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American Journey Watercolor Review, Cheap Joes, Color Chart Swatch Cards
American Journey is the name for Cheap Joe's store brand watercolors (a store in the USA similar to Blick or Jerry's Artarama). These paints are manufactured for them in the USA by DaVinci Paint Co. There are many color duplicates between the brands. If you have bought American Journey watercolors from Cheap Joe's store before, be aware that you already own Da Vinci paints (and vice versa). Cheap Joes has a few exclusive colors and convenience colors, but many of these can simply be mixed with DaVinci's single pigment paints.
There are many custom convenience colors (uncommon multi-pigment mixtures) in American Journey including: Andrew's Turquoise, Apricot, Blue Stone, Brown Madder Quinacridone, Carr Yellow, Chromium Oxide Green, Janet's Violet Rose, Mint Julep, Orchid, Pat's Coastal Blue, Peachy Keen, Quin Gold (an unusual PY42 version instead of PY150), Skip's Green, Shadow and Taylor's Flamingo Pink. There are also three very similar PBr7/PW6 mixtures that look like Buff Titanium PW6:1 (single pigment option available from DSmith or RSzmal) which American Journey calls: "Buff Titanium" (a hue), "French Gray" and "Coastal Fog". There's probably a couple more unique mixtures that I didn't immediately notice nestled in their 100+ color options. There are additional common mixtures like Periwinkle (Lavender), Passionate Purple (Thioindigo), Getz (Davy's), Junebug (Prussian Green) and Moonglow (Artemis) which can be found in other brands (like DVinci or DSmith). Even if this brand is not an affordable option in your area of the world, it's definitely fun to browse their catalog for mixing inspiration. Check out the "more info" tabs for pigment ingredients at https://www.cheapjoes.com/american-journey-artists-watercolor.html
Some colors may have slightly different names than their Da Vinci counterpart. For instance A.J. Quin Gold DEEP appears to be the same as D.V. Quin Gold (not "deep"). Their "Getz Gray" is the same mixture as "Davy's Gray". Both brands offer "Manganese Blue Mixture" PB15/PB33 which may be intriguing due to the PB33 on the label (genuine, a toxic pigment otherwise discontinued in most brands around the world). I do not recommend this mixture though, as it is primarily PB15 Phthalo Blue and does not have the granulation texture or vibrancy of Manganese Blue Genuine (DSmith and Turner make much more convincing hues). American Journey's "Moon Glow" is the same as Davinci's "Artemis", which are both exact pigment mixture copies of the fugitive Daniel Smith Moonglow. PR177 in the mix causes this color to fade, I give some mixing recommendations on how to replicate it without fading issues on the lightfast pigments page here. Da Vinci and American Journey are otherwise pretty careful with offering an overall lightfast selection, with just a few fugitive colors including opera pink (fluorescent dye), prussian blue (PB27) and aureolin yellow (PY40). Caution with PV14 if displaying art in areas that may receive high temperatures or humidity, as I have seen Cobalt Violet fade unusually quickly when receiving daily sunset light in these conditions.
These watercolors are lovely, high quality, smooth, well behaved and have all the high pigment load you'd expect from a professional brand. They do dry slightly hard in the pan, likely needing a moment of pre-soak once dried, particularly in dry climates. The gum arabic ratio is slightly high, similarly to Schmincke (but not as bad as Renesans or Old Holland). These paints can dry a touch shiny if you do too thick of a masstone layer without mixing well with water first. DV and CJ also offer the same gum arabic and iridescent medium additives (just swapping the labels on the same product). Both serve as nice base materials for those who like to enhance or even make their own paints using pigment powders. Be aware that the iridescent medium's pearl-white mica particles are the same as what is mixed in with regular paint colors for their "iridescent paints" . This is not the same as colorful coated mica you'd find in brands like Finetec/Coliro or Paul Rubens (CJ/DV's all reflect pearl-white, not gold/copper/pink/green etc.). You can mix iridescent medium with PG7 Phthalo Green for instance you'll get a pearlescent green that has a white reflective shimmer, not a green shimmer. These are not ideal for appearing colorful on dark papers like their competitors.
The most unique thing about American Journey is that they had Da Vinci create several uncommon custom mixtures, exclusively for Cheap Joe's catalog. There are several convenience colors (multiple pigment mixtures) that, while you could mix on your own, are quite pretty, useful and available only under the American Journey label. The store owner, Joe, has been a watercolor painter himself for about 40 years and it shows in his paint selections. This store brand was made with quality in mind. It's a good value, but these paints are definitely not the lowest cost option out there and if shipping outside of the USA it's likely cost prohibitive. Some of the colors Joe had custom mixed fill in gaps in the color selection and are notably different from the single-pigment options.
Many of the custom mixtures seem useful for landscapes, seascapes and florals. I don't own several of the other pastel tones (peach, pink, turquoise were similar to options I own from White Nights), but I was intrigued by Coastal Fog and Pat's Coastal Blue. Muted earthy pastels are uncommon, found in relatively few pro watercolor brands worldwide. Coastal Fog is similar to buff titanium (unbleached beige PW6) available from Daniel Smith and Roman Szmal. This American Journey hue is very close to "Titan Buff" a PBr7/PW6 combo in Rembrandt. I've never seen a close match for Pat's Coastal Blue or Blue Stone in other catalogs. Brands that make pastels tend to favor lavendar/lilac/peony bright floral colors and baby blues favoring feminine and cutesy pop art rather than useful earthy tones. I can see some of these mixtures being particularly convenient for urban sketchers, architecture art or for those who take travel palettes to the beach.
Quin Gold Deep is a great mixture of PY150 and PR206 (identical to Da Vinci and similar to Sennelier and Winsor & Newton's Quin Gold). Despite not being unique, I'll mention it in case you don't already have a Quin Gold (hue) from another brand... It's an absolutely useful mix, similar to the natural burnt orange of a Calico cat or Tiger's fur. It's a great "hue" replacement for the old discontinued PO49 version of Quin Gold, which was loved by many artists for it's ability to mix realistic floral greens when paired with blues. I don't normally recommend multi pigment mixtures as "mixing colors", I usually prefer to use these convenience picks for their existing hue. There's an increased risk of muddy colors when combining 4+ pigments at once, but both Quin Gold Deep and Blue Stone create extremely nice mixtures with each other and in combination with other palette basics.
If you're shopping at www.cheapjoes.com, there are two "just for fun" mixtures exclusive to their catalog that I recommend picking up: Blue Stone and Shadow. The neutral purple of "Shadow" is a mixture I would have arrived at myself, as it combines three of my favorite smooth lightfast pigments - PR209 Quin Red, PB15 Phthalo Blue and PO48 Quin Burnt Orange. (I also like to use a similar combination with PB29 Ultramarine Blue instead of PB15 Phthalo when I'm looking for granulation texture). Two other mixtures seem like they may be fun for florals - "Janet's Violet Rose" is an interesting mix of PR202/ PV14/PW6 as well as "Periwinkle" a pastel lavender mixture of PV15/PW6.
Thank you Cheap Joe’s for the inspiration from “Shadow” to mix all of these neutral purples, greys and wine reds using PB15, PR209 and PO48 together!
Conclusion: The paint quality is very nice and I was pleased with the ability to get smooth predictable gradients in wet washes. I would not hesitate to use many of the single-pigment palette basics, in addition to the unique convenience mixtures. from CJ/DV. From my experience with Da Vinci, who makes some of the strongest earth browns I have in any brand, I expect this to be the same with Cheap Joes (DV makes my favorite Burnt Umber of any brand). I appreciate the subtle texture of "magnetite" (which may initially seem like a rare color name, but this is just another version of PBk11 Black Iron Oxide/Mars Black, available in nearly every major pro grade brand). Their magnetite version is smoother than Daniel Smith's Lunar Black, which is pretty dramatic and overpowering so a smooth may be of interest. Same situation with "Goethite" which some brands simply label as PY42, PY43 or PBr7 with their earth yellow-browns. American Journey's Goethite does not appear to be the larger particle color separating type found in DSmith or RSzmal's catalogs.
I was NOT able to find a couple of my favorite pigments in this brand - the most important to me being the lack of Magenta PR122 (without mixing it with other pigments or fugitive fluorescent dye). White Nights has a lovely affordable version called Quin Rose, a valuable floral pink and mixing color which I highly recommend. Da Vinci and American Journey lack textural granulating versions of Cobalt Teal/Viridian/Ultramarine, instead offering finer particle pigments that result in smoother washes. There's less color separation in wet washes than brands like Daniel Smith or Schmincke. Depending on your art style, smoother, more uniform colors and predictable glazing may be the desired effect.
I enjoyed Cheap Joe's "Kilimanjaro" 140# cotton paper made with plant based vegan sizing. It performed better than the cardboard-like 300# option which did not do well with lifting and had some loose internal fibers that showed hair-like textures in flat washes, as well as causing minor ink bleeding. I found the 140# paper to be quite durable. It takes fineliners/tech pens without surface damage, which is very important to me as someone who does a lot of line and wash illustrations. It does warp with very wet washes though. Like most papers that can be helped by taping or binder clipping the edges when working small, or pre-wetting large pieces. Glazing or layering over previously dried washes works well, this paper is not hard sized. It does not promote overly easy lifting (erasing with a damp brush) like papers with slicker surface coatings. It also doesn't make it impossible to lift either, being similar to Winsor & Newton or Arches (gelatin sized) papers. I like that Cheap Joe's offers high quality "store brand" paints and papers that do not steer their customers wrong - you can definitely create beautiful, professional looking work using their supplies.
The following swatch cards have been added to the pigment database, to be compared side by side with paints from other brands. Because of American Journey's prices, shipping and limited availability of these paints (available only at Cheap Joes and some colors are frequently on backorder) I usually shop Da Vinci brand instead at Blick. That's only for colors that overlap both catalogs though, if you're looking for the Kilimanjaro paper or unique mixtures go to www.cheapjoes.com directly.
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