Beginning Painting with Pan Watercolors

Artwork by Kirsten Cooner, featuring  The Prussian Palette . 

Artwork by Kirsten Cooner, featuring The Prussian Palette

Welcome to the Hushwing blog! Kirsten Cooner here, founder of Hushwing. This is a place where I'll be sharing all things watercolor; including helpful guides, product reviews, paint history, book suggestions, and more. Today we’ll be discussing how to make the most of your Hushwing watercolor set, including a few tricks and tips for easy use.

Why choose pan watercolors?

Avoid making the common misconception that tube paints are for artists and pan paints are for children - this is not the case! Famous artists such as Edward Hopper, J.S. Sargent, and Winslow Homer all preferred pan watercolors. Each form of paint simply serves a different purpose. Pan watercolors are the first choice of many artists for working in the field and completing smaller pieces.

Some of the many advantages to painting with pan watercolors are their portability, longevity, efficiency, and ease of use. When working in the field, it is much simpler and efficient to take out a palette of pan watercolors than to carry many large, full size tubes.  A small tin of watercolors can easily be slipped into a backpack or handbag and taken wherever inspiration leads. Additionally, there is no paint waste when you are finished with your work. You can simply dab up any pools of water, close your palette and be on your way. There is no washing out a palette full of unused, wet paint. On that same note, pan watercolors will store indefinitely when cared for properly and you need not worry about polluting your yellows with blues (we’ve all been there!).

Beginning Painting with Pan Watercolors

If you’re new to working with pan watercolors, there are a few key tips to note as you get started. When you sit down to begin painting, start by wetting each of your watercolor pans before anything else. Load your brush with water and deposit a large drop into each pan, leaving it to sit while you set up the rest of your work station. As you ready your materials, the water will soften the watercolor cakes, preparing them for use. If you do not give your paints ample time to soften (usually a few minutes), you will receive less pigment payoff.

Once your tools are set up and your pans have softened, you are ready to begin. For a light wash of color, go into your pan with a brush loaded with water. The water in the brush will dilute the pigment, yielding a softer application when you go to work on your paper. For a more saturated wash of color, go into the pan with a slightly damp brush. Many artists choose to dab their brush against a paper towel, roll of toilet paper, or absorbent cloth to soak up excess water. You may also want to “brush” the pan with several strokes to pick up more pigment. Avoid a scrubbing motion, as this will damage the bristles, and a good brush that is properly cared for can last years. In short, control the amount of pigment you are laying down by paying close attention to your water to paint ratio.


When painting you may choose to mix colors in the pans themselves or in a separate mixing palette. Personally, I enjoy working with a separate palette or in the lid of my travel tin. However, this is just personal preference. Should you choose to mix colors in the pans themselves, an easy swipe with a damp paper towel will remove any unwanted color and return the pan to its original state. Again, when mixing pay close attention to your paint to water ratio as this will determine the value of your wash.

As your finishing your painting session, wipe up any puddles and close your tin. When you have the opportunity or if you’re working at home, simply leave your set open for your paints to dry. Always remember to take care of your brushes, too - but more about that next time!

Thank you for joining me today! I hope this short tutorial will help you along as you begin your journey with watercolor painting. Keep practicing, and welcome to our artistic family. 

Happy painting!

Kirsten Cooner

Don't forget to follow us on social media and e-mail to stay up to date on future releases and posts!