Friday, 31 May 2013

The advantages of only partially filling watercolour pans from tubes

Watercolour is available in tube form or in full or half pans. If you buy the filled pans, they will be filled to the top of the pan and most people dig a hole in the pan with their brush over time, damaging their brush and making it more difficult to pick up paint from the pan. I discussed this at a recent colour session with prolific urban sketcher Liz Steel, who said she goes through her sable brushes at an alarming rate, and will try my filling method. I'll share it here.

There are three main advantages of filling empty pans yourself from tubes of paint. The first is that you can leave some space in the pan to create washes of the single colour, and the second is that it makes picking up paint with the brush much simpler. The third is that you can buy tubes rather than filled pans, which may be more economical, and gives you the option of using the fresh paint from the tube if doing really large washes.

I fill pans at one end only, leaving some space at the other end and 'grading' the paint at an angle.

left - a whole pan filled as usual, right a whole pan filled at an angle.
You can see the difference between a 'normal' filled pan on the left and my angled pan on the right.
If you are right-handed, you can naturally pick up the paint with a swipe of the brush without damaging it. Please note also how helpful it is if you label your pans immediately with the colour, brand and pigment number. You really need all three pieces of information to know exactly what you are working with.
Note the natural angle of the brush for a right-hander.
If you  are left-handed, you will have the bulk of the paint on the left.

My palette. This is how a left-hander would use their paints.

I do the same with other forms of palettes. It can be a little fiddly allowing the paint to dry a bit then shaping it if necessary but it is worth it to save your brushes and making painting easier.
part of a palette partially filled for ease of use.
Happy painting!


36 comments:

  1. Now THAT is a cracking idea! Wish I hadn't just filled the pans of my latest palette, LOL.

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    1. There's always next time! You will be amazed how much difference it makes,

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  2. This was eye-opening! I just used this method with my latest palette, and it is SO much easier to load the brush! And I love the little wash of that color that forms in the bottom of the pan. Thank you!!!!!

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    1. Great to hear! It makes your palette functionally larger doesn't it.
      Happy painting!

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  3. Wow, what a game changer! I can't wait to set up all my colors this way. BTW, is that a Craig Young palette?

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    1. You can remove some paint from a full pan with a palette knife to leave the graded shape if you have somewhere to put the extra paint...

      And no it is not a Craig Young palette but similar. It was made by John of littlebrassbox.com from solid brass. He calls it a Robertson style paintbox. I requested 20 colour wells rather than the usual 16 so I can't use pans in it, but I didn't want to! I also have his tiny travel palette with 16 colours. They are gorgeous to use.

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    2. So how do you label the paint in those little boxes, then?

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    3. I label the plastic pans on the outside using a permanent pen. I put the name, pigment number and brand so all the information is there. I sometimes add the series number too.
      For my brass palette there is no where to label them but I am very familiar with my own palette colours so it's not a problem ;-)

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  4. As a beginner, I hope this isn't a silly question... when you fill the palette do the tube WC dry enough to travel without spilling?

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    1. Hi Liz
      It's actually a very good question. You need to choose the right brand to be able to fill your palette and have it dry correctly for travel.

      For example, most student grade watercolours contain too much 'filler' to re-wet well. They may dry up and crack and fall out of the palette. To overcome this you can try adding a tiny drop of honey or glycerine to the colour well and stir it very well, or use Artist quality watercolours.

      In the Artist quality range, some brands re-wet better than others. Even within a brand some colours are better than others. One of the big reasons that I like Daniel Smith watercolours so much is that they dry and rewet well in the palette. Da Vinci does as well, in most colours. Some Winsor and Newton colours rewet well, but W&N recommend that you buy their pan colours for travel rather than using their differently formulated tube colours. The M. Graham colours are lovely but stay so wet that they are difficult to travel with, due to the honey in the formulation. Schmincke colours generally rewet well.

      Depending where you live, some brands may be easier to find than others. I also make up half pans of colours if you want to try some. You can contact me directly at jane@janeblundellart.com if you are interested.

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  5. Great idea.

    I've started using Stephen Quiller colours. Beautiful, transparent and vivid. But they are very wet and not easy to carry around. I have been thinking of getting some kind of leakproof travel palette - maybe one of Malcolm Carver's "star" jobs.

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    1. I'd be interested to know how they compare with M.Graham colours then Rob - they are also gorgeous but stay 'wet' due to the honey component. If ever you feel like doing a paint-out of the Quiller colours and emailing it to me I'd love to see them. jane@janeblundellart.com

      Malcolm's star palette works well for carrying 12colours but is deliberately designed with very little mixing space so you'd probably want some sort of mixing surface too. The star palette does carry a lot of paint (though of course I don't fill it!) and is a very portable size.

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    2. I dropped my Carver palette on the floor and unfortunately several of the triangular covers broke off! I haven't replaced it. While I was using it I also used the inside of an "Illy" coffee container as a mixing area as it's almost the same diameter as Malcolm's palette and has a white plasticised surface. Just held them together with a rubber band.

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    3. The triangular covers help if you are using paint with a lot of honey in it such as M. Graham, and they keep the dust out, but otherwise the palettes work fine without them for storing paint. I have 9 or 10 of them and have only broken one cover so far... The coffee container lid is a great idea.

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    4. I'm going to a short workshop with Stephen Quiller and have been debating with myself whether to spring for his palette. I work on a perfectly flat Corning "Counter Saver" which doesn't work well with his runny paints. I own a Sterling Edwards and a Skip Laurence that I try to like, but I still prefer my Possum Palette with the little plastic cups. Should I spring for the pre-filled palette (that I know is cheap and I will hate) and be done with it, or get a Guerrilla Quiller travel palette instead? It has higher sides and seals to the top. Too many choices and all are expensive.

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    5. The Quiller palettes are designed for using with a palette of bright colours set up in a colour wheel, then mixing your own neutrals from those colours. There isn't really a space for earth pigments. Sadly I wasn't very impressed with his paints - some were ok, many could be much better in hue and strength. If you can set up your own flat Corning with paints that 'match' his colours, you can set them up in the same colour wheel formation but with paints that will dry enough to be portable. His paints can be matched by others in other brands. Even the purples and oranges could be 'premixed' from paints you already own rather than buying his versions. I really don't see the point of buying a palette that costs a lot if you know you won't like it. So make do and enjoy the workshop!

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  6. Hi, I have a tin with empty spaces for half pans. Can you tell me where can I purchase empty half pans to enable me to fill them with tube paints?

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    1. Hi Terry. It depends where you live. Jackson's in the UK ship world wide, Art Scene is Australia stock them. Some companies make them to fit in their own tins so it may also depend on the brand of the tin which it would be best to buy!

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    2. I have just ordered some in the U.S. from Kremer Pigments, which I learned about on Cathy Johnson's blog.

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    3. Arters.com.sg also stock them in Singapore.

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  7. I was doing this and I thought I was being difficult for not following the teacher's instruction and filling the wells. I'm glad I'm not alone.

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    1. It is interesting to note that the manufacturers tend to over-fill pans and half pans, which is great in that you get plenty of paint, but what it means is that most people think that is the best way to have them. If you are using tube paints to fill them yourself you can top up whenever you like so can treat them quite differently. I don't suggest being stingy with the paint, but just giving yourself some extra bonus space in your palette!

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  8. I have a lot of M Graham tubes that I use at home. I realize they are made with honey and runny, but cannot afford to get Daniel Smith until these run out. Is there any way I can travel with them?

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    1. I suspect that if you only put a small amount in your palette and give it time to dry in a well aired place you would be ok to travel with them. Don't spray your palette before painting or anything that will really wet them. And keep in mind that you may just need to top up your palette a little more often. I have not heard of anything you would add to the paint, but do give it a really good shake or even stick a blunt needle into the tube to really stir it up before you squeeze a little into your palette. Keep the palette up the right way. Hope that works for you. They are lovely paints, just a little more tricky for travel.

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    2. I have a lot of M Graham paints and constantly travel with them in a Schmincke tin palette. I had no idea that there could be an issue. Ignorance is bliss! :) I live in the humid, southeast U.S. so I think it is safe to travel with M. Graham paints. I do let them dry for a day or two in the pans before I take them out into the field.

      On another note... Jane, I LOVE the slanted pigment idea. I would think with the lighter colors, this would allow any accidental dirty wash to run away from the bulk of the pigment, keeping the colors clean. I would love if you could show a few photos on how you get that lovely slant. I tried it, and woke up the next morning with all of my paint back to level in my pans. :(

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    3. To create the slant with the runnier MG paints, you would have to partially fill the pans and stir as usual, then allow the pans to set and dry at an angle. Just tip your palette up with something on a windowsill so the whole thing is at an angle. As I find MG paints don't 'dry' completely, it may not be easy to achieve, but give it a go :-)

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  9. maybe a dumb question but how do you fill them? Do you just put paint in it and let it dry on an angle? Or do you just flatten it in its triangular shape?

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    1. There are no dumb questions :-) I fill in just one side but yes, I also let them dry at an angle.
      (By the way, the email address you sent bounced so I have not been able to send a reply to your other questions.)

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    2. Just send you the right one.

      Dries

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  10. 3 more questions. :D
    1) With Daniel smith colors: How long does the drying take?
    2) and do you have to wait untill it's completely dry to use it?
    3)What's your experience with using blockx tubes to refill pans?

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    1. 1) Depends on the weather ;-) but allow a couple of days. Ideally half fill, dry, fill the rest, dry. Dry in an airy place, not in a cupboard. I place them on a north-facing window sill. (South-facing for those of you in the Northern hemisphere)
      2) No you don't have to, but I do. Otherwise if you are not careful you will get a glob of paint on your brush if they are still wet. Tube paint is great for mixing with water and creating strong washes for covering large areas, but as watercolour must be mixed with water, painting from dried paint encourages a better water/paint ratio. So I like them to be dry.
      3) I have only used Blockx tube paints and find some of them difficult to rewet. I would add a drop of glycerine, after shaking the tube very well. The pan colours have been gently heated - perhaps that is the key to making them rewet better, though whether you want to risk heating plastic pans to 35 degrees C is up to you... Alternatively, prewet the filled pans before using them to give them time to reactivate by spraying with a little water.

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    2. I suppose you could put the palette on a hearing pad of you were somewhere with an electric outlet. Or a hot water bottle, but I imagine that would add a circus-like kinetic quality to one's painting experience.

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  11. I've discovered that a Mijello palette it is actually designed to do that. I wish they had a really compact travel one, but I use their 18 well one at home and sometimes when I travel. They have a seal, so if you accidentally left some water somewhere, it might get into the other paints, but it won't get into your bag.

    I just got my son a Cotman travel set. I wonder if we could cut the paint in half crosswise, keep half out, put the other half in...hmmm. I have a very thin tissue blade that might do it without smashing it.

    I'll let you know...

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