Testing Viviva Colorsheets

Last week a friend gave me a few sets of Viviva Colorsheets to try. If you haven’t seen these posted yet by sketchers on Facebook or Instagram, have a look at the crowdfunding site where they are advertised. They’re pretty cool. These are small booklets each containing sixteen highly pigmented squares that you wet with a brush to release the intensely bright colours. The idea behind them is portability — throw them in your bag or pocket and go. It’s a bit hard to tell what they colours look like from the swatches — Peacock Blue and Viridian both look purplish in their dry state so I thought I’d make a swatch sheet and see what turned up.


It was interesting to see the results and here are a few observations. First of all, don’t go by the names of the colours to judge them. For example, “Flesh” is a warm, yellowish orange. Even diluted quite a bit it is nowhere close to a flesh colour. Secondly, several of the colours are quite similar — compare Crimson and Deep Pink, or Light Green and Sap Green. Thirdly, when you start to paint with these you realize that they are more like dyes than watercolours. Using them make me think of my days in Illustration class in university when we used Dr. Martin’s inks. The colours are amazingly beautiful and intense but because this is pure pigment, don’t expect any granulation. The only thing I noticed was that the Gold Ochre and Magenta are a little sparkly.

After creating the swatches, I thought I’d go on a little trip to see how these reacted in the field. I found a magnolia that was just starting to open, so I pencilled that into my sketchbook and started to paint. I think these pigments are meant to be used with a water brush, but I don’t use that so I brought along water and a travel brush. The first challenge that I found with these was that there is no mixing area, so if I wanted a lighter version of one of the colours, I had to dilute it on a separate sheet. The second problem was that if I wanted to combine colours — for example the burnt sienna and the blue — I couldn’t do that either. I suppose if you are painting a large area you can do that on the paper but I was trying to paint the fine branches. The third thing I noticed was that touching a dry colour with water caused it to bleed into a neighbouring area, like the green that bled into the sky at the top left corner.


In my sketchbook I also had a drawing from earlier in the week that had ink lines but no colour on it and I thought it might be fun to add colour to that. As you can see below, the colours are very bright and intense but it was hard for me to obtain any neutrals or anything nearing subtle.

So moving forward, how would I use these? I won’t give up my daily travel palette, but I think they would be a great ADDITION to my sketch kit. For example, if I am drawing a colourful market scene or a flower garden, I could certainly see using these colours as accents. There is nothing in my regular palette that can match the intensity of these pigments.


And because I couldn’t come back home with a sketch I wasn’t happy with, I had to paint the magnolias again with my regular palette of colours.


21 Comments on “Testing Viviva Colorsheets”

  1. Very informative, thank you.


  2. Papaloi says:

    Rip-off of the original idea, which you can buy here: http://peerlesscolor.com/international.html


  3. Christy says:

    I have the pearless set and I carry a piece of clear acetate in between the sheets to mix on. It wipes clean and allows you to dilute the colors and mix them. Looks good!!!


    • Christy, this set has sheets between but they are not acetate so you wouldn’t be able to use them to mix on. I think that is what is missing from this. I guess you like the Peerless set, right?


  4. Bernadette says:

    Years ago I was given a set of color swatches once used to color black and white photos…before color film was available. I remember loving them and painting large 1/2 sheet landscapes using the swatches. I began by wetting the watercolor paper and in some places touching the saturated swatch to the wet paper. Holding a color swatch in one hand and a wide brush in the other I began with the sky.
    Sorry this is so hard to explain and it is now nearly 35 years ago!
    I’m excited to know I may purchase something similar. Thanks for sharing. Your work as always is beautiful.


    • Hi Bernadette. I understood perfectly what you meant. Thanks for writing. It seems like a lot of people used these years ago. They may have been created to hand-tint b&w photos so I can see why they are like dyes. They would have to be very transparent for that purpose.


  5. Frank Bettendorf says:

    Any sense of how the colors will look when they fade? How do they, the colors, hold up when exposed to sunlight? Thanks.
    Frank B


    • Hi Frank. I have no idea about the lightfastness of these colours and would never use them in a painting I intend to sell, or in something that would be on a wall. Another thing that I find a bit disconcerting is this warning on the package: Please wash your hands with soap after use. Are they toxic? I wonder about that. Again, maybe good for little accents in a sketch but I don’t think I would do much else with them.


  6. joantav says:

    I know several people who are testing these watercolor swatches. They really do give an intense color which would be good for some subjects but not all. Someone else mentioned not having a mixing area and has been using a cover from a plastic container. I liked looking at both of your sketches of the magnolias. Each is beautiful and I can’t decide which is better.


    • Thanks Joan. It does seem like many people have been testing these out. If you have a chance you should try them too. It’s quite fun to play with them, although if you want subtlety, forget it. These are powerful!


  7. Alison says:

    Very informative, thanks for the field test. The second magnolia sketch is lovely. You have captured the essence if these exotic blooms.


  8. Judy Sopher says:

    I have heard of color sheets but never used them. I love the color in the painting with the car. I love the painting. But I agree that they are an addition., not a replacement. Still, looks great for travel. I may try them. Thanks.


  9. Chris Rusk says:

    Really interesting piece that you wrote today.
    Like Bernadette, It took me back in time to a summer that I spent with elderly relatives in the Catskills (1969!).
    My great uncle gave me a tint sample advertising piece that had about 5 colour tints and he showed me how to colour B/W photos.
    The sample itself was probably very old as the colours seemed extremely weak (anemic) when I applied them.
    Because of that experience, I was going to bring up the question of colourfastness (as Frank B. had).
    Love your second magnolias, and I do understand the challenges of your first example using the tints.
    I can see where, in a pinch, when you have the desire to sketch, but cannot use your regular materials, they can fill the bill, but the danger is that, like with my Uncle Ed, they could sit around for a bit.
    On another note… it could be interesting to use the tints in a collage or a multi-medium piece.
    Thanks for getting the gray cells going today!


    • HI Chris, It does seem like a lot of people have tried these out for tinting photos, and if you look on the Peerless Colour website you will see their swatches next to B&W photos. Now I get why they were made like this.
      Like Frank, I had questions about lightfastness too, as well as toxicity. I am going to put the booklet in my sketch bag because if it ever warms up in Montreal I intend to paint outside and I think these might be useful. But today I am sketching inside because snow was just falling as I walked my dog!


  10. John Warrener says:

    Peerless Water Colors have been around since 1902 and were indeed designed for tinting B&W photographs. That’s why they’re so clear. Instead of lifting the colour from the swatch with your brush try cutting a piece of the swatch and immersing it in water in your mixing well. Remove the backing and add more water if needed.


    • John, I just had a look at the Peerless website and now I understand more about how these work and why they are so transparent. And I think I will try cutting a swatch to see what happens too. Thanks for the tip.


  11. Suzanne says:

    I like the intensity of colour in the 2 sketches, and I like the garbage/recycling bins in front of the corvette. Fantasy world and real world coexisting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s