A Gallo Handmade Watercolor Paint Review
A.Gallo offers professional handmade watercolors made by Alina Gallo and her small business team in Italy. They are produced in the medieval town of Assisi which A.Gallo describes as the "birthplace of Saint Francis and home to several of the most important fresco cycles by proto-Renniassance painter, Giotto. A place of unique natural, spiritual and artistic beauty." A.Gallo is an artist herself, primarily working with egg tempera and inspired by historical works. She creates high quality paints in dried-pan format, no tubes, and offers many unusual pigments (such as PB71 Zirconium Blue, YinMin Blue PB86, genuine Lapis Lazuli, Hokkaido Orange PY216, Slate Grey PBk19, and natural plant pigments such as Rose Madder NR9 and Indigo NB1 and Dragon's Blood NR31). Note that PY216 is more commonly available as a pale yellowish version in some brands, but that this deeper Hokkaido Orange is uncommon (White Nights has this deeper orange version, but is unavailable to import due to world events at the time of this review).
Handmade paint suppliers often have a unique special touch, a character of their own, and A Gallo's products do not disappoint. Each package is like opening a handcrafted gift made just for your birthday. The beautiful packaging is carefully attended to, wrapped with a hand painted swatch and packed with colorful marbled paper also handmade in Italy. This brand does not use toxic pigments (no cobalts or cadmiums) so you will see some "hue" equivalents as well as other unusual mixtures you're not likely to find in big brands. The paint formula includes a high pigment load, gum arabic, local honey and rosemary oil as a natural preservative.
Wait, rosemary Oil? These paints smell slightly herby, particularly when fresh, first opening a closed tin or upon re-wetting. I did not find this overpowering, but some artists may not enjoy this foresty smell. There are a few natural oils commonly used in paint making for their anti-microbial properties of limiting fungus or mold growth. Rosemary is a less common choice than Clove oil (which has a more intense minty/cigar-like aroma). The most rare and expensive natural preservative is Lavender oil (available from Kremer for DIY paint making) but I have yet to see a brand use it. It is possible for oils to slightly yellow over time, however natural oils are rarely an issue for watercolor since they are used in a very tiny amount (usually just a drop or two mixed with enough gum arabic binder meant for dozens of half pans). I doubt there are any additional harsh biocides used in this brand, which can cause allergic reactions for some people (email A Gallo directly to confirm if a concern). Are natural preservatives strong enough? I have not had any mold problems with handmade paints that use natural oils or honey as the preservative. Just in case you experience mold issues in any brand of paint, your tap water and brushes may be to blame (switching to filtered/bottled water can help) and always be sure to air-dry your pans before closing your palette shut to avoid humidity issues.
My favorite convenience mixtures from this brand include Notturno and Olive Green Deep. These are gorgeous if you're looking for color separation that leaves hints of ultramarine blue behind in wet washes or beneath salt reaction. Harbor Blue is a perfect night time sky or deep ocean sort of color that I can see finding many uses for. If you find a color interesting, but can't see yourself using it often enough to justify the purchase, keep in mind that you can DIY mix these on demand using the more versatile single pigment ingredients. Other brands, such as Roman Szmal, may be a good budget alternative. If you're not up to the experimenting (or don't own many colors) I found these to be stunning colors that I will personally reach for often - therefore saving me time and providing me with the exact appearance I was after. Every brand's paints flow differently, provide a more or less subtle texture or salt reaction - so each DIY mix is an adventure. I found A Gallo's mixtures to be some of the best I've ever tried, suiting my taste in texture, flow and color separation.
Convenience mixture notes: In avoidance of Cobalts you will not find a granulating teal/turquoise in this brand - but Zirconium Blue fills the sky-cerulean color space and there's always Ultramarine Blue for a deep textural blue. In the space where teal/turquoise would normally feature a Cobalt PB28 or PG50, A.Gallo's "teal blue" is instead a mixture of smooth Phthalo blue, green and white. The "copper blue" is similar, but shifts that a bit towards green with the inclusion of hansa yellow. There are some stunning combinations such as the deep rich "Harbour Blue" made with PB15:3 and a very dark PBr7 earth brown. The gentle floral-like "Pietra Rosa" combines the beautiful delicate granulating PR233 and PV16 with the strength of PV19. I'm not sure what to think about "Malachite" as it's not my preferred stone-accurate hue. I personally use diluted cobalt greens like PG26 or PG50 for achieving the convincing granulation seen in the genuine mineral. A.Gallo's Malachite mixture is made of PG7, PG36, PW6 and egg shells (providing a subtle texture grit and pale filler) which is certainly a unique touch.
While collecting half pans I did focus on rare pigments, but also decided that several A.Gallo earth browns that are fairly common were beautiful enough to be worth owning. Some burnt umber colors are marked as PBr8, which can initially appear to be a rare pigment code, but this is only because the manufacturer of this pigment has taken the time to distinguish the presence of manganese oxides (naturally occurring as manganite) in the brown earth powder being mined. There are times when Burnt Umber is lazily classified as generic PBr7 in other brands. DaVinci Paint Co, Roman Szmal and White Nights also have very similar strong burnt umbers marked as PBr7, sometimes with side notes just saying "may contain manganese". Kremer pigments and Jackson's store also offers pigments like "Cyprus Burnt Umber" in powder form if you'd rather DIY it (though this can be time consuming, messy and manganese may be a dust breathing health hazard). I find that a great many other companies suffer from weak / pale single-pigment browns and I was pleased to see A.Gallo provide such rich deep valued, gently granulating, browns. Of which Chromite Brown is the most textural of the granulating browns offered in this line.
Lightfast? A Gallo mostly offers lightfast colors, but does offer a few plant based pigments that are fugitive. Natural pigments are always prone to fading, containing organic decomposing plant matter, and are usually identified by the pigment code starting in "N" (NR9 = Natural Red #9). Plant colors are sometimes desired by artists seeking natural and rarely sold colorants. These are of historical significance and not commonly offered by big brands (with the exception of Rose Madder NR9 also carried by Winsor and Newton and genuine Indigo Blue NB1 also carried by Maimeri Blu).At this time it appears some colors - like Buckthorn Green NG2, Dragon's Blood NR31 (Rattan Palm) may be discontinued or limited in production, as they did not become part of the offerings on Jackson's catalog list of A Gallo colors. In addition to the natural colors I would approach any color using PR177 or PY83 with caution (in the mix for "Arancione" and "Permanent Alizarin Crimson Hue") as these two pigments are known to fade in tints/diluted washes.
Overall the colors that may fade make up a very small portion of this catalog. I'm very pleased that my 3 favorite lightfast reds are offered by A Gallo (PR122, PR254 and PR255 which are strong, UV durable, gorgeous intense reds perfect for using as a cool magenta, mid and warm red for color mixing). There's even a PR206 Chestnut Brown that is a wonderful warm-tan skin tone (great replacement for the discontinued Brown Madder from Winsor & Newton, until this pigment runs out due to no longer being manufactured). While I will miss the granulation of genuine cobalts, the Ultramarine PB29 is vibrant and capable of providing granulating and color separating DIY mixtures.
Is the high price tag worth it? Due to the much more intense amount of labor by hand and less bulk-discounted supplies that small handmade companies do, these paints are more expensive than big factory-made brands. If the price is worth it can only be decided on an individual level. I will say that handmade paint makers work is a bit like art, unique to that artist - often unique in everything from the scent of materials, the pigments offered (often which are less commonly found, if at all commercially), packaging and performance. I personally justify spending more on handmade paints if I see rare pigment codes (ingredients) and unique mixtures (combinations I may not have thought to mix myself or I haven't seen anyone else do). Handmade paints often contain more pigment, less binder, than big brands - keep this in mind if you see a color that is similarly priced from a brand like Schmincke, Daler Rowney or Old Holland. Because of this extra pigment load, you may notice less gloss shine once dry (most A Gallo colors dry matte instead of glossy from gum arabic build up which is a major issue in brands like Schmincke and Renesans).
There is a lot of artist demand for these watercolors and they are often sold out. The company typically works for a few weeks straight restocking sets and individual half pans, brushes, wood cases, sketchbooks, dot cards and paper swatching supplies before setting a time for a shop update. You can find out when the next shop update is on their instagram or at https://www.agallocolors.com/ and be aware that newly released products often sell out in under 5 minutes. This is not a brand to buy if you need to rely on calm, casual, reliable restocking of colors as you need them, but they offer quite lovely unusual paints for periodic splurging.
Where to buy? In addition to A Gallo's website, as of April 2022 Jackson's art supply store has started stocking most of the A Gallo paints. I expect the inventory to be fairly low and periodically go out of stock. It's nice that they are carrying these though, not only for those just wanting to try a color or two along with other art supplies, but because international shipping can be costly - this may help you save money when already shopping here for your other art supplies:
A Gallo watercolor sets are both available at Jackson's.
PAINT BRUSHES: A Gallo also sells the Italian made Tintoretto brushes, which you can also purchase on Jackson's. I found the black watercolor brushes to come to a super fine point and carry a ton of water. They are good for washes and long strokes (great capacity, no dry belly). Tintoretto (FELTRACCO SYNTHETIC) does dump some water each stoke, so I found them better for long strokes vs short detailed work.
The Ultramarine Pink PR259 is a more recent addition to their catalog (2022?) and it was not part of the dot card set I ordered from A Gallo. I have not tried A Gallo's version of this color, but can tell you that PR259 is rare and can be a problematic pigment. It is often weak and lacks tinting strength. Like all ultramarines it is sensitive to acids, but Ultra Pink is the most sensitive (compared to PV15 and PB29) which makes it more likely to have long term fading issues due to PH level changes in the air, water used or other nearby art materials. There is also a "whiting" effect that can happen with PR259, so when layered thickly can start to give a chalky dusty-white effect. I might pick this color up in the future to compare it to issues I've seen in other brands (Kremer, Roman Szmal).
Swatch card scans - I found that most colors had a pleasantly low-disperse rate (no crazy unexpected flow in wet wash) and fit my preference to hold a gradient on wet paper. In the main large left rectangle on these swatch cards, you can see a gentle dark (top) to light) bottom wet wash with salt. Once dry these intentional gradients remained, which is sometimes hard to achieve in certain brands that have pigments spread out uncontrollably on wet (such as Qor and some of the smooth fine particle pigments in RSzmal or DSmith). I will absolutely use A Gallo paints for serious projects where control and predictability are required.
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These colors have been added to the pigment database, where each can be compared side by side to the same color from another brand.