Read the full post for details.
This is part two of a two part discussion on the choice between pan and tube watercolors. Please see yesterday's post for part one, which poses essential questions you need to ask in order to make a useful decision on this topic.
Additional Considerations Now that You've Asked the Hard Questions about Your Watercolor Paint Consumption, Usage, etc.
Something You Need to Know
Pans are economical. They look small, especially half pans, but the pans that are made at the factory last a long, long time. I can't give you any statistics on this, all I can tell you is that as a user of both factory made pans (Schmincke) and pans I make myself from my tube watercolors (Daniel Smith and M. Graham), the factory made pans last under heavy use and I get my money's worth out of them.
(Making your own pans out of tube paints leads to all sorts of other issues involving the component parts of a paint and the response of that paint to water over time, and the need to ultimately clean out a home-made pan and fill it with fresh color—that's a conversation for another day, but it does impact economy so I mention it here. It can never be a straight comparison.)
What To Consider When Deciding Between Pans and Tubes
If you like to go into the field with a pan watercolor set, but like to work in the studio/home with freshly squeezed paint from tubes—buy tube paint and fill your own pans. Just work with the one type of paint.
If you are worried about "rewetting issues" and paint falling out of your palette, and any number of horrors you can't even conceive of right now (including being chased by spies) because you haven't sketched in urban or rural situations, go with factory made pans.
Not All Pans Are Created Equal
Just as not all brands of tube paint are of equal quality (because of poor quality pigments, binders, and fabrication) so too, not all pans are equal. Some pan paint is student grade and you should just forget about it. Some pans are marketed to artists and contain artist quality pigments, but when you do your research you find more fugitive pigments in the line than others, or you find that the paints, when tested are more granulating and less finely ground (which for some will actually be a turn on). There are so many factors that you really do have to seek out information and rule out obvious bad candidates before you arrive at a useful list.
For Pan Watercolors I Recommend—
Schmincke is the brand of factory made pans that I use. In the 1990s I read an article about an illustrator who used them (he had the complete range) and thought pans would be useful and bought a small set. (I was mostly using colored pencils in the field at the time.) They worked great, I was a happy consumer for years.
Then I changed the way I was painting and was seduced by Daniel Smith Watercolors. They don't make pans. I bought a bunch of tubes and did a lot of studio painting with them and found that they rewet so well that I could fill my own pans with them. My Schmincke pans languished for quite some time.
Then about five years ago, for reasons I don't even recall, but I am pretty sure it had something to do with my constant search for an interesting orange and my love of wild turkeys, I returned to the Schmincke pan watercolor display and gazed upon it. Well one thing led to another and soon I had an empty box and 27 little pans of delight (including two orange pans I adore!). (I had to do a little bit of engineering to get 27 pans in my box. I've written about it elsewhere on the blog.)
I don't carry the Schmincke box of Schmincke pan watercolors with me much (I don't carry any of my large palettes with me much—and large for me is anything more than 4 x 4 or so). Mostly I carry the small children's palettes you've seen on the blog. Each carries 11 colors of paint (one contains watercolor and the other contains gouache). Obviously with these small palettes I've had to use tube watercolors and tube gouache to fill them, so of course I've used Daniel Smith for my watercolors (with a few M. Graham) and for gouache I've used M. Graham and Schmincke gouache in tubes.
Do I notice a difference in watercolors between Daniel Smith tubes and M. Graham tubes and Schmincke Pans. Yep.
But I pretty much work around those differences on any day when I get up and decide to favor one paint brand over the other.
What I can tell you is that all three rewet beautifully. For tube paints that's not always a given. For pans it's required. I know I don't have to look for any other paint. My needs are met. I constantly assess and look for differences as new tubes in a line come in, because manufacturers do change their processes over time. At the first drop in perceived quality in any of these brands I'll be out looking for something else, but I'm not worried that will happen because that's just life with art materials.
I'll just add that I have two friends, talented artists who both will die with their factory Sennelier pan palettes gripped in their hands. So if you are looking for another good brand of factory made pan that's a possibility.
An Ecclectic Palette—When One Brand or Approach Won't Suffice
Remember just because you now find yourself leaning towards either pans or tube paint don't overlook your affinity to certain paints within certain brands. You may choose to go with a brand that works well from tubes except for a couple problematic colors (some of the earth colors can tend to be more crumbly by nature, but across the range of colors any number of paints could, within one line, be a problem.) In that situation there's no reason why you shouldn't use your tube paints to fill your pans and augment your collection with factory made pans of those problem colors. Or maybe you have a color in your current paint line that you can't live without, and it doesn't exist in the new line. Keep buying it (tube or pan) to include on your palette. (Realize that colors in one brand may have the same name in another brand but the pigment(s) and presentation on paper will often have dramatically different results. You'll need to experiment and find the pigments, from the brands, that do the work you want them to do.)
My large watercolor palette (front and center in my travel palettes post) has 4 pans glued into the waterwell area, center right of the palette. They used to all be Schmincke pans of colors that really didn't rewet well in Winsor & Newton when I was using and then phasing Winsor &Newton out and bringing in Daniel Smith tube paints. Gradually these four factory made pans were replaced until the only ones remaining are Schmincke's Cadmium Red and Yellow Ochre factory made pans. I rarely use either because I prefer other colors now (like Daniel Smith's Nap Red.) They stay on my palette for those rare times I need them. I find the factory made pans of these colors work better than homemade pans from tube paint—they don't have the tendency to crumble in the way tube-home-made pans of those colors might—regardless of which tube paint brand I'm using.
There's no reason why you shouldn't keep the pigments you love, pan or tube, from whichever brand you love, if those paints are still working for you. Watercolors are united across brands by the use of a common binder: Gum Arabic. So while other factors in a paint may make one brand work differently from another in ways it may take you seconds (or years) to understand, you can still use them all within the same painting.
Now What Do I Do?
You ask yourself the questions given above (and in yesterday's post!). Is it time for you to step up in quality; is it time for you to learn to work with a new paint; is it time for you to test new brands or new colors, or both?
Economics is an issue for all of us. The money we don't spend on dead ended tests allows us more purchasing power for expression in media that do work for us.
But the real economy is always in time. Learning new working methods, becoming familiar with a new paint, it all takes some time. That's the choice you need to assess and weigh the pros and cons of before making a decision.
Buying a new set of watercolors is an expensive endeavor. You want that experience to be joyous. I hope these comments will help you make a happy choice.
There's another way to look at economy in this purchase. What if I buy a box filled with a set of factory pans?
For me, that's never an economical decision. The set of colors that usually come in a standard, pre-packaged palette might include only one or two pigments that I actually want to use. I wouldn't even want to test the other paints. I'd be better off buying an empty box at a higher cost and spending money buying exactly the pigments I want to use—of course this presupposes you know the colors you want to use. Testing will get you there, testing within whatever line of paint you land in. Knowing yourself also helps you assess the real economy of any situation.
Remember something else. This advice comes from someone who bought two Cotman Pan Watercolor boxes JUST TO THROW OUT THE PAINT AND USE THE BOXES! That's right. Sometimes the real economy is in getting the box that will work for you because you already have the paint that you need sitting on the table beside you.