out in this set is that there is only one yellow and one red. And the greens are mixes that already look natural in tone. In most travel sets that contain greens, the greens are rather unnatural (PG7, for example) and need mixing or toning down before you can use them. The cooler blue is mixed with a white pigment. Normally I prefer to have pure blues, but in this set I’ve found this blue highly usable and very well mixable without getting muddy. Had Roman Szmal asked me, I would have said I needed a black in it. But after using this set, the shadow grey turns out to be the better choice for sure. It’s a great color for mixing shadows and pure use as “black”, for when in real life is black ever really black, except Vanta black, that is, of course.

Urban Sketching Box Mixing Chart

This is a chart that holds the colors you can mix from this 12-color set. You can find the high-resolution image for download here. What I feel is special about this chart and different from mixing charts of other watercolor travel sets, is that mixes from this set generate very many colors that you will find in the outside world when sketching. Lots of earth and green tones and a fair amount of greyish tones you will easily find in urban environments. Yet it also contains enough vibrant colors that will pop of the page if you need them. So, even though the composition of this set isn’t classic as we know it, it’s awesome to work with. Also in my illustration work I haven’t missed a color yet (expect real, deep black, but I have India ink for that anyway).

Urban Sketching Box Clean mixes

As you can see in the image above, the paint mixes very cleanly. There is no mud, except when you want it to be, like in the Malachite green-like color that I mixed on the top right. In the right half of the swatch I mixed in some titan buff to tone down the brightness and bring the color even closer to the natural malachite green pigment as I know it. I wouldn’t call it mud still, but it does tone down the brightness – and in a lovely way. The turquoise swatch in the middle is composed by mixing the lighter blue with titan buff AND a little of the orange that was made by mixing a little yellow with a little red. As you see, with all those pigments together and the blue having been mixed with a white pigment, there is still no mud. There is a slight effect of texture in the swatch, though, thanks to the titan buff. I love that, for texture – in my humble opinion – is always interesting in sketches and I can imagine it will sure be in urban sketches as nothing in a city environment is ever really even or flat.

Finding Black in Urban Sketching Box

There is no pure black in this set. But if you mix the Ultramarine intense with the Burnt Sienna, you get really close with a very lively intense dark grey that comes close to black. It will be even blacker when diluted less than I did. I found that mixing the Aquarius green with a touch of magenta creates lovely earth tones with texture. I especially love the bottom dilution, which resembles titan buff, but as a transparent variety of it.


So, let me be clear: I am not affiliated to Roman Szmal in any way, nor am I paid to promote his paints. I do however love both his paints and his approach of the watercolor market and the fact that he listens to what artists want so well. That’s something I’ve wanted to share in the review of this set of paints. And also…I reviewed so many paints, sometimes entire collections of topnotch brands. Not everybody can afford such paints. I wouldn’t have been able to had I not been able to use my review income for the purchase of them. But with paints like Aquarius you don’t have to be sorry about that. These paints are much more affordable and offer just as much pleasure and quality. With Christmas on our doorstep I figured that this and my positive experience with the Urban Sketching box was reason enough for a shout out in case you’re hungry for new paints.

Should you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for my monthly newsletter if you haven’t already done so.