Sunday, 5 July 2015

Filling pans, half pans and palettes with watercolour

I have written about partially filling palettes so you leave some space for mixing in the pan or palette, but I am often asked about how to fill pans or half pans or palette wells with watercolour. It isn't difficult to do but there are a couple of tips that will help you to get the best results.

Before you start filling pans, half pans or palettes, you will have decided which colours you are using so I won't go into that here. I'll talk about half pans/pans in this post as that is the system many use.

First of all, shake the tube well. Some colours separate in the tube and the tubes may have been stored for a while. Hold your fingers of one hand at the bottom of the tube, on the widest part, ready to gently squeeze as you take the lid off just in case the paint comes out suddenly - you can gently give the tube a squeeze and effectively suck it back in again.

Squeeze a little paint into your pan. If you notice some gum arabic coming out, shake again. Once you are ready, squeeze the watercolour into the corners of the pan and half-fill. Stir the paint with a toothpick or a blunt needle (something fine will not waste the paint) and allow to dry. Once dry, fill the rest of the pan, not completely to the top but close to and stir again. Allow to dry, in a well aired place - like a windowsill. Don't close the palette. I tend to allow to dry leaving the pans at an angle (see my other post here) but that is up to you. Depending on how dry the environment is, it make take a couple of days or a week to prepare pans of watercolour.

Most companies use the same formula for their watercolour whether they are making pans or tubes, though some only make tubes and some only make pans. Winsor and Newton make both but they use a different formula for each. If you wish to refill a W&N pan or half pan, I find the best way is to add just one drop of glycerine to each half pan of watercolour. I find Art Spectrum watercolours need a little more than 1 drop per half pan. If you are using Cotman student colours you will definitely need to add some glycerine or then will crack and fall out of the pan. Da Vinci don't need any additives - they are incredibly creamy and consistent and dry beautifully. Daniel Smith mostly dry beautifully, though some to the primatek colours could do with a little glycerine. Some of the colours are more liquid from the tube so be careful when squeezing them. If they are more liquid they are more likely to crack as they dry so perhaps pour just a third of a pan at a time.

Some watercolours will crack a bit but not so much that they fall out. Next time you fill them, add a touch of glycerine to overcome this.

Some manufacturers use honey to keep the paints moist - such as M.Graham and Sennelier. I find the M.Graham paints too wet for Australia though as they never fully set. They may be fine in a drier climate. I have never chosen to add a drop of honey to my pans though I suppose you could - I'd be afraid of attracting insects!

Once the pans/half pans are dry you can put them in your palette and get out and paint. I don't tend to spray my watercolours before use, though I know many artists do. I find the Daniel Smith watercolours I use simply don't need it but if you want a more luscious paint you can spray them or add just a drop of clean water to each colour before use. If you play to do that, gently press your finger into each pan before it has fully hardened to make a little dent that will hold the water.

If you are filling palettes directly, you can do it all at once but make sure you squeeze the paint into the corners, not just a squirt in the middle.

I will add photos but also have a look at this excellent post by Brenda Swenson that shows a great travel palette nicely filled with watercolour.


30 comments:

  1. Good article, I really like this article, if you are interested can look at my site zyy

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  2. This post was very helpful as I was in the process of refilling a set for travel. I pour my own Schmincke from the tubes. Thank you for your blog, I just ordered an art Moleskin based on your recommendation and photos of watercolors painted on them. So many watercolor papers bleed! I have always used Canson Ecru. Enjoy your travels!

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    1. Happy travels to you too.
      I have used the Moleskine for a long time and felt they were the perfect watercolour sketchbook, then they changed the paper. The new books are different from the old, so I bought all I could find of the old ones, but it is still a good weight paper and works for watercolour sketching very well. Another brand that works well is Handbook - their watercolour sketchbooks come in a range of shapes and are also lovely to use, though they may be more difficult to find.

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    2. Truly enjoy reading your advices on palette selection, filling and cleaning. Wish I were closer to take a class with you! From Vienna, VA

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    3. I will be a little closer to you in July 2016 (assuming Vienna Virginia not Austria) - I am planning a trip to the East Coast of the US in September 2016. I keep all on my workshops and demonstrations up to date on my website so you can check there. New location suggestions are welcome.

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  3. Helpful post - I just wish it had been up two weeks ago when I made my mini-palettes with 3 primary colours... I didn't do it in stages so mine did pull away from the sides a lot. Ah well, next time!

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  4. Thank you for the post!! I was just googling about making my own travel set of pans. This is wonderful. I currently have AS tubes so maybe i should also get glycerin. So tempted to just purchase a ready made pan, but I would put my current tubes to waste! Thank you for the info! Will have to invest in some glycerin.

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    1. Yes definitely give it a go. The AS tubes may need two drops per half pan but that is a much cheaper option than buying new paints and you get to use the colours you already know :-)

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  5. Thanks for sharing your expertise. I just filled my pans with tube watercolors that all cracked. I haven't used them yet. Should I add more paint now with glycerine right on top of it? Or what do you recommend? Thanks so much!

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    1. What I would do is add a drop or two of distilled water to each pan, allow to soften, then add a drop of glycerine (and a little more paint if there is room) and stir with a toothpick or blunt needle or other fine object. If you are using Cotman watercolour, add 2 drops of glycerine. If you are using Art Spectrum add 2 drops to those that have cracked more. If you are using W&N 1 drop should do it but you'll be able to judge by the amount of cracking you see. Stir well and allow to dry. Next time you refill them, try doing it half at a time for less cracking.

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    2. Thank you so much for your advice Jane! I'm using some old tubes of Reeves. Any idea on 1 or 2 drops for them? The cracking is pretty substantial.

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    3. Then go with two drops of distilled water, then two drops of glycerine. They tend to be quite 'runny' from the tubes I think so there is a lot of water to dry out, hence the cracking.

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  6. Wanted to let you know that I did this and it worked! No more cracks. Thanks again for your helpful advice!!

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  7. Thank you for sharing this. I am getting my tin that holds 48 half pans in a week and ahalf and have been looking up methods for filling the pans with my paint. The tips were really helpful and it might not be quite so difficult for me when I get the tin and half pans.

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  8. I am not really understanding what you are suggesting for the sennelier. Can I just place the tube paints into the pans?

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  9. Thank you for the helpful tips. I have added a drop or two of glycerine along with a drop or two of water to some rock hard, cracked, dried half pan paints and it has brought them back to life. Cheers

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  10. If u use pure honey the insect wont come...but if u use honey that have sugar added in it, then the insect will come

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  11. Can you use glycerine (suitable for vegetarians) that you use for baking, or is it a different type of glycerine? Thanks for your helpful article.

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    1. I believe it's all the same stuff - I get it from a pharmacy, where it is used in skin creams.

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  12. Thanks for the info. My Daniel Smith once dry fall out of my halfs pans. I'm doing something wrong

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    1. That is very unusual. I think the only DS colours I have had any problems with were a couple of primateks as they normally dry out nicely. Maybe you need to shake them before? Or stir them in the pans?

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  13. Thank you for the great info. I'm setting up my palattes and the Holbeins are doing just fine. I'm getting some Schminke tubes, I haven't used those before.
    Do they need a drop of glycerine when filled into pans? Thanks.

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    1. You don't need to add glycerine to Schmincke Watercolours, just shake the tubes, partially fill and stir with a toothpick then allow to dry.

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. Thank you so very much for this article!! Have you had any experience using Daler Rowney and/or Nobel watercolors to make pans?

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