Watercolour pans vs. tubes

This is a question that I am asked a lot: is it better to use tubes or pans to build your watercolour palette?

As usual, the answer is never quite straightforward and it really depends on how you use your watercolours the most.

Do you paint large or small? Do you travel a lot, especially by plane? Do you leave your paintings unfinished for ages before picking them up again? Which brand do you use? Are you likely to fall in love with a beautiful colour box that will become part of your inspiration and you won’t be able to sleep if it’s out of sight?

All of these will be a factor in your choice for a new paint box.

Size of paintings

If you like to paint miniatures and small paintings, pans are a good choice. They allow you to pick only a little paint at a time, without wasting huge amount that will wash down the sink.

If you prefer to paint large pictures, forever going back and forth from the pans to the palette in order to mix a sufficient quantity of paint will drive you mad. Squeezing larger amounts of colour on the palette and mixing in wells will work much better.

Travelling

Pan boxes are much more convenient than tube boxes when travelling. Most of them include a palette in the lids, they take less room, they are less messy, more practical and less likely to let you down. Nobody wants to be stuck in the Papua New Guinea rainforest with a tube that won’t open.

If you travel by air, there is another consideration: some airlines won’t accept tube paints because they are likely to burst under pressure changes, leak all over people’s luggage or even explode. Pans are less treacherous.

Attention span

If you start and finish each painting in one go over no more than a couple of weeks, pans and tubes are equally good.

However, if you have the attention span of a butterfly, your mixes might stay on your palette for months (years?) Most manufacturers have different formulations for tube/pan paints. In order to stay wet in the tube – as long as it is air tight- the tube formula contains more Gum Arabic. This means that the paint is more prone to flaking after drying. If left on the palette for too long and rewetted repeatedly, it will start to become lumpy and goodbye smooth washes. (Which is why you must never squeeze tube paints into pans and keep them for ages.) Pan paints on the other hand are formulated to dry and be rewetted many times. So if you tend to flutter from one painting to another and back again, pans are better.

There is a notable exception to this general principle: brands that only produce tube paints (such as Daniel Smith) formulate them so that they behave as pans. They can be rewetted without being exaggeratingly troublesome and can therefore be squeezed into pans.

Tidiness

If you require extreme tidiness to work, tubes have the advantage. Pan boxes can get pretty messy, especially if neglected. They are high maintenance and require a regular clean up. This is especially true for the light colours, such as yellows, Permanent Rose, magentas, light greens… With tubes, you can wash the palette after the painting is finished and start afresh with clean colours.

Glamour and inspiration

When I look at my pan paintbox and my wooden box of tubes, I know exactly which one I like best.

My beautiful French Victorian paintbox with all the pans arranged in colour rows gives me a little catch in the heart every time I look at it. In comparison, the box of tubes is sort of “Meh…” Tools of the trade rather than inspirational grace.

As you can see from the pictures, I have both. I use my paintbox all the time, at home, for courses, when travelling… But I also have the same colours in tubes. These are useful when I fancy working on a larger scale. I also keep a couple of tubes in my pan paintbox: Lemon Yellow (so that it stays clean), Sap Green and Perylene Violet (because I use them a lot). I also have a tube of Winsor & Newton Smalt Blue, which was an anniversary limited edition and was never released in a pan version.

Now you can take all of this into consideration and make your choice…

If you have other reasons in favour of one or the other, please don’t hesitate to write a comment. It will help readers to make their choice.

Happy painting!

 

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Pigment spotlight – The Perylene family

The Perylene family is relatively new to the exclusive pigment neighbourhood. The first Perylene was discovered in 1912 but didn’t move in until the 1950’s. Even then, it was not widely seen and only became part of the artist community in the 1980’s. Even today, their position is not as prominent as other families, such as the Cadmiums or Quinacridones. I suppose this is because of their shyness. They are beautiful, but not as heavily dense as the Cadmium (also considerably less dodgy) and not as showy as the Quinacridones.

  • Perylene Green (PBk31)

I thought we might as well get rid of this one from the start. Perylene “green” is not a green but a black pigment with a green hue. Like most black pigments it is obtained by combustion, in this case burning a derivative of perylenetetracarboxylic, i.e. another Perylene. This is a bit of a mouthful and just means that like most blacks, it is made by burning some substance. As a result, the pigment is rather dusty and in my opinion not ideal for watercolour, even less for botanical painting. Shadows painted with Perylene Green will look flat and dirty, which doesn’t help with the difficult task of rendering the bright colours of fresh blooms.

  • Perylene Scarlet (PR149)

Only Daniel Smith currently offers Perylene Scarlet. It is not part of my palette because its lightfastness is not as good as the other Perylenes’. It doesn’t seem to me like an irreplaceable colour and therefore not worth taking the risk of using a potentially fading paint.

perylene strips blog

  • Perylene Red (PR178)

A dullish red with pink undertones, this is a good pigment that I do not use often. This is probably because I am not attracted to red flowers, unless they have the deep crimson velvety texture of the most dramatic, heavily scented roses. However, I do use Perylene Red for fruit. Stripes on apples, blush on pears, leathery pomegranate skins, or any fruit for which a more common red would be too bright.

I use Daler-Rowney Perylene Red. Daniel Smith also offers a good version in their range.

  • Perylene Maroon (PR179)

This red maroon is even duller than Perylene red, but again, being a reliable pigment, it does have its uses. I don’t think that I would plant any flowers of that colour in my garden. However, I find it useful for the same kind of circumstances as Perylene Red, when the markings on the fruit are less pink red and more brick red. I also use it quite a lot for foliage, especially in autumn. I am actually looking at some rose foliage right now that has this exact red shade in the young shoots.

In my palette I have the Daler-Rowney version. It is also offered by Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith.

windfall

  • Perylene Violet (PV29)

A rich purple maroon, perfect for hellebores, orchids and all black flowers like tulips and violas, it is also excellent to render the deep velvety texture of the dark roses mentioned above, such as ‘Deep secret’ and ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’.

Rose 'Souvenir du Dr Jamain' - A bit high maintenance for my kind of gardening but it makes me so happy that I give it the extra attention it requires. I also love the mysterious name... who was Dr Jamain?

Rose ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’ – A bit high maintenance for my kind of gardening but it makes me so happy that I give it the extra attention it requires. I also love the mysterious name… who was Dr Jamain?

Perylene Violet is the most versatile paint in my palette. I do not understand how watercolourists can live without it. It might even be difficult to find one of my paintings in which I haven’t used it. I can hear the chuckles of those amongst you who have been to my classes and who know that I use it in almost everything. It has even been suggested by the cheekiest that I pick my subjects specifically to allow me to use Perylene Violet. But I’m not sure… sitting in the garden now I can see it in so many plants: the foliages of a rose and a serious-looking Penstemon, a few Aquilegia blooms, a lingering dark red rose, some self-seeded all-invading cheeky-beyond-measure Erigeron, the stems of the ‘Zorro’ Hydrangea, the whole of the imposing Malus ‘Royalty’, the spectacular bark of the Prunus ‘Serrula’, the wood of the quince tree, the stalks of the honeysuckles and the Cyclamen, the tiny barely-existing-yet apples on the Malus ‘Blue Moon’ and of course ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’, just about to open fully… the list goes on but I wouldn’t want you to nod off…

As for my favourite version, I like the more saturated Winsor & Newton version than the slightly duller Daniel Smith paint. This might not be important for bark, stems and foliage, but when painting a flower it is important to use the most saturated colour available. It is always easier to dull down a bright colour than to brighten up a dull one.

Verdict on the Perylene family (measured in watercolour splashes):

This is a difficult one because the family is definitely split in two factions who are not on speaking terms. The Perylene Black and Perylene Scarlet I would forget about. The black is banned from my palette and the scarlet not reputable enough. So I will actually forget about them and pass a verdict on the remaining three, Perylene Red, Maroon and Violet.

Useful range of colours                   5/5

Sufficient lightfastness ratings      5/5

Level of saturation                           3/5

Irreplaceability                                 5/5

 

Total: 18/20 watercolour splashes

watercoloursplashesblogx18

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