Knowing how Paint is Packaged

Tubes: Tubes prevent the moist watercolor paint from drying out while it’s stored. The paint is soft and easy on brushes. Some artists prefer the rich soft color straight out of the tube. Tubes come in 5-milliliter and 14-milliliter sizes. Some brands even make a larger tube.

If you have a tube that dries out and gets hard, don’t throw it away. Cut open the tube and use it like a pan of paint. You can rehydrate it with water.

Pans: Pans are prefilled containers of paint. Sometimes called cakes, these are dry or semi-moist. Children’s watercolors are usually pans. You can also buy pans of student- and professional-grade paints. Pans are sold in sets and individually. If you run out of room on your palette, glue a pan in for more colors. Pans come in whole and half sizes depending on the manufacturer.

I like the travel sets with pan paints for painting on location, but I usually use tubes with softer paint in the studio. The soft paint from tubes yields rich, intense color without having to grind the tip of your brush into the paint.

To start out, I recommend a nice set of watercolors that you can afford. Try both tubes and pans because you may prefer one.

Checking your paint’s character

Different pigments have some built-in characteristics. By understanding and anticipating what they do, you can get some interesting effects. You may find an effect happening when you paint and you don’t know why. You can choose pigments that either have the characteristic or don’t, depending on what you want to happen.

All watercolors have at least one of these characteristics:

Sedimentary pigment: Some pigment chemicals weigh more than others. Heavy pigment sinks into the pockets of rough paper and makes a granular texture when dry. It’s an interesting look only achieved in watercolor. Some sedimentary pigments include ultramarine blue and Payne’s gray. If you don’t want a sedimentary texture, use a smooth paper or avoid sedimentary pigments.

Staining pigment: Some pigments leave color behind even when they’re washed off the paper. A faint stain of color is a tell-tale sign of a staining pigment. Reds, violets, and phthalocyanine blue and green are very staining. Staining pigments are rich and make deep darks.

Transparent versus opaque pigment: Watercolor is usually painted transparent, meaning that light actually penetrates the paint, reflects off the white paper, and bounces back into the eye. The effect is glowing, fresh, sparkling watercolor. Any pigment is transparent if you add enough water.

Opaque pigments are ones you can’t see through. Some pigments are more opaque than others. Cadmiums are opaque; however, if you add enough water, they can be transparent. Opaque paints can cover other paint. Opaque colors tend to get muddy quickly, so use them with caution. You can control where light bounces back by using more or less opaque pigments.

Purchasing paint

Each primary color (red, blue, and yellow) has two biases (or leanings) – that is, an underlying tone of one of the other primary colors. So red can be biased blue or yellow, for example.

To start painting, you need two tubes or pans of each of the primary colors, one tube or pan in each bias. Armed with these six colors, you can paint the  world. A bare-bones paint set would include cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalocyanine blue, lemon yellow, and gamboge. You may find a kit that contains everything.

You can purchase plenty of luxury colors too. Tubes or pans of these free up your time from having to mix them. My favorite luxury colors are burnt sienna, hookers green, and burnt umber.

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