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How To Use Watercolor Pans

Using watercolor sets of pans is a popular choice for many artists due to their portability and ease of use. Here's my basic guide on how to use them:

  1. Materials Needed: You'll need your set of watercolor pans, watercolor paper (preferably 140lb or heavier to prevent warping), a palette for mixing colors (if your set doesn't include one), a container for water, and brushes. Watercolor brushes come in various shapes and sizes, but a good starting point would be a medium-sized round brush and a larger flat brush.

  2. Setting Up Your Workspace: Arrange your materials in a way that's comfortable for you. You might want to have your water, palette, and paints on one side, and your paper on the other. Make sure you have plenty of clean water available for rinsing your brushes.

  3. Wetting Your Pans: Before you start painting, you'll need to activate the paint in the pans by adding several drops of water to each one. Let the water sit for a few minutes to soften the paint.

  4. Mixing Colors: To mix colors, take a clean, wet brush and pick up some paint from one of your pans. Transfer this to a clean spot on your palette and rinse your brush. Then pick up some paint from a different pan and mix it with the first color. You can create a wide range of colors by mixing.

  5. Applying Paint: Wet your brush and pick up some paint. Apply it to the paper. The more water you use, the lighter the color will be. For a darker, more saturated color, use less water. You can also create gradients by applying a lot of water and paint at one end of your paper, and gradually adding less as you move down.

  6. Layering Colors: Watercolor is great for layering. To do this, apply a wash of color and let it dry completely. Then apply a second wash over the top. The colors will blend and create depth.

  7. Cleaning Up: When you're done painting, make sure to clean your brushes thoroughly and let them dry horizontally. If you leave paint in them or let them dry vertically, it can damage the bristles. Also, let your pans dry out before closing the lid to prevent mold.

Remember, watercolor painting is all about practice and experimentation. Don't be afraid to try different techniques, mix colors, and make mistakes. That's all part of the learning process. Happy painting!


Oh, and a quick tip for when you run out of a particular color (for me, it was Forest Green — can't resist those leafy vibes, especially when mixed with a little Dioxazine Purple!), you can easily replace it.

Sennelier French Artists' Watercolor Forest Green 899 refill replacement


You can also snag some empty half pans from Blick and have fun filling them up with your favorite tube colors. The nice thing about these (and full pans) is that they can fit into most palettes, so you can mix and match brands as you like.

a bag of 12 empty watercolor half pans blick brand

Paint on, my friends!


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