Traveling With My Schmincke Watercolor Paint And Feeling Happy

I recently received a Schmincke Horadam Limited Edition 12 Half-Pan Watercolor Tin for a gift. A very special gift! At the time of this blog post it is priced at $69.95. The regular price is $225.00 (US).

The “tin” as it is called, or a “traveling palette” or “field box” or “watercolor paint pocket kit”, is a compact metal box with slots for 18 half-pans of watercolor paint.

schmincke box new
The pieces of the field box have been taken apart. You can see the brackets to hold the paint. This paint “plate” comes out which gives another mixing surface and makes it easier to load the pans onto the plate before re-inserting in the box. This is a handy extra feature.

What’s a Half Pan?

Some watercolor paint comes in tubes and some comes in “pans”.

Frequently professional watercolorists use “half-pans” of “full-pans” or “cakes” for traveling kits. In the production of the pans, the wet paint (pigment and binder) is pushed into a pan that is a little square plastic tray or box. The paint is dried in the pan. Then a descriptive label is folded around the pan of paint in anticipation of packaging and shipping. You can buy empty pans or half pans and fill them with your own paint. Or you can buy the pans pre-filled.

Schmincke Horadam is a quality paint that has been manufactured for over 125 years. The company was started by two chemists. The line of watercolor paints was introduced by Horadam in 1892. As with many traditional watercolor paint companies, such as Winsor & Newton, Schmincke is committed to providing a fine quality product for their legions of watermedia artists. Schmincke Horadam continues to honor the founding-forefathers’ motto: “Meliora Cogito — I strive for the best”. A noble motto and practice.

With the Schmincke watercolor pan paint, it is dried in the pans in four stages. Apparently that guarantees that the pigment will be evenly available as you work through the depth of the pan from top to bottom.

Most inexpensive pan paints (like the ones used for grade school classes) are dried as one layer and the pigment may sink to the bottom. This requires the artist to dig deep into the pan of paint to try to get as much pigment as possible.

This technique is frustrating and futile with cheap paint for several reasons:

  1. There is a high proportion of filler in the paint so you simply cannot get intense pigment. It is diluted by the filler. The filler is an inexpensive ingredient that generates more volume with less of the expensive pigment. Better quality paint is composed of paint and binder, (such as honey or gum Arabic). Less expensive paint has pigment, binder and filler.

  2. Often the brush used is cheap and poorly made. The budding artist digs deeply into the pan and keeps jamming her brush into the bottom of the pan. So, the brush gets its fibers bent and broken. It loses its ability to form a point or even a functional shape.

For more information on the characteristics of the Schmincke paint such as transparency, lightfastness, etc. please visit their website. There is helpful information for all level of watercolorists in the downloadable PDF regarding the development of the Schmincke Horadam watercolor boxes.

Tube Paint

When tubes were invented to store paint, it revolutionized the process of being an artist—for the oil painter as well as the watercolorist. Suddenly, you COULD paint outside en plein air. You could carry your paint with you pre-mixed in your tubes and squeeze out what you would need for that session. It was a game changer.

In effect, when you squeeze wet paint (pigment and binder) from the tube into the wells on your palette, a similar process happens as in the production of pan paint. You put the paint in the well. Over time it dries, and you have a little pile of dry paint. You moisten it with water and return to your painting. Magic.

Some of the tubes of watercolor paint in John Singer Sargent’s paint box when it was donated to the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. Notice much of the paint is Cotman’s brand.

Happy Features of the Schmincke Horadam Watercolor Field Box

I have used many field box of paint such as those from Cotman and Winsor & Newton.

My Cotman Field box with half-pan paints and a fairly small three section mixing area. No brush or water vessel was included in this kit. That’s ok. It keeps down the cost. Also, note the many earth tones in this box. I haven’t traded out the colors yet to match my style, but the white and the browns are not pigments I use regularly. So that expense is wasted on this set.

And some I have created on my own from metal tins.

Field boxes provide you with the lid to use as a mixing space for your paints. Some models have multiple surfaces that fold out to act as mixing areas. Generally they are plastic. The Schmincke box is metal, so the lid and a spare mixing panel are metal, which is preferable to me.

Plus the “thumb ring” on the back of the box is a metal ring solidly secured to the metal back of the box.

schmincke field kit thumb back
Showing the thumb ring in use. After slipping the ring over a thumb, the box would be opened and the thumb and hand would be holding the box on the backside. (On the underside.) This allows the artist to control the field box while painting. The box can obviously also be put on a table or an easel and the thumb ring is not used in that case.

It is used to hang on to the field box while you are painting. In some of my other boxes the ring is plastic and has ripped out or cracked off the kit. I prefer the metal. I imagine it will last longer.

Tucked into some of the boxes there may be a teeny brush, and ingeniously, a small vessel for water. This Schmincke box has no teeny brush—that is fine with me. The brush in the Winsor & Newton box was too small to be practical.

With the Schmincke kit, I simply sawed off one of my #8 good quality Richeson brushes and tucked it into the box.

schmincke with sawed brush
I know it looks pretty brutal to saw off a brush, but it is handy to have it fit in the field box. If you need more handle, this won’t work for you.

Now I have a legit brush in my kit. Brushes are such an essential tool for an artist that you cannot easily default to a tool that is not workable for you—nor should you.

This is a set of John Singer Sargent brushes from the collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. Note that the brush in the lower right has been sawed off, too. I presume it was for the exact same reason I have cited: sometimes you need to saw off a brush to fit in your kit or your pocket.

Also, there is no water vessel in the Schmincke kit. Again, I’m glad they didn’t waste their time and resources on that. It is easy enough to bring a small plastic water bottle or a small lidded vessel for water.

For more information on field boxes and creating your own, see my blog post: Essential Tips for Watercoloring Outside

Historically, when I got a new ready-to-go field box, I usually popped a few of the pan colors out of their boxes and replaced them with squeezes of paint from the tubes that I preferred. In the Schmincke kit, YIPPEE!! They didn’t waste several pans with the colors that are rarely used by most watercolorists: such as many browns, black, and white. They have included some beautiful new luscious transparent colors along with some of their traditional colors.

The box was created as a collaboration between Schmincke and Wet Paint, St. Paul, Minnesota – one of my favorite independent art supply stores. If you are ever in the neighborhood (or online) looking for a retailer, they are splendid.

The colors in the set were selected by Marilyn A. Garber, founder of the Minnesota School of the Botanical Arts, among other achievements.

The 12 colors included are:

  1. Lemon Yellow 215
  2. Indian Yellow 220
  3. Cadmium Red Light 349
  4. Quinacridone Red Light 343 NEW COLOR
  5. Ruby Red Deep 346 NEW COLOR
  6. Brilliant Red Violet 940
  7. Brilliant Blue Violet 910
  8. Cobalt Azure 483 NEW COLOR
  9. French Ultramarine 493 NEW COLOR
  10. Delft Blue 482
  11. May Green 524
  12. Perylene Green 784 NEW COLOR

schmincke colors CU

There is an extra row of brackets in the box, so you have the option of adding up to six more pans of color. I think I may add a Burnt Sienna—it’s a “go to color” for me for mixing earth tones. You may have other colors that are your favorites, too, that you’d like to add.

I think I will also add a tiny piece of sponge. I have found that to be handy in my other kits. It helps to absorb wayward water and helps to clean the surface of the paint when it gets grubby. Plus it is easy to clean the sponge with water from my spray bottle.

The system for holding the paints in the tray is ingenious, but I don’t think it is quite perfected yet. The pans seem to slide around a bit. I may have to alter the configuration to hold them in place better. I’ll figure it out.

For now, it’s delightfully fun, functional, and the colors are glorious. I can hardly hold myself back from painting with it all the time. It’s a neat little kit for a reasonable price.

FYI: There was no compensation or consideration from any source for my opinion on this product. I wrote this based on my own thoughts and welcomed this gift from my sister who paid full retail price for it at the store. jmm

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