In short, YES!
Read on for details and some super interesting info and trivia about watercolor painting.
First, let me say that watercolors are made from the exact same pigments as oil paints! It’s just the binder that is different! A binder is what holds the pigment onto the surface it’s painted onto.
Watercolor is mixed with water-soluble binders, such as gum arabic, whereas oils are mixed with an oil binder such as linseed oil.
The quality of the pigments, along with a few other factors, is what counts when it comes to longevity!
So, how long can a watercolor painting last…
A little history:
Watercolor is the one of the oldest forms of painting. It actually pre-date oil paints, by many centuries!
Watercolors date back to the stone age. Prehistoric humans would use pigments made from charcoal, ochre, and other natural elements to paint the walls of caves, making the cave paintings we know today! YES, natural water soluble pigments can last that long under the best of conditions!
The Chinese have been using watercolor in art since 4000bc!
Ancient Egyptians also used watercolors to paint images on papyrus and other surfaces. Many of those paintings are still around and very vibrant.
Water soluble pigments are what the great fresco artists used for their work. Fresco paintings are made with watercolors painted onto wet plaster.
Watercolor painting as we know it today became popular in the Renaissance period. Albrecht Dürer was one of the first artists the first to make the medium popular.
In comparison, oil paints have only been used since about the 5th century. They also became popular during the Renaissance era but were used by many more artists, which is why they became a more well-known art medium.
Some of the oldest pieces of art still in existence are watercolors. Pretty amazing, right!
Now to the nitty-gritty.
What makes a watercolor painting last for generations?
4 main things: Pigments, Surface, Framing, Light exposure
Pigments: good quality professional pigments are meant to be long-lasting, or have a high permanence. Some colors of pigment just inherently last longer than others though. All professional paints are rated for their permanence!
Surface: The quality of the paper used for watercolor is super important for longevity. Acid-free, archival 100% cotton rag paper is the ultimate surface for watercolor paints. The acids in normal paper will cause colors to change and fade over time and could break down the pigments. 100% cotton is super durable!
Framing: Original, fine art paintings deserve a good frame! Good frames are made from acid-free materials and use UV glass to protect the painting from light. No-glare glass is available if reflections bother you.
Light Exposure: Frankly, any item of value should not be stored in direct sunlight, the sun and UV rays are extremely damaging. Artwork though is particularly susceptible to UV rays so it’s important not to allow your art to be exposed to direct sunlight as it will eventually fade the colors (this is true for all art, oil, acrylic, watercolor, photographs, etc). Museums regularly rotate out master artwork to minimize exposure to light.
Other factors: Extreme humidity and extreme heat are also very damaging to a painting. Dirt, dust, and thusly cleaning solvents are also harmful.
Watercolor materials are actually some of the most expensive artist paints. A standard size tube of professional watercolor paint can be 2000% more expensive than a standard size tube of oil paint!!
Watercolor brushes need to be super soft and dense to hold the watery pigment and the best quality brushes are made of super soft animal hair (or an extremely high-quality synthetic equivalent) and are therefore often much more expensive than other brushes.
Good quality watercolor paper is actually more expensive than most canvas.
My watercolor paintings take just as long, and sometimes much longer, to create than oil or acrylic paintings!
So why on earth are oil paintings seen as more valuable than watercolors?
I mostly blame marketing from traditional galleries and art dealers! Oil paintings can usually be much larger, therefore making them much more profitable. They have also been popularized by, admittedly, some great artists, so again, more money for galleries and dealers!
It’s a shame and I’m one of the many artists trying to change that perception! Celebrating artists as individuals and not the sum of who is representing them!
*ok, off my pedestal, lol.
So, if you still have questions, please shoot me an email or ask in the comments, I’m happy to discuss further! 🙂