Hacking the Studio: Vol. 2

Welcome again to a new feature here at Lost Coast Post where I share the little things I use and do to make my studio more user-friendly. Today's episode is really about "hacking" one particular product: the watercolor field box you receive when you purchase a set of pan watercolors by Prima. 

I have a few travel watercolor sets but they are all plastic and none of them quite meet all of my personal requirements: one is too small, another too big. None of them have the color selection I'm looking for when I go out and about to sketch and paint. Then I read about these new watercolor sets by Prima and I decided to take a chance. This purchase was really all about the box the paints came in; I'll talk about the actual paint in a bit.

This is a fantastic little travel paint box. It is 3-inches high by 4-3/4-inches wide and about 3/4-inches deep. It fits comfortably in my hand (a must given all my grip issues) and has a wee fold-out metal ring on the bottom that I slip my left thumb into so I can hold the palette with my left and paint with my right. It opens up to reveal two mixing areas and 12 half pans of watercolors. I bought the "Decadent Pies" palette which features colors great for landscapes and portraits (including 4 metallic paints.) All the edges of the tin are rolled so there are no sharp parts.

As I said, the tin comes with 12 half pans of watercolor. You can fit another 7 half pans down the "center aisle," giving you the opportunity to expand to 19 colors. In case you are unfamiliar, half pans are tiny plastic boxes (3/4-inches high x 1/2-inches wide x just over a quarter inch deep.) You can purchase pre-filled half pans from any of the leading paint companies like Holbein, Winsor & Newton and Sennelier via most art supplies stores. Pre-filled pans can be expensive: a half pan of Holbein cadmium red, for example, is about $15.50. (Generally, as the paint pigment quality goes up, so does the price.)

As an alternative to pre-filled pans, you can purchase empty half pans and fill them with paint squeezed from tubes. You can use paint directly from your pre-existing stash and create any palette of colors that you desire, arranged in any order you like. I eyeballed the Prima watercolor tin for just that purpose. 

Without any hacks whatsoever, you can expand this tin from 12 to 19 colors just by adding 7 half pans right down the middle of the box. I wanted to push the total number of colors just a wee bit further. However, the removable tray that holds the pans had rounded corners. So I took a hammer and gently flattened those curves so I could slide in 2 more half pans - top and bottom rows - for a grand total of 21 colors! 

I chose to keep the 12 Prima colors and then added a couple more greens, two yellows, two reds, a teal, and a couple of shadowy colors. In the future, I will probably remove the Prima pearl white as white isn't really used in traditional watercolor techniques anyway. I'll fill the gap with some other color I think is missing from my overall palette. The half pans aren't fixed so I can add, remove, and rearrange to my heart's content.

Now...let's talk about the paints that come in the Prima set. There are three different sets (Classics, Tropicals, & Decadent Pies.) Each set is about $25.00. The paint is mostly opaque and non-granulating. In the case of the blues and greens in Decadent Pies, the color is intense (so much so that I suspect the use of dyes rather than pigments.) Here's the big HOWEVER...not a stitch of information regarding pigment content, lightfastness, or toxicity is provided. The colors are not even named, only numbered. It is standard practice to provide pigment information for most paints listed as "artist grade" and most definitely for those labeled "professional grade."

For everyday purposes and everyday painters, lack of information on the pigments used probably isn't that big of a deal. Journals aren't exposed to light on an ongoing basis and fading is kept to a minimum. Professional watercolorists and/or people would want to sell original watercolor works should not use these paints; you could paint something, scan, and then sell prints, a technique that is advisable anytime you use products not rated as "professional" in work to be sold in its original form. To be fair, Prima is marketing these paints to the craft/journaling/scrapbook/coloring book crowd and NOT to professional watercolorists.

But back to the box...this is why I purchased this particular product. It really is a wonderfully sturdy little travel box and now, hacked to my whims, it is pretty much the watercolor box I've been looking for over the past few years. I love how the metal feels in my hands; the plastic field kits always felt awkward. Remember though, that's just my particular quirk. There are some great travel watercolor sets on the market. Just use whatever encourages you to get out and paint.

EDIT: Someone asked where you can find the Prima watercolor sets. They can be scarce and/or overpriced on Amazon. I got my set at Frantic Stamper...

2nd EDIT: SInce they seem to be available now at Amazon at a good price, I have included an Amazon affiliate link to the Prima sets within this post. Just know that the price can fluctuate so shop around for the best deal.  


iHanna said…
That's a great size for a watercolor box! It's so much fun to "move in" to a new box and start using it in your art practice. Have fun with your new toy. :)
i loved this post -- thanks so much for sharing the info and such an interesting read. I have been wanting to know more about this very subject.
Help! I cannot find Pima watercolor in in Decadent pies on Amazon -- where do you find it?
Michelle Remy said…
Hi Pamela! I updated my post to include where I purchased the Prima watercolor set. I got mine at www.franticstamper.com Hope this helps!
Thank Michelle -- and I did find it also on Amazon after all....I was spelling it wrong....thanks again for the interesting & helpful post..
Loulou in Texas said…
Very interesting! Thank you for the time you spent writing this helpful blog.