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My wife uses Van Gogh watercolor paints in what I think is a really strange way. She squeezes some paint from the tube, lets it dry on the palette for 48 hours, and then uses a wet brush to paint with it.

I've certainly seen lots of information about reusing dry watercolor paint, but I've never encountered anyone intentionally waiting or the paint to dry before starting to use it. She says this is the way to get the right consistency. Waiting two days sounds like a huge pain.

Has anyone else encountered this?

  • Interesting. I didn't even know there were wet watercolor paint (I'm not a painter). All of the watercolors id ever used were the dried ones in the plastic tray. – Catija Jul 17 '17 at 1:01
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It sounds like your wife learned to paint with watercolor paints in pans, and/or learned from someone who only really knew of these types of paints:
van Gogh watercolor set of 12 pans

These are in a sense the ancestors of the kiddie watercolors you may have struggled with as a child, and thus you might think that they're lower quality than tube paints, but that's not actually the case: they're exactly the same pigments and binders as tube watercolors, with possibly a little bit less glycerin, since they don't have to stay flexible in the tube.

The techniques used for painting with pans can be quite different than the techniques for using tube paints - with the latter, you basically dilute the paint to heavy cream consistency and use it that way, while with the former, you do what your wife (eventually) does, namely use a wet brush to pick up mostly-dry paint. By the end of a painting session, even the pan paints will be at least damp and softened, but you're unlikely to ever end up with the mythical heavy cream consistency.

With tube paints, if you diluted more paint than you could use (very, very likely unless you're painting huge landscapes or something), you let it dry in your palette, and then next time you either use it as if it were pan paint (maybe another possible root for your wife's, um, habit), or you go ahead and mix it with enough water to get back to heavy cream consistency, possibly adding a touch more gum arabic if you've gone through several cycles of wet-dry-wet.

Another possible root for your wife's method is that often, people will refill their pans from a tube, for instance if there's one particular color that they keep running out of, or if the price point happens to be better for tubes than pans. (It varies by paint manufacturer, pigment, what sales are happening, and various other arcane factors.)

Bottom line is, there are paints meant to be used as your wife does (wet brush on dry-ish paint), and there are some use cases which look a lot like your wife's initial preparation (i.e. somehow ending up with dried tube paint in a pan or palette), but doing it from the outset, with no pans to speak of, seems a bit... cargo-cultish.

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Many people do this, it is common practice among watercolorists.

Watercolor paints can be used in their wet form via a tube or they can be used as a dried over consistency. It has nothing to do with the paint being cheap or kiddie as another commenter said. It’s just preference to which consistency you prefer.

I prefer to have the watercolor dried out as it causes you to use less paint than if it was in liquid form. It’s also great for travelling purposes as you don’t have to worry about waiting a long time for your paint to dry before putting it away or having to worry about the colors mixing together in their wet form.

It’s also more cost effective if you buy the paints in the tubes and then put them into half pans versus buying already dried half pans as you will get more paint for your buck buying them in the tub compared to buying them in half pans.

  • I also prefer using them after they have dried. Maybe its just from practice but I find I have more control that way. – EmRoBeau Oct 29 '18 at 17:11

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