“I’m New to Watercolor: a paint palette? What???”

A question was asked recently about some of the tools (and terms) I use. Paint palettes specifically, so I’ll address that first. A palette may refer to a group of colors we are using (color palette), or the dish on which we mix those colors (palette tray), or a container used to hold our paints (palette pan). I generally just use the term palette for any of those, so I can see how it might get confusing, but am most often talking about a palette pan. And yes, I have a ridiculous number, because I’m still trying to figure out exactly what tools and paints I like best. You’ll see some of my things are purchased, some are… repurposed.

So first…because it’s short and sweet…. palette trays:

I’ve tried metal, plastic, and ceramic. Ceramic, all the way. Yep. The paint doesn’t bead, it spreads out and you can see it well against the white. You see there a square Pampered Chef luncheon plate, a big deviled egg tray, a little rectangular sauce dish, and my most used, the ceramic flower shape. Ignore the green… sometimes I leave the paint there for the next time I paint. I’ve included the link for the flower shaped one, but they are half that price if you can find them at an art supply store. But really, pretty cheap either way. I have two of those I use. There are lots of ceramic shaped larger ones I’d be interested in getting, but I’m not willing to pay for them quite yet. (I do like this one, though, because it has a lid, and it’s only $12, but it is very tiny. Also Amazon says i could have it tomorrow, which I find cool.)

Okay… go get a snack and meet me back here for info on paints, and paint palette pans or boxes. It will be lengthy. Prepare yourself for too much information.

I definitely suggest once you KNOW you love watercolor and want to try it for a while, invest in great paints, paper, and a few good brushes. But if you don’t have the money for expensive paints, you can make beautiful art and really express yourself on a shoestring budget. Here are some of my supplies…

This is one of my favorites right now, my Sennelier set, and I could almost stop here, I like it so much. But I won’t:

The above link will take you to the 24 pan set, which is $90 right now on Amazon. I purchased the 18 pan set for $60, but can’t find it right now. The 18 pan set on Amazon is $82 plus $7 shipping, so… for a dollar more you can get 6 extra pans!! $80 is a pretty good deal for this set, I think. (and I love these paints, rich and creamy, lift easily off paper, wet with very little water and come right off their pans… so nice to use. They don’t seem to run together as loosely and quickly as my Daniel Smith paints do, but I think they are dreamy.) These are half pans. I prefer whole/full pans. But that would put these way out of my price range! As to the actual palette box… I LOVE it. The white enamel inside is very white, no blue tinge (like my Meeden box), and allows me to really see the colors I’m mixing, and the colors don’t bead and pool into little difficult drops like in my Meeden pan. There’s plenty of mixing space, and both covers lay flat. This set feels luxurious. Buy this one, if you can. Or the next one I list (which is a more affordable way, short term, because you can go one color at a time, and offers larger pans, a big plus for me)

So, that’s a palette pan, or box, holding my paints…with palette tray, right? To mix colors on? Containing my color palette. Get it?

Next is my Meeden palette pan with my Daniel Smith paints:

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Do not assume because I like my Sennelier palette better, I feel less strongly about this Meeden set. I think it is a tremendous deal. For like $13 on Amazon you get a really nice metal tin and 12 FULL pans. Yes, these are full pans. Full sized EMPTY pans… no paint. I like to be able to use a larger brush without getting it just everywhere. I’m pretty messy. Meeden offers different sizes, larger and smaller, and they offer with or without full or half pans. Really nice prices and a good selection.

And, the Daniel Smith paints are amazing. Here is a really nice Daniel Smith set for just $23, plenty of colors to mix really anything you need, without being overwhelming! These are little tubes, and you can use them wet, on a palette tray, or put them in pans and let them dry, and use them from there. I don’t like to use them right out of the tube as much as allowing them to dry in these pans and use them that way. Both the Daniel Smith and the Sennelier are high quality, professional grade paints. Buy this one, and Daniel Smith, if you don’t buy Sennelier. I might try the largest one (24 full pans or 48 half pans) if I were to do it again. But really twelve colors is plenty. PLENTY.

Next is my Prima watercolor set. These have four different sets. Tropical is a nice set, and is only about $13 right now on Amazon, where the other three are $15 and $20, so it’s a good one to try.

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This pan is nice, like the Meeden I’d assume (which is about $10 with no paint). I actually took one of mine apart, popped the pan holder bit off of the inset, and use it as an extra mixing tray. I’ve added two extra pans in here and have my favorites from all three sets, but I did at one time have 21 half pans in here (two many choices, it turns out.) I keep a tiny pencil and little collapsible travel brushes in here, and a page I swatched the colors out on, then laminated. This palette is tiny and extremely useful. The Prima paints are vivid and fun to use, but don’t use names like the other sets (you’ll have to figure out which is most like ultramarine, for example), and don’t give pigment or lightfast information, so I assume they are a more student grade. Bright though! So I really don’t know about fillers and additives. And they wet really nicely.

Next up… my new Windsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers set. At about $13 (incl shipping), this set gives quality and a great starter selection: two reds, two blues, two yellows, some useful earthy colors, and white. With a cute tiny plastic palette box. And a really adorable, quality  W&N travel brush (teensy). I already had one, and paid eight bucks for it (incl shipping). So not a bad deal at all.

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These are quality paints, but several are “hues” (you know because it says so in their paint name) which real artists seem to look down on (probably with reason, but I’m not experienced enough to know), and a few are difficult to moisten. You can see from my swatches, though, that really they are quite vivid, and this offers a GREAT selection of colors for someone just starting out. FOR THIRTEEN BUCKS!!! DID I MENTION THAT!?? You’ll still need a larger brush or two, but it’s a nice set. Gives you a really good “color palette” within your paint palette to start with. 🙂 You can pretty much mix anything you need with these.

I use this Art Bin palette right now for my M Grahams. I don’t have many M Graham colors. (although REALLY, you only need a few!!) I love that the pan has a magnetic bottom so my little square metal trays stay in place. And I have multiple shapes and sizes of trays. I like that they allow a larger brush than the half pans. I don’t like how shallow they are, although really that hasn’t been a problem. I think I got this from Cheap Joes, but I’m not certain. It was like seven bucks. In the end, eventually, I probably won’t use this one. But I still like it, and will use it for something else, if not paints.

Next: A velamints tin is perfect for the 3 new Qor paints I have, plus I added two daniel smiths to take with me yesterday, gamboge and sepia. I put magnets on the bottoms of the pans. It’s tiny, for carrying, and the inside was already white, perfect for mixing!

I cut down a pencil and some brushes to fit, added the windsor & newton teensy detail brush, and added a little eraser. Perfect little tin to take with me. So really, for very little money you have enough here to start with. 🙂

Here’s a sweet little bitty tin a friend sent me, to sample some M Graham paints:

(I’m using one color in another set right now) These are half pans. With magnets added.

Look, I found these little empty divided eyeshadow boxes to try, for maybe a dollar on eBay :

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And I bought these for a dollar and emptied out the eye shadow:

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(They work pretty nicely, really, if you don’t care about a white mixing area or a place for brushes)

This is a big eyeshadow holder from eBay for $2…

I’ve filled it with some old student tubes I’d had for so long that several completely dried out, so really I may not often use these. But it’s a fun, cheap option. I painted the inside of the cover with white enamel to provide a mixing surface.

And this tin I found for a dollar is hinged, large, and already white inside!!! This will be great to hold full pans, with magnets on the bottom, and full sized brushes.

Really you can use so many different things. I started out with this for my first cotman paints but now it holds some M Graham full pans, with magnets on them:

One final paint set I haven’t shown you:

The popular Gansai Tambi set. This box is huge, so you need room on your workspace. I LOVE the huge size of these pans, and it is why I tried the set to start with. The paints themselves are nice… they wet smoothly and quickly and have bright colors. Four or five of them aren’t lightfast (according to someone online who spent a year testing them) and they offer no pigment or lightfast rating information. Still, for $30, this is a nice set for someone just playing around with paint!

So as you can see, I’ve tried a lot, but there are a LOT of really cool palette trays (for mixing paints) and palette pans or boxes (for storing and mixing) out there still. 🙂

I’m SO happy with my Meeden and my Sennelier right now. The metal ones are definitely my favorite. I  love the small metal Prima box (Meeden also has one that size) and now my newest and cheapest travel buddy, the Velamint tin I got from my mother. If I were to start over and choose only one, I’d go with either the Sennelier palette and paints, or the Daniel Smith tubes and the (largest) Meeden palette box. (I haven’t yet decided… probably the Daniel Smith set) And of course the ceramic palette flower dish.

Questions?

(edited to add: YES! You can definitely use most tubes of watercolor paint to fill your own pans, like the little white ones or the flat metal ones I have photos of… they dry and you just wet them like you would a set of dry watercolor paints. Windsor & Newton is the only company I know of that specifically states their pans and tubes are different formulas, and not to use their pans that was. But honestly, as I’ve read artist’s forums, most of those artists agreed that they did it with W & N tubes for years with no problems. Daniel Smith paints do great this way. M Grahams are made with honey as their binder, and they don’t ever FULLY harden, but you can still do it with them, just know they will always be at least a little sticky. Mine are just sticky to touch. Some people say they still flow a bit, though slowly, in their pans.)

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4 thoughts on ““I’m New to Watercolor: a paint palette? What???”

  1. OMG!!! This is sooooo helpful! I learned a lot from this, and probably more then you planned on. I didn’t even know that you could make the little pans with color in them. This is huge for me. THANK YOU!!! I already saved this page so I can refer to it.Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh good!! I wasn’t sure I was really saying what you needed to hear. I’ve edited the post to include this:”YES! You can definitely use most tubes of watercolor paint to fill your own pans, like the little white ones or the flat metal ones I have photos of… they dry and you just wet them like you would a set of dry watercolor paints. Windsor & Newton is the only company I know of that specifically states their pans and tubes are different formulas, and not to use their pans that was. But honestly, as I’ve read artist’s forums, most of those artists agreed that they did it with W & N tubes for years with no problems. Daniel Smith paints do great this way. M Grahams are made with honey as their binder, and they don’t ever FULLY harden, but you can still do it with them, just know they will always be at least a little sticky. Mine are just sticky to touch. Some people say they still flow a bit, though slowly, in their pans.”

      I hope that helps?

      Like

  2. Yes, that does. Unfortunately, I just packed all the paints, in preparation of moving. I guess it’s just something to look forward to when I get moved and unpacked.

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    1. Good attitude! Yes, you can order yourself a palette box (OR just pans, and use a tin of your own OR even just use an old eyeshadow holder) and have a great time once you are settling in! (If you get desperate to paint now, you could buy the $13 Cotman set… it has every color you need! Or even the mini daniel smith set and a palette box… I’ll go link the daniel smith tubes as well.)

      Like

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