Name Change

I realize that I haven’t posted here in a very long time, and I might abandon WordPress altogether for a new platform. But for now I’ve changed my blog from matoki.wordpress.com to michellehahmart.wordpress.com. Unfortunately WordPress doesn’t redirect traffic, so people are getting notified that my blog has been deleted when that really isn’t the case.

Well until I can get this sorted out, I’ll start thinking of other places to post.


I’ve been getting a lot of questions on how I rank watercolor brands and how they rate against each other. The following is a brief explanation on my personal choices for buying watercolors based on what I’ve used so far. But  please do take it with a grain of salt; the reasons that I might prefer them could very well be the same reasons that you might not.

Some of the paint brands were extremely difficult to rank. My general criteria was based on color richness, price, lightfastness, rewetting ability, user friendliness, availability of single pigment colors, and personal taste.


1. M. Graham
My first choice and perhaps my all time favorite, these classical American paints are my go to option. Since these are probably the most controllable paints I’ve worked with, this is what I generally use on commission work. The washes are so easy to manipulate that sometimes I think these paints taught me how to use watercolors. Don’t know if anyone else has that experience though.

The pigments are manufactured to showcase its personality, and it definitely shows in how some of them granulate beautifully. I used to think I wasn’t into granulation effects, but I sure changed my mind after using these. There is something absolutely poetic in a wash of their Ultramarine Blue, and their colors practically hum with intensity. I’m definitely able to get a full range of tones with these paints from deep luminous darks to pale glowing tints.

I’ve noticed that the pricing has gone up a bit, but I can’t see how that’s really going to stop me from using them. While I do very much enjoy other paint brands and might prefer other companies’ pigments for certain colors, this is the brand I would stick with if I was somehow forced to limit myself to one.

Read more in-depth review here.


2. Schmincke
Very forward, bright, and opinionated German paints. An absolute joy to use; I never regret getting these out. In an interesting move, these paints are formulated to have little difference among them for a consistent texture amongst all the colors. Some might like that when aiming for high realism.

What bumped this up to second for me was the all around quality of the paint and the most gorgeous full pans. I love full pans, and though they’re a bit tough to find the Schmincke ones are very well worth the search. Empty pans and metal palettes are also available.

Read more in-depth review here.



3. Winsor & Newton
The very available and well known English paints. While it may seem like the top choice because plenty of artists use it, I think it’s definitely more because Winsor & Newton has been around for so long and manages to be so ubiquitous in the market.

What makes these paints a good choice for me is that for the most part all the colors are very different and visually distinct. For example, the Pthalo Blue Green Shade looks a lot different from the Pthalo Blue Red Shade. Most brands have them very similar in appearance.

Though maybe not up to the hype it’s generally given, Winsor & Newton is a strong choice and one I will probably use extensively for a long time. I’ve come to adore so many of their colors, especially all the Pthalos, Winsor Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt, Cerulean, Green Gold, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Scarlet Lake, Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Violet, Burnt Sienna, and Burnt Umber. I’m open to trying new colors from this brand as well.

I do still find those new metallic tubes horribly ugly. At the very least, the prices thankfully seem to have gone down a bit.

Read more in-depth review here and here.


4. Sennelier
Romantic, optimistic French paints. Perhaps the best bargain on the market right now. I would have ranked it third for the great price, but I bumped it down because I’m simply not as familiar with this paint. I’ve only experimented with the tiny set, and I wonder if I’d rank this higher if I tried their tubes and full pans.

Plus, some fugitive pigments are in most of their watercolor sets. Seriously, does anyone actually use Alizarin Crimson these days? I get that they’re probably trying to mimic an Impressionist palette since they’re French and all, but maybe we don’t need to imitate it to that extent.

Read more in-depth review here.


5. Holbein
Delicate, very finely milled, transparent Japanese paints. Great in that they are very saturated and easily liftable for errors and effects. What brought Holbein down on the list for me was the passel of fugitive colors and far too few single pigment paints. Worth a go if you’re willing to research what you’re buying, or you just don’t care as much about the technical details.

Read more in-depth review here.


6. Sakura Koi
If you’re not trying to be too serious about watercolor or you’re nervous about starting out with expensive paint, this is a good product to start out with. This is the first brand I used in my later years of high school, and it was good for me to be familiar with the feel of watercolor paint on my brush. Pretty vibrant for student colors.

In closing, it’s not necessarily the paint! I could be very happy with pretty much any of these brands and not feel limited in the least. We’re very fortunate to have so many high quality options these days. I hope to update this post in the future as I still experiment with new brands from time to time.


The first time I tried the Holbein watercolors, I found them utterly disappointing. They were a bit too dry, the washes dried out faster, and I had some issues getting the same amount of flow and clarity that I was used to with other brands. Miffed, I returned them without a second thought.

But around a year later, I was browsing through the (now closed) Pearl Art Supply in Manhattan, and I bought three little Holbein tubes to give them a second shot. Perhaps the tubes I’d initially used were old or something, because when I tried them again I got far more satisfactory results.

These are probably one of the most saturated and transparent paints I’ve had the pleasure to work with. They rewet well, and they lift far more easily than most of the other super staining brands I usually gravitate towards. Overall, very user friendly.


The sketch to the right was painted with the Holbeins. In this I used one of my new favorite techniques of skipping a preliminary drawing and then layering three colors endlessly. I was especially happy with the very dark darks I could get in the hair and the pleasantly expressive back runs (I don’t hate back runs all the time).

Unfortunately, Holbein is notorious on my list for having very few single pigment paints and fairly poor lightfastness for a lot of its colors. Especially in the lightfast and single pigment area, the color yellow takes the worst hit. While I don’t necessarily have a favorite yellow pigment, I like my yellows transparent, lightfast, single pigment, and preferably with a warm bias. Nothing I found in Holbein met all of those requirements.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone else who uses Holbein is bothered by that. Especially when I hear people rave about their popular color Opera when it’s virtually a dye. If you do end up using Holbein and you want clean mixtures and you want your paintings to last, I highly recommend you research the pigments in each tube color beforehand. Spare yourself the heartbreak.

Despite the negatives, these tubes are so beautiful that I really think I will replenish my supply once I run out. And I suppose I can’t say that about all paints.

A Holocaust Project


The Holocaust Memorial Center at Temple Judea

Aside from dealing with my illnesses (that I occasionally mention on this blog), one of the things that has been occupying my time is a personal project featuring the Holocaust. What I’m hoping to do is paint portraits, record stories, and illustrate moments from the lives of survivors. Here’s a brief recap as to what’s been occupying a good chunk of my brain for the past year or so.

Starting out meant bugging Jewish Studies professors, Israel Studies professors, local Jewish non profits, rabbis, and pretty much anyone I remotely knew who was Jewish for help.

I felt like I was just barging around in fairly unfamiliar territory for a while, and for several months things didn’t seem to be going anywhere. A few people remarked that it would be trickier for me to find funding and participants since I’m not Jewish, and people are likely going to be wary of me. But luckily for me, a friend of mine introduced me to a woman who worked for a Holocaust program called Adopt A Survivor in Long Island, New York. She invited me up during winter break so that I could meet with some of the survivors there.

I can’t describe how giddy I was when things finally took a positive turn, or how much of a nervous wreck I was on the bus ride there. It’s bizarre for me when things actually go well, and the entire thing still seems very surreal to me. So during January, I spent a week in Long Island crashing at a friend’s house and I met with six survivors at Temple Judea in Manhasset.

Temple Judea actually has a Holocaust Memorial center filled with artwork and videos. It’s very lovely, and most of my interviews were conducted in there. The interviews themselves were fairly low budget on my part. I used my laptop to record the testimonies and my smart phone as a camera. I do wish I could’ve used better equipment, but that was really all I had.

I also meant to sketch the survivors, but I found their stories so fascinating that I found it hard to do anything besides listen. I was also a little too terrified.


Portraits of deceased children

If I had to sum up what surprised me the most, it would probably be just how different everyone’s experiences were and how very human everyone seemed. They all had different voices, mannerisms. I think when I’ve read testimonies in the past, they all seemed to blend together in one voice and one chorus.

Hearing them in person was an entirely different experience. It’s also notable to me that so many of them were just like any other grandparent, many of them reminded me of my own. If you’d passed them in the street you’d have no idea what they’d experienced. During the interviews a lot of them joked, shared stories of their grandchildren, and one spoke fondly of her cats. In a very touching gesture, one even fed me iced tea and cookies.

I was very honored to be able to experience what I did, and it’s strikingly sad to me that the next generation won’t be able to hear in person testimonies. I highly recommend you go out to one if you haven’t already, because the opportunities are becoming increasingly limited.

So what have I been doing back at home? For the most part, struggling with my rocky health and schoolwork. But I was fortunate enough to unofficially audit a graduate level class on Holocaust testimony (officially called “Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature; Testimony: Trauma, History, and Narratives of Witness”).

I also kept an eye out for any Holocaust related events. In a strange turn, I’ve also ended up in the school paper a couple times because of my appearances. During Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a local Jewish non profit called Hillel was holding a ceremony with a survivor speaking.

Since I seriously regret not sketching the survivors in Long Island, I called ahead of time to see if I could sketch and record him as he spoke. His granddaughter in the office gave her consent. I also met the survivor and his wife a few minutes before the the event, and they were very kind about the whole thing.


It was actually a lot easier to sketch someone speaking to a crowd. Takes the pressure off a bit. I wasn’t sure how long he was planning to speak, so I kept it simple and monochrome. He spoke for around half an hour, and I finished up just as he was done.

I suppose my Korean sketching self stuck out like a sore, sore thumb. I was probably one of the only (if not the only) non Jewish people in the room. A journalist from the school paper asked me a couple questions about the presentation, and I mentioned I was working on a project (the article is here). Thought that was the end of that, but around Israel week at my school, the same reporter contacted me to see if I’d do an article featuring my project. I was terribly flattered (that one’s here).

So how are things at the moment? I’m still figuring a few things out. Working to see if funding is a possibility. Unfortunately I keep getting spikes of illness, and that’s put a major damper on my progress. But I’m taking my second gap year to try to fix myself up, so I’m anxious to get to work again.

Hopefully I’ll be able to share more of what I’m doing on here. Wish me luck! Please contact me for any leads, tips, or if possible any Holocaust survivors who wouldn’t mind sharing their stories with me. I also appreciate positive vibes.




It’s come to my attention that my life drawing skills are pretty rusty. I can draw from photographs well enough, but it’s been difficult for me to to sketch portraits from life. Maybe it’s the pressure or the anxiety of it all. Or because photos don’t get fidgety.

So far I’ve been experimenting with what materials and techniques work best for me. I’ve found that while pen is great for my landscape sketching, I don’t seem to be at that level where I can work as confidently in that for portraits.

What’s been working well for me is watercolor pencil. I’ve been making a loose sketch in Indigo that I dissolve with a water brush. Depending on how much time I have, I might do a dry layer of the Indigo before I sharpen up everything with black. I’ll also wash a colored background to keep everything from looking too generic. I think sometime soon I’m going to start experimenting with more colors instead of just doing a monochrome study.

It’s been interesting so far since I’m used to relying on strict lines so heavily and I get flustered at the early loss of control. But I’m sure there’s a useful life lesson in there somewhere that I’m learning, albeit subconsciously.

At the very top is one of my suite mates Ebony. She was doing her homework when I called her out of her room, so she worked across from me at the living room table. I sketched her as she glared at her senior thesis on her laptop. I wanted to bring a bit more attention to the top of the page, so I splashed some red in for her new hair, and put the slightest touch on her lips. I think it worked well enough.


Little watercolor metal pan sets with good quality paint are one of my greatest weaknesses, and it seems as though manufacturers get more and more clever at popping them out.

Relatively recently, Sennelier came out with a new formulation for their watercolor paints to have a honey base, similar to the M. Graham paints I love so much. I’ve never used Sennelier’s previous formula, but hardly anyone seemed to rave about them so I didn’t pay them much mind. I bought this cute little tin for my birthday last year to see if it was anything worth fussing over.

And what nice paints! They’re very eager to please and reactivate. With even the slightest dab of my brush, the paint explodes into juicy, crystal clear washes. I feel silly saying this, but these paints weirdly seemed so French and romantic to me. Like I couldn’t get the image of 19th century France with someone along the Seine. Honey must do a big thing in watercolor formulas since the extra richness is definitely noticeable. Strangely, I’ve also noticed that they seem to have more of a tendency towards back runs and textures though M. Graham’s honey formulation smoothens out the washes to avoid this.


In a gesture I most appreciate, the paints included are listed in the back with the swatch, pigment information, opacity level, and the lightfastness. Very handy, saves me a spot time. The free brush is too small to really be of any use to me, so I’ve never used it. I’d rather use a waterbrush anyway when I’m on the go.

I surprisingly don’t mind the palette. I usually don’t care for having pigments selected for me, but I found the choices very sensibly made. For quick sketching you really don’t need very much to get your point across, and I haven’t yet found myself too limited by it.

I like nontoxic, lightfast, and transparent colors when I’m sketching, and for the most part I didn’t find any color particularly unnecessary. Except for the Pthalo Green Light. I don’t mind it too much, but perhaps a Yellow Ochre would’ve been a better option for landscapes. I also found myself longing for a rose paint with a cold bias. Maybe a nice Quinacridone.

The Payne’s Gray is especially beautiful. A great mixer, it makes wonderful deep silvery greens with the Sap Green provided. It was so lovely I felt drawn to make more monochromatic studies simply to watch the color spread over the paper.

I must say, from a design standpoint I’ve been very impressed with their marketing and packaging. Packaging for me is a pretty big deal, since I personally believe a lack of care in design is usually a good indicator of a potentially poor product. The set itself is very cute and small enough to fit in my pencil case for quick sketches or self induced art therapy.

Anyway, these are great paints and judging from my experiences with this tiny set I might even consider getting some of those excellently priced tubes in the future.



It never ceases to amaze me how often I manage to neglect my blog. What’s currently going on with me is that my health was sort of running away from me, and I shall need to take time off of school again. I’m better right now, but I crashed way too hard in the beginning of the semester and there’s no way I can really remedy that. This is the second time I’m dropping out for illness, and I’m still not entirely sure what’s coming next in either work or academic direction.

In the sketch above, I was actually documenting chest pain and where it was strongest. Even though it was done close to a year ago, it’s still a pretty accurate map of where the discomfort tends to hit.


A Heavy Dose of Nostalgia

I miss Korea terribly. I lived there for a year from 2012 to 2013, and I still have dreams of returning. I miss the dangerously loose cobble stoned streets, the scenery, the museums, and the aroma of the fried street food that always mixed weirdly with the stench of the sewage. I miss being drenched in the language. I miss feeling connected to my heritage. I miss my friends and my church. I also really miss the beautifully run public transportation system (I hate driving).

In some ways it was kind of like the childhood I subconsciously wished I had.

Anyway, I’ve been going over my sketchbooks from the time and remembering what I was thinking or feeling while drawing. I might have posted these before, but whatever. These are better edited anyway.

Here are sketches from one of my favorite cafes called Chocoblossom. I was first introduced to it by a small group leader who actually remembered that I don’t drink coffee. As you might be able to infer from the cafe’s name, it specializes in different flavored hot chocolate and a few desserts. The menu was really short, and the flavors I remember were something like Normal, Bittersweet, Raspberry, Cinnamon, and Mint. The cocoa came in big bowl cups with a flower pattern somehow incorporated in with chocolate sauce. The desserts were some sort of a brownie with ice cream and a banana chocolate croissant thing.

I can’t remember how to get there off the top of my head, but it was somewhere in Shinchon and not too far from Edae. It was also underground, but there was a sign outside the entrance.

The layout of the cafe was memorable for me too. When you enter through the glass door, you can see a floor level seating area. There were lots of cups stacked behind the cashier and I remember the refrigerator in the back with different kinds of dessert ingredients. There were also two sets of stairs for higher seating.


The stairs at the direct opposite of the entrance lead you to a long, couch like plush area where you can cuddle with stuffed animals or friends under blankets. Here I drew a sort of birds eye view of the cashier. I threw in my feet too because they fit. To the right were more steps that lead to a bathroom. There was also that gray half wall on the left that I think was there for safety, and there were some iron bars fencing us in too.


If you scoot your vision over to the left corner, you can see a more private closed off seating area. There’s also the neon green exit sign to the right. I didn’t finish sketching the guy because he got up to leave a few minutes after I started drawing him. You can still see a bit of the gray half wall at the bottom.


But if you sit where the aforementioned boy was sitting and you turn around, you have a good view of the chandelier and the plush sitting area I was just talking about. Here’s a girl talking to her friend while hugging a pillow. You can also see a giant teddy bear with a Santa hat partially obscured by a blanket in the back.

You can also see the chandelier. It reminded of some spider’s web or an egg sac. If you’ve read Coraline by Neil Gaiman, it was kind of like how I imagined the container of the two fake neighbor ladies from near the end of the book. But less creepy.

Some of my favorite moments were just people watching. Since this was nearby two major universities (Yonsei University and Ewha Womans University), it seemed like a popular spot for blind dates.

Once I remember a girl loudly saying to her date, “You don’t speak English well? Don’t you care about your future?!”

The date ended shortly after.


If I’m ever fortunate enough to return to Seoul, I’d love to go back again. But I wouldn’t be too surprised if the cafe wasn’t there anymore. Shops seemed to close down and get replaced very often while I was there.

I suppose that’s life in a major city.



The Hunger Games


In honor of the latest Hunger Games film and as a relief for my ever increasing sanity slippage (finals are nigh), I completed a brief portrait of Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games is very near and dear to my heart ever since I started the reading the series in high school. While the writing is very basic, the story is gripping and most people I’ve met were unable to put down the books until they finished. It’s a pretty short, fast read. I haven’t seen Mockingjay yet, but I feel as though I have an emotional obligation to, so that’s where I’ll be once school lets out for the semester.

The heroine Katniss was one of the characters I resonated most strongly with. If we exclude the fact that she is exceptionally skilled, my high school self was pretty similar to her in terms of personality. My brief thoughts on the films so far is that Jennifer Lawrence is excellent in the role, and she was my top choice out of all the actresses who auditioned. I enjoy watching her as Katniss so much that I’m almost willing to excuse the fact that she seems to have no chemistry with either of the male leads. This is also a tricky complaint to type out, but I thought everyone looked a little too well fed to be in a starving dystopia. Like I’m all for loving your body, but it breaks the illusion a bit.

And any scene involving a group of people doing that three finger salute? Makes me weep salty tears on the inside.


I don’t know who came up with the brilliant idea of combining watercolor paints and colored pencils, but it’s an excellent one ranking just behind lemon bars in my mind. Back when I still new to watercolor and endlessly frustrated with it, I was ecstatic at finding watercolor pencils to mimic the effects I wanted. I was using student grade pencils for a while, and I was slightly peeved at the severe lack of intense color. But luckily for me, I came across the Faber-Castell Albrecht Durers while researching better options. They’re very versatile tools and quite a joy to use. I was amazed at how easily they dissolved into very rich paint with just a few wet brushstrokes. The color that comes out is extremely lush, and I sometimes have to resist the temptation to use them wet only so that I can witness this marvelous occurrence. I also very much appreciate that these pencils are very sturdy and often survive my clumsy accidents of knocking them onto the floor. Pair them with a water brush, and maybe a pan set, and you’re good to go for some cheap and easy sketching.

The portraits above were experiments of mine with the pencils. For the left, I did a light Indigo under painting to act as a base for skin colors used dry. I feel like I’ve seen Old Master drawings in museums that use that technique, though I can’t recall any specific names (so much for my Art History minor).

The portrait on the right was a bit more complex. For this I layered washes of orange, pink, and blue to mold the face. Then I used the pencils dry for hatching effects on the skin and hair. I also wanted the person to stick out more, so I dissolved the pencil marks on the shirt and background. The background was the same orange as the skin to bring about some visual unity.

One thing I’ve noticed while using them dry is that they don’t give off a shine like regular colored pencils. Wax based pencils usually have a “bloom,” and oil based pencils have a less noticeable shine. While I definitely won’t rule out using regular colored pencils on top of watercolor, the watercolor pencils seemed to layer a bit more naturally on top.

I bought the 24 count set along with a few skin tones and extra colors I like. I’ve found that it’s all I really need at the end of the day, though I wouldn’t mind a larger set sometime in the future. I would recommend these pencils for people who were as intimidated as I was by watercolor for less of a jump into the medium. Or for people who like to mix media, these are great in combination with other water based paints. I have also heard that some people enjoy using them with gesso, though I haven’t tried that. But I have used them dry with wet gouache, and the two worked together surprisingly well.

Even though I’m comfortable enough with regular watercolors now, these are still very enjoyable for me to use. In fact, I find them so satisfactory that I don’t really feel an urge to try other brands (though in all honesty I’ll probably cave in one day).