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Pan Watercolors




Pan watercolors are an excellent choice for your watercolor project, no matter what level your art skill. A common misunderstanding is that watercolor pans are for children, amateurs and beginners only. This is not the case. While tube watercolor paints can offer more color freedom for larger works of art due to mixing colors, pan watercolors are appropriate for smaller pieces, portability, and an overall easier set up. Clean-up leaves little to no paint mess or waste, and any excess water can be absorbed by a paper towel or cloth. Once finished, the pan is easily stored in a bag, making any type of  travel easier. Larger tubes can be difficult to transport when traveling or working on location, causing many artists to prefer pan watercolors in this case. Clean up is a much longer process with tube paint, as the excess paint will not store once out of the tube. Pan watercolors benefit from their casing, allowing for longevity in the product. Many famous watercolor artists have used pan watercolors, like Winslow Homer and J.S Sargent. 


The first step to getting started with a pan watercolor painting is to wet each color in the pan before anything else. Do this by wetting your brush, and putting one large drop into every individual pan. You will let this sit for the remainder of time, as you set up your work space. The water is now softening each color cake allowing for maximum use once you get started. If the paints have not been given enough time to soften with water, your pigment color will not be as bold. This softening usually takes just a few minutes. 


Once your work station is set up, and the pans have soaked for a few minutes, you can begin your painting. If you are looking for a lighter shade of your color, you will automatically add water. Do this by loading your brush with water, and then absorbing the paint with your brush. Water dilutes pigment, and the many variations of “light” are endless, all dependent upon the amount of water added. So then, we can see that if we’d like a more saturated look, we need only dampen our brush very little, allowing for less water to affect the paint. Dabbing our wet brush against a paper towel or cloth before dipping into the pan is a great way to control this, and achieve a bolder paint swab. This control is one of the key factors in achieving the detail and nuance of a great watercolor painting. Depth, shade and emotion are all rendered by this technique. Many contemporary artists working in watercolor are great examples of this. 


Starting with Yao Cheng, a renowned watercolor artist and designer based in Columbus, Ohio, we see a mix of saturated, bold, and diluted pastels to create her snow capped mountains below.



The many shades of green are abundant here, suggesting light and perhaps temperature too. Up near the mountain foot we get the deep dark forest green, that brings to mind a cool mountain shade, contrasting against the light green grasses in the foreground. 


Yao began painting in early childhood. Over a decade ago, she first discovered watercolor, and the joy it brought to her creative process. According to, her connection to watercolor was powerful and has since defined her work and career. Her paints and strokes are her vocabulary for visual expression. Not always focused on the final result, painting for Yao is more about the moment of creating something new, of painting each stroke with intention and purpose.  Oftentimes, her paintings start with just a feeling, and the rest is improvised. Learn more about Yao at


Expressing a softer, but still dynamic version of this watercolor painting technique, is Rae Dunn. Below we have a beautiful, simple cactus that she playfully depicts with a few shades of red and green. 


Rae Dunn is a California native and resides in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Her inspiration comes from the earth and she finds beauty in simple shapes, natural forms, and found objects.  According to her website,, her work captures the simplicity and playfulness that are the cornerstones of her own life. Rae’s work is deceivingly straightforward. “I don’t think my art is a reaction against the complexity of life today, but rather a way for me to embrace the joyful, spontaneous elements of daily life that seem to be wanting so much of what we do. Today, more than ever, I think we all need to slow down and grasp that which is honest, real, and personally satisfying. I try to express those feelings in all of my work.” 


Finally, we are happy to introduce you to the work of Jessica from Jessica is one of our favorites because of her playful depictions of nature and animals through pan watercolors. Jessica describes her process on her site by explaining, “I love imagining whimsical, dreamy creatures, which is why animals and nature are the main focus of my illustrations. I use Winsor and Newton watercolour, Miya gouache and a range of cold press 300gsm watercolour paper.” Jessica is a freelance illustrator and also runs her online store,, based in Auckland, New Zealand. You can find more of her work online at Below, we have a piece from Jessica’s whale series, just one of the many amazing animal sequences she has been known for. She has also done turtles, dolphins, seals and many other sea creatures, all of them extremely cute!

We hope your journey through pan watercolors this month is as dreamy and magical as the artists we’ve showcased here. The weekly prompts will be a nice starting point for anyone beginning with watercolor, and hopefully, serve to inspire your January creative itches. Don’t forget to hashtag and post all month long in order to be featured on our blog for the Peacock Points challenge. Stay tuned to see who won last month’s prompt challenge and read their story, right here, at Hashtag #smartartbox #smartartweekly #smartartproject







CRESCENT WATERCOLOR BOARDS 5” X 7”  3PACK (2)~ Retail $16.72 ($8.36 EA)




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