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Monday, March 5, 2012

Making Your Own Pan Paints

Making Your Own Pan Paints

I get asked about this, occasionally--and just recently on the free Strathmore class I'm teaching, so I thought I'd do a dual-duty post!

Some artists like to squeeze out fresh tube paints every time they work--I've always been sort of the frugal type, and prefer to re-wet my colors till they're all gone, whether in my studio--on my big beloved old John Pike Standard Palette!--or in my traveling watercolor boxes.  I've re-wet paints that have been on that palette for 15 years, with no problem...

You can buy paint in pans, of course (though it's much easier to find half pans than full, no idea why) but it's a piece of cake to make your own.  I love my old standby, Winsor & Newton.

It’s really easy to do, and have the colors you want in your paint box, as well as to refill them any time they get low...I believe it’s even a bit less expensive, too.

I was told by one company that their tube paints weren’t meant to be used this way, they weren’t formulated to re-wet as the commercial pan colors are, but I say “nonsense!”  I’ve been doing it for 40 years...

DO spray or drip water on your pans of paint a bit before you're ready to work...it makes all the difference, as you can see below!

Click to find this illustration here to see what a different spritzing a minute or two before you're ready to paint can MAKE in how rich your colors are. I list all the color names there...

That said, some colors or brands DO re-wet more readily than others.  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.  They're still my go-to brand for most colors.

(Lovely as M. Graham paints are, they tend NOT to set up well under some conditions, since they use honey as a binder.  They may run or “drool” for you...)

So what's next...

If your palette box already has divisions, like the little one above, you 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.  (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, so you can re-position them.  Most palettes will allow you to use a combination of full and half pans, if you like...I use half pans for those colors I use less often, or that I want to experiment with before making permanent additions to my repertoire!

This is my ancient Winsor & Newton dinosaur, being rehabbed now to remove the rust!  I've used it for decades, and it's traveled all over the country. You can see it will take full or half pans held in place by bent metal strips.

Finding Empty Pans

Daniel Smith has the empty plastic pans here: http://www.danielsmith.com/Item--i-050-050-001 (full pans) or here http://www.danielsmith.com/Item--i-285-240-003 (half pans)

Jerry’s Artarama has them: HERE

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...)

I've learned it may work best to start in the corners first and then fill the middle...and be aware, the paint will shrink as it dries.  You may wish to fill partway, let it set up, then finish filling to minimize cracking. (If your paint pops out of the plastic pan, just re-wet the back of the mound of paint and press it back into place, or use a dot of gum arabic as "glue.")

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..  Then when you’re ready to paint, simply spray or drip clean water on the pans for easily-lifted, intense color, as in the illustration above.

NOTE: I was able to find a few extra vintage watercolor boxes which I've put in my eBay store...check 'em out, they're FUN.

* If you'd like, take a peek at my Flickr set of watercolor boxes and palettes.  Lots of ideas here, including my favorite Prang box re-hab, above!  (I've refilled those pans 3-4 times since I shot those photos, and both my Prang palettes now have a few half pans for incidentals.  They've traveled clear across country with me.  I think using the same old metal palettes I had when I was a kid frees up something in my soul!)

And if you'd like to see a video on making your own palette boxes, it's here:


  1. such a great post !
    any advice on where to get tube and half pans of Horadam Schmincke ? art by dominique at yahoo dot com or i will look back here. Thank you so much

  2. This is so helpful, thanks for all this good info... I agree, I have rewet my tube/pan colors for years with no problem. I don't see any need to buy ready made pan paints.

  3. Thank you both! Dominique, here's one source: http://www.aswexpress.com/discount-art-supplies/watercolors-and-gouache/schmincke/horadam-aquarell.html I just Google when I have a question like that, that's how I found them this time! Piece of cake...

  4. I have found Rembrandt paints re-wet well too.

  5. Was the last box on the video a schminke box? I like how it has a fold out mixing pallet. I love your online class and I will watch any other video you make. You are so helpful and I just adore the way you draw and paint and make your clever little paint boxes. Thank you!!!

  6. It's really so much fun to create a box of watercolors for every eventuality...a tiny one to stick in your purse or bag to carry on the plane...a small field set to carry on hikes... a "silent" one for concert sketches...

    And, to see every empty metal or plastic box as a potential for a paint box, like for instance the metal Rotring Artpen cases. They make great little gifts for new journalkeepers or sketchers, too. One tip I have discovered from trial and error: when the paint dries in a plastic palette and pops out of its section, it's helpful to rough up the plastic with sandpaper or a craft knife--the paint will then stick to the uneven surface better.

  7. Thank you so much for this video. Very informative! I'm also enjoying your Strathmore class although I can hardly wait for the next session. Thank you also for the bonus video you posted; I really appreciate your hard work in giving us so much of your time and knowledge. As many others have also said, your teaching style is very relaxed and encouraging.

  8. Thanks for posting this - I will add a link to this on my site as people ask me often.
    did you see/ have you tried putting pans in oven on 50C for one hour. I am really happy with the results.(some colours need longer)

  9. Maria, thanks for the tip! It DOES happen...and Liz, you're welcome! No, I haven't tried that, just waiting a day or two usually does it for me, but not with M. Graham honey-based paints. I wonder if that would make them usable in a travel palette? They're lovely paints...

    And Ambal, thank you, and you're welcome!

  10. Thank you, very enjoyable and inspirational.

  11. I use M. Graham watercolors in my homemade travel sets, and haven't had any problems with drooling. They take longer to set than W&N (I let mine dry for a week) but once they're absolutely luscious. They rewet beautifully, and behave well in the field.

  12. Thanks, Elaine, I may have to give them another try! I've heard others say they eventually set up for them.

    I got some of the first ones, I wonder if they may have changed their formlation a bit. My home made pans are still pretty tacky...

  13. This is a FABULOUS post!!! I have a Prang tin just waiting to be altered... also have the empty pans! What colors are in your Prang palette you have pictured?

  14. It's lots of fun, Emie...I think I feel like a kid again! I think the colors are in my Flickr set, sorry I don't have time to dig 'em out right now...http://www.flickr.com/photos/cathy-johnson/sets/72157604173444404/

    1. Thanks..... off to check out the link!!!!!

    2. Great Vid. Thank you. I'm pretty tight on a budget and i found some of my old Asthma inhaler caps, slightly oval and quite deep. They fit perfect in my Altoids tin. Just going to glue magnets to the bottom then done.
      Also enjoyed your Flickr on WC.

    3. diabloblade, that sounds terrific! And glad you enjoy it...by the way, I use a dot of rubber cement instead of magnets, it's lighter weight.

  15. Very hard to hear anything in this video.

    1. Sorry, there's volume on your computer and also on the bottom of the page at lower left. Maybe one of those got turned down? It's really normally loud....

  16. Thanks, Cathy! Can you please share how to remove rust? I have the same problem with my metal boxes.

  17. I scraped, sanded, and used my Dremel tool's wire brush, then sprayed with appliance enamel.

  18. Thanks you! I use sennelier tubes and was wanting to create a travel pan, I did wonder about the honey as they use more off it in the tubes than the pan. I think I'll just purchase a set of pans for this. So glad I didn't waste my paints!


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