Rescuing Dried Out Watercolors in 5 Easy Steps

A pan of dried out Cyprus Jarosite. This pan lived in my back-up palette and was exposed to adverse conditions. 

A pan of dried out Cyprus Jarosite. This pan lived in my back-up palette and was exposed to adverse conditions. 

We’ve all been there - you take a short break from painting with a watercolor and before you know it, it’s dried out! Today we’re talking all about how to tackle this issue; from what causes it to how to rescue that paint and bring it back into your working palette. We’ll be focusing on resuscitating your dried out pan watercolors, but please do comment and let us know if you’d enjoy tips on saving dried out tubes in a future post! 

The first step in learning how to revive dried paint is understanding what causes it to begin with. Many factors come into play, but environment, temperature, and time are the big influencers.

Pictured to the right is a half pan of Cyprus Jarosite, which is a color included in Hushwing’s handmade watercolor line. This specific pan has been a part of my back-up palette, and was brought along on a five month road trip to central California. For those of you who have been there, you know California is extremely warm and dry. While wonderful for us, this type of weather can be tough on paints. During the trip this pan was packed up in the bed of my truck for several weeks; bumping around, getting hot and toasty. It never made it into my main palette and went unused over the course of several months. 

Continued exposure to heat and a dry climate over an extended amount of time dries out your watercolors, especially if you are not using them often. 

Unsurprisingly, the postal system can enact these same stresses on paints, which is why all Hushwing watercolors are packaged thoughtfully to ensure each palette arrives in pristine condition. All pans are individually shrink wrapped to maintain proper moisture and avoid drying, in addition to being swaddled in bubble wrap to protect against jostling. However, we can’t be shrink wrapping our pans after each use, so what’s a painter to do?

The easy answer is to use your paints more consistently. Getting your watercolors wet and painting with them often is the most painless method for keeping them moist and snug in their pans. Each Hushwing watercolor is created with a tailored recipe, providing the ideal balance of binder, pigment, and honey. Honey is the key ingredient which allows our watercolors to re-wet effortlessly, even if they’ve been allowed to get a bit dry.

Most paint companies use additional additives in an attempt to avoid drying, but they can also pop out of pans without regular use. There’s always that one color which isn’t your favorite or just doesn’t make it in your palette as often. If one day you open your watercolor tin to some loose paint, follow these easy steps to revive your pans! 

5 Easy Steps to Rescuing Watercolor Pans

1. Prepare your materials and remove the dried paint cake from the pan. You’ll need just a few items, including a paper towel, cup of water, and any pans in need of moisture. If you suspect a pan may be drying out and in need of a little TLC, you can tap it against a hard surface to discern if the paint will pop out of the pan.
Next, remove the dried paint cake from the pan. Most often watercolors will either pop out of the pan entirely in one piece, or with some bits left in the bottom. If there is any remaining paint, remove the cake and leave the loose paint in the bottom of the pan.  
2. Add water to the pan until the remaining dried paint is covered with water. The pan should be about half full of water, and does not need to be completely full.
3. Replace the dried cake inside the pan so that all the paint can soften. Press down lightly, until a little water comes up around the edges. This way you know all of the paint is in contact with water. 
4. Leave the paint to soften for around 30 minutes.
5. Once 30 minutes has passed, press on the top of the cake, pushing it firmly into the pan. Softened paint may seep up around the edges, which you may choose to wipe away. 

The paint is now softened, reformed into one cake, and will stay securely in the pan. You can feel confident packing it up and painting without fear of a mess!

Happy Painting!

Kirsten Cooner