Thursday, September 18, 2014

Making Your Own Pan Colors--not, this time, from scratch, though!*

This is my old repurposed Prang box, filled with colors of my choice and refilled whenever I like from tube paints.
How about a nice how-to post this afternoon?  We all love our gear, our art supplies, but I love to feel free to make my own combinations and choices.  When you buy a palette or watercolor box with colors already in it, they may be what you want, they may not.  In most cases, for me, the answer is most definitely not.
I've posted this before...the first color, from the top, is lifted from the dry paint, the second after spraying with clear water.  Quite the difference, eh?

It’s really easy to do, and have the colors you want in your paint box...I believe it’s even a bit less expensive, too.  I was told by one company that their paints weren’t meant to be used this way, they weren’t formulated to re-wet, but I say a resounding “nonsense!”  I’ve been doing it for 40 years...

That said, some colors or brands DO re-wet more readily.  Horadam Schmincke works well, as does Daniel Smith...but as I say, I’ve used Winsor & Newton for decades and they work beautifully for me. 

You just need to spray with clear water a minute or so before beginning to paint.  (Yes, that makes a huge difference, as you can see above.)

Lovely as M. Graham paints are, they tend NOT to set up well, under some conditions and in humid conditions, since they use honey as a binder.  They may run or “drool” for you, as do other paints that use honey, so you may wish to reserve them for studio work unless you live in the desert.  And mind you, your mileage may vary!

Oh and further simplification...this little set went to live with an old friend...

If your palette box already has divisions, you can just squeeze however much paint into each one that you want...fill them all the way, just put a dab, or fill halfway, it’s up to you--that's what I do with my folding plastic travel palettes, of course.  If it’s a paint I use often, I tend to fill it up.

You can also buy empty half or full pans, made of plastic.  They’ll either fit directly into your palette divisions, as in some of the older style of metal watercolor boxes, or you can stick them down with rubber cement or magnets, so you can re-position them.

Jerry’s Artarama has them:

Kremer Pigments has them here: (full pans) (half pans)

 Cheap Joe’s has them here: (full pans)

Or try your local art supply store!

(The most difficult thing is figuring out how they’re listed on the site!  “Empty full pans” sounds weird...)

Start in the corners first and then the middle...the paint will shrink as it dries.  You may wish to fill partway, let it set up, then finish filling to minimize cracking. 

Allow the paints to set up for at least 24 hours to several days, so they won’t travel when you take them out in the field.

Of course you CAN order pans already full and choose the colors you want--Holbein, Schmincke, Yarka, Kremer, Winsor & Newton and others offer these.  Prices may range from just under $5 to around $15 or more for a half pan, depending on the pigment and the brand; and I prefer full pans anyway, so I can get a larger brush in there!

I love being able to reload again and again from a single tube of paint, AND to fill the pan with as much or as little as I want.  If I'm just trying out a color, a little bit is good--if I'm trying to save on overall weight of my gear, that's an issue, too.

Give it a try, what have you got to lose?  Particularly if you have tube paints on hand and a palette crying out to be filled and taken out in the field!

* I AM looking forward to Nick Neddo's new book,  due out in early 2015, The Organic Artist: Make Your Own Paint, Paper, Pigments, Prints and More from Nature


  1. I really liked the WN Cotman set I used for SBS 1. I like the Koi set I started SBS 2 with, but gave it to my niece. I picked up a mix of WN, QoR, and a couple other tubes to fill a cheap palette. They don't seem to have the same harmony as the sets, when using straight or mixing. They seem to go to gray or brown a lot quicker. I am tempted to save for WN pan paints (not Cotman).

    1. How strange, really? What brands did you get?

    2. Somehow my list disappeared yesterday. Try again:

      Winsor & Newton
      Winsor Yellow, Winsor Red, Quin Magenta, French Ultramarine, Hooker's Green, Burnt Sienna, White Gouache (all found on clearance, after reading John Muir Laws' recommendations)

      Sennelier: Yellow Light (on sale)

      Utrecht: Phthalo Blue (on sale)

      QoR: Transparent Pyrrole Orange, Cobalt Teal, Dioxozine Purple,
      (from chroma set on sale, with coupon)

      I think maybe I just have too many colors for a beginner. Also, I put them in a cheap plastic palette, and might have better luck mixing on the butcher's tray, which I really like.
      (I want to try Da Vinci, which Jane Blundell recommended, since can't get Daniel Smith locally, but am waiting for a sale.)

      In tubes, not yet used:
      QoR Quin Magenta,Quin Gold, Green Gold, Burnt Sienna
      Sennelier Phthalo Blue (vert)

      The other change is that I went from the cheaper, ringbound Strathmore visual journal to the more expensive 500 series mixed media one, which seemed to change the way the paint looked after it dried on the page.

    3. It's getting better. My latest hypothesis is that the different binder in the QoR paint may be part of the issue....

    4. Thanks for the feedback! (I just now saw it, siiigh...)

    5. My new hypothesis is that I don't understand selecting a good, balanced, well-spaced spectrum of pigments, which is the beauty of the Cotman set.

  2. Kate- do you know of any sources in the Kansas City area to buy empty pans? I've checked Keith Coldsnow and Artists & Craftsman Supply with no luck. I'd rather buy local, and of course would also like to not pay for shipping.

    1. I don't, I'm sorry. Dick Blick might have them since they bought out Utrecht...I haven't been there for a while!

    2. I tried them as well - no luck. Online it will be! ( bet I can come up with another few extras to "even out" the shipping.)

    3. Well fooey, Sue, sorry! I wonder if we could ask the local Blick to get them in?

  3. Great post! (as usual!) I too have refilled and re-wet, etc. my paints to suit my needs and painterly desires and love how you called 'nonsense!' on the 'not suited for re-wetting. :) Art supplies are to be pushed and tried and molded to each of our needs, yes? We must forever be trying new things!

    1. Indeed, Amy! And since this was a company I had been using for YEARS, I knew it was nonsense.


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