Material Matters: Artist Rachel Levitas on using Cotman Metallic Watercolour

Rachel Levitas studied at Camberwell School of Art, and the Royal Academy Schools in London where she was awarded the Turner Gold Medal for Painting. In 2010 Rachel was awarded first prize at the prestigious Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize for her painting Urban Fox III. 

“Pewter immediately caught my eye and diluted, I found it created a smoky wash with an iridescent sparkle that suggested smoke or fog.” 

It’s always exciting when a new product appears on the market, so I was delighted to receive the new Cotman Metallic Watercolour to play with. 

Cotman Metallics Pocket Set


I’ve always had this theory that artists are on a spectrum when it comes to materials; there are the mad scientists at one end who grind their own paints, and on the other end are those who buy their materials from a hardware store with little or no regard for the future life of the painting.  

I would say I’m somewhere in the middle; perhaps veering towards the mad scientist. Longevity is a real consideration for me when it comes to creating a work. I want my works to last which is why I always prefer a premier brand. Of course, it’s always exciting to experiment with materials readily to hand like household paint, but also dangerous because within the lifetime of the painting, and even within the lifetime of the artist it may be necessary to perform remedial restorative work to a piece.  

When it comes to metallic paint it has always been about the permanence of the product. I’ve been very drawn to gold leaf and foils and have attempted to use them in my painting to create a sparkle and glitter paint alone cannot provide. The anxiety about plastic foils which have appeared on the market and are readily available in hobby stores is that the pigment in them may rapidly fade. 

For this reason, I was delighted when Winsor & Newton launched their Iridescent Medium which can be mixed with Watercolour, but the new Cotman Metallic Watercolour goes a step further and I’ve had a happy week experimenting with them.


From left to right: Iridescent Blue, Yellow Gold, Bronze, Red Copper, Silver and Pewter


The sets came in tubes and pans; the colours available in the tubes are Iridescent Blue, Yellow Gold, Silver, Pewter, Bronze and Red Copper; in addition, the Pocket Set offers Iridescent Black and Iridescent White. 

With pans and tubes, it’s always a consideration which to buy. I would say that if you intend to create large washes in your painting the tube set is the obvious choice but if you want to use these paints for detail, then the half pan set will allow you to do just that. 


A smoky wash of Pewter and Iridescent Blue

The beauty of these metallic colours is that they can be used alone, mixed with regular Cotman Watercolour (or Professional Watercolour) or mixed with each other to create a multitude of colour options. Pewter immediately caught my eye and diluted, I found it created a smoky wash with an iridescent sparkle that suggested smoke or fog; that elusive enveloping mist that is so difficult to create in paint was given an extra dimension that mimicked the light particles in fog. Next, I used Iridescent Black which granulates in a very pleasing way to create a carbonite grit of a black; when I used it in combination with my Pewter wash, I found it gave a spatial dimension to the painting. 


Iridescent White and Opera Rose to create a shimmering pink


On to the pale colours. On its own Iridescent Blue is very pretty, but I found that added to Dioxin Violet, I could use it to create a mauve shade. I added the Iridescent White to Opera Rose to create a shimmering pink and found when I combined three colours, Iridescent Blue, my new mixed mauve and the iridescent pink, the effect was that of an opalescent seashell


Various mixes on black Pastel Paper


These colours work well on white and look great on black; I trialled them on black Winsor & Newton Pastel Paper. I mixed Yellow Gold with Emerald Green and the effect on white paper was a green gold, the same colour on the dark paper was like a scarab beetle shell.  

I found Silver mixed very well with any of the blues or cool tones to create more versions of the Iridescent Blue, while Bronze combined with Iridescent Black made a nuanced earth tone with hints of metal ores and gave a depth that Cotman Watercolour alone could not achieve. 


Yellow Gold mixed with Emerald Green to create a green gold.


I also experimented with laying washes of the metallic colours over dry layers of watercolour paint, or over each other; I found was that as the layers of metallic paint accrue, the density of the sparkling pigment builds to create an even shimmer.  

When I’m experimenting with watercolour, I always keep a weather eye on effects that could be translated into oil paint, and I love to mix materials. Often, I try to use oil paint to mimic the effects I have created in watercolour and the dialogue between the two mediums is important to me in my practice. Watercolour has previously helped me to visualise ideas that I want to realise in my oil painting. Having used these metallic watercolours, I am now beginning to think about using Winsor & Newton Metallic Oil Colour next.