Daniel Smith Half Pan Set – my thoughts

Once I discovered tube watercolours, I really battled with using pan paints – but the Daniel Smith Watercolour half pan set has changed my mind.

I was thrilled to receive a set from Premium Art Brands a couple of months ago. The Daniel Smith watercolour half pan set come in three different colour combinations. When I saw that I had received the blues set I did a little happy dance. I’ve always loved blues and they appear in just about every one of my paintings.

I was planning to use this set on my travels in February, but an accident stopped me painting for about a month and I’m just getting my painting mojo back now. Playing with my new half pan set was a nice way to get back into the swing of watercolours. This weekend I put my Daniel Smith half pan set to the test in earnest. I spent half a day in my studio painting small watercolours for charity.  I’ll be posting the results to my Instagram account this week.

Why the Daniel Smith half pan set has changed my view.

The key is in the fact that they are hand poured which basically means they’re tube paint in pans. That means all the gorgeous juicy paint consistency and intensity of tube colour. I also love the option of being able to select my own colour palette. In the past I have made a hack using little plastic pill boxes and a pencil case. It worked, but it was bigger than I wanted, pretty messy, and fiddly to use. The Daniel Smith set feels like everything I was trying to achieve with my pencil case hack, but better and in a very well conceived design.

Daniel Smith Watercolour half pan set blues. Painting on sketchbook paper by Vandy Massey
Daniel Smith Watercolour half pan set blues – I was so keen to get started I forgot to take a photo before it got messy

This is how the pan set arrives – with six lovely colours in the centre and nine spaces for your own selection of tube paints.

So what colours did I choose?

You can see the original six blues in the middle: Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, Cerulean and Lunar Blue in the top row of blues. Then Indigo, Sodalite Genuine and Payne’s Blue Gray in the row below.  My additions from bottom left moving up and to the right are: Undersea Green, Shadow Violet, Burnt Umber, Quinacridone Gold, Aureolin, Sepia, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Transparent Pyrrole Orange and Quinacridone Coral.  I’ve just put a small amount in some of these as I may adjust this set slightly once I’ve used it for a while. Once I am sure this range will work, I’ll be filling those pans!

My colour swatch for the Daniel Smith half pan set
My colour swatch for the Daniel Smith half pan set

Another aspect I like is the size. Expect to see these colours in my sketchbooks and small paintings from now on.  Here’s my new ‘grab it and go’ watercolour kit:

My new watercolour travel kit: Daniel Smith half pan set, moleskine A6 watercolour sketch book, travel brush and small water spray bottle.
My new watercolour travel kit: Daniel Smith half pan set, moleskine A6 watercolour sketch book, travel brush and small water spray bottle.

To summarise my thoughts on the Daniel Smith half pan set:


  • Colour choice. I just love being able to use my own colours
  • Size – perfect for pockets
  • Paints – creamy and easy to activate
  • Pan size – bigger than most others so you can give your tubes a generous squeeze when you’re filling your pans.


  • Its hard to find many down sides, but I wonder if an extra 3 pans would make it even more useful while still keeping the size down? It would still be no bigger than my A6 moleskine.

This post is not a sponsored blog for Daniel Smith watercolour or Premium Art Brands. This is just my personal view of the Daniel Smith watercolour half pan set.

Autumn Landscape: Layering watercolour

Layering watercolour (glazing) is a great way to add depth to a painting. But it needs to be done with confidence and careful consideration. If you use the wrong colours, the end result is flat. If your brushstrokes are not delicate enough, you risk muddying the painting.

Through the Gap. Watercolour by Vandy Massey
Through the Gap. Watercolour by Vandy Massey

There’s a particular bench at Wandlebury Country Park  that provides a wonderful view all the way to the horizon. You just need to know where to look between the rows of tall trees.  Last October, in the midst of autumns most incandescent glow, I spent a day painting up on the rise at Wandlebury. Between the trees the fields create a patchwork of textures and colours, framed by the ragged curtain of branches on either side.

Layering watercolour: the stages

The light was changing quickly so I used a series of mid tone washes to block out the different levels of the view. A three-colour scumbly wash over the tree areas produced a basic sense of the branch sections without adding any definition or much tonal value (left hand tree).

My next step in layering watercolour was to add wash of clear water on the right hand tree and then drop in the same three colours in greater intensity, allowing them to blend and granulate. I used this to start defining branch shapes and areas of the tree that would be in shadow.

Layering Watercolour 1 Work in progress by Vandy Massey

The fields are the area of interest in the painting so they are painted with more definition. Layering watercolour here helps you to create some clearly texturing in the middle ground fields and in the foreground hedge.

Layering Watercolour 2 - Work in progress by Vandy Massey

The final step was to add a glaze to the left hand tree. Once the painting was well dried,  I used a sword brush tip to added branches in the trees. I decided to knock back the colour at the far end of the tree as it receded. You can see the final painting in the first picture of the post.

Through the Gap. (See first image in the post). An autumn landscape painted from an underpainting done plein air at Wandlebury Park.

Quinacridone watercolours

My Daniels Smith quinacridone watercolours came out to play this weekend. Last weekend I explored the differences and synergies between Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Deep Gold. You can see my findings in the Wash a Week challenge.
Quinacridone Watercolours - Gold, Deep Gold and Violet

The nectarines on the kitchen table seemed an ideal subject for the colours I was working with for the blog. Once opened, the smooth, juicy, translucent flesh contrasted temptingly with the many folds and hard edges of the stone in the centre.

Quinacridone Watercolours blending on the paper

The perennial challenge for watercolourists is resisting the urge to be too fussy. There’s always the temptation to add one more brushstroke, embellish with a bit more detail, change an edge or a shape.

In this painting, I aimed to avoid this challenge by completing the whole painting with one flat brush. Painting a rounded shape with smooth edges using a flat brush makes it very difficult – almost impossible to get too detailed.

Using quick, energetic brushstrokes, my aim was to simply capture the essence of the fruit. My focus was specifically on the smooth quality of the flesh, and the area of rosy colouring where the hard stone emerges from the body of the fruit.

The combination of the transparent, single pigment quinacridone watercolours, and resisting the urge to fiddle with the paint once it’s been laid down on the paper, leaves the colours clear and translucent in the painting.

I’ll be sharing more quinacridone colours in future Wash a Week posts.

In other news, I’m starting the planning process for my 2015 exhibitions and Open Studios. There are a few visits to London exhibitions and a watercolour festival for inspiration. And I’ll be creating the opportunity for UK watercolour artists to attend workshops with two exceptional artists from Moldova and France. More news on these later.

Watercolour Journal & 2015 Wash Challenge

I’ve fallen in love with my watercolour journal and I’d like to introduce you to it.

Two years ago I was given a wonderful bound book of heavy weight Arches watercolour paper. It was so beautiful that it took a month before I could pluck up the courage to put brush to paper. And even after I had made my virgin mark on page one, I was still so worried about messing it up, that I was afraid to paint in it.

Now the Wash a Week Challenge is well and truly up and running (I’ve just published my second post) and I think I’ve found its purpose in life. My beautifully bound book as become my watercolour journal.

Inside my watercolour journal:

Watercolour journal red page
Reds and pinks – transparent and opaque

In no particular order, each week in the Wash a Week Challenge, I will be exploring colours I find useful or exciting, or those I want to learn about.  And from time to time, I will share the journal’s progress. If you want to see snippets of the journal’s contents, you’ll see how it’s being used in my week by week posts.

Watercolour journal blue page
Phtalo Blue – two manufacturers

Pages combine specific colour studies and references, with little sketches.

Watercolour journal yellow page
Exploring daffodils on a yellow page

And in some instances, just an opportunity to observe and record shapes, colours and tonal values.

QuinacridonesIn other news this week – I found watercolour treasure in my local art supply shop this week. I’ll be covering the Quinacridone family of colours. I’ve always loved Quinacridone Gold and when I discovered the Daniel Smith range of watercolours in the shop, the opportunity to fill up my palette with most of the rest of the range was just too much to resist.  Exploring them all is bound to be good fun.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to London for my first work meetings of the year. Perfect opportunity for a meeting with Doug Shaw at The Mall Galleries where the Artists and Illustrators Artist of the Year show is on starting tomorrow.


My Secret Project: a Sneak Preview

I’ve been working on a secret project for a little while. It’s still a secret so I’m not going to tell you everything about it yet. But I just couldn’t wait to share the paintings I’ve been doing for it – so here’s a little sneak preview.

Secret Narnia Project - Abstract version
Abstract version

As usual, my method has been to think about the project for some months. While I do that, vague images start to crystalise in my mind. These are the first two sketches for the project. I think there will be more. In fact I’m sure there will be more paintings before my secret project is done – I have a few images in my head already.

One red tree
Secret Narnia Project – One Red Tree

There have been a few criteria to this project.

In the first place, it has to be predominantly, if not exclusively, deep red and grey/silver. Black might be an option as an extra colour or an alternative within the design.

The paintings need to have a feel of winter, but not be literal. This is an exercise in abstraction within a theme.

It has to appeal to a special person in my family. At the moment, the initial deliberations are in progress and some decisions will be forthcoming soon.

Next steps in my Secret Project:

– More paintings

– Finding a supplier who will screen print a small run of fabric

– You’ll have to wait to find out the rest….

I know which of these two I prefer – I’d love to hear what you think.

Beefsteak Tomato. (Day 30 – Made it!)

RWB0064 Beefsteak Tomato
Beefsteak Tomato (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)

This year we planted three different varieties of tomatoes in grow bags in the garden. I typically have very little success growing tomatoes. In most years I watch every other gardener harvesting enough tomatoes to make a freezer full of soup, ragu and tomato concentrate. And at the same time, we manage to pick a very small handful of undersizes, overripe, pea-sized specimens – over the entire summer.

For a change, this time our beefsteak tomatoes thrived. In celebration of reaching day 30 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days (even if in fits and starts), I painted our magnificent first picked, beefsteak tomato.

30 Paintings in 30 Days has been a fabulous experience. It’s been a great motivation to paint regularly, and has helped stock up Running With Brushes beautifully, just in time for Christmas.

Beefsteak Tomato is my 30th in the challenge and my 64th painting for Running With Brushes.

And I’ve got a whole 7 minutes to got for #PaintSeptember.

Dawn Blush (21 of 30)

Dawn Blush (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)
Dawn Blush (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)

My 21st painting of 30, done on Day 28. Tomorrow is my last painting day for September as I have a business trip on Monday. We’ll see whether I manage to catch up enough tomorrow – I have a few paintings half completed on my easel so it’s still a possibility.

Sometimes, time pressure becomes a catalyst for working differently. In this case, I started looking around my studio for early washes which would provide inspiration or a base for a painting. My 100 Wash Challenge days got me into the habit of doing washes and leaving them unfinished for a future painting session.  Although I don’t do that as often as I did when I was doing the challenge, I still have a reasonable collection. They’re a great way of kick starting a painting session, and creating them is a lovely ending to a painting day. There’s the pleasure of watching a simple layer of watercolours develop on the paper, and the tantalising sense of possibility in the wash waiting to become a painting.

Here’s the collection of Day 27 paintings on Leslie’s website. Dawn Blush will be available on Running With Brushes..

Funky Fish (Day 11 of 30)

Funky Fish (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)
Funky Fish (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)

So there’s another great connected world story about this painting.  My friend Karin Panaino Petersen (in South Africa) tagged me in a comment on a photo on Facebook. Her comment said: ” Would make such a nice painting. Vandy Massey?” The photo was taken by her friend Jacques (In the USA).

When I looked at the photo I thought: “Great suggestion.” (Karin has a good eye). And chose that as my subject for the evening’s painting. (This being Day 11 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days).

A couple of hours later I posted this in a comment to Karin: “It was fun Do you know the photographer/Fisherman? I’d love to use this painting on RWB but need to ask permission”

Then Karin posted the photo on Jacques page. In less than a day Jacques and I were Facebook friends and he was asking if he could buy the painting.

It went up on Running With Brushes , he bought it, and he is now the happy owner of Funky Fishes (the photo and the painting) and as soon as it’s mounted it will be in the mail and on it’s way to North Carolina.

I really, really love living in a connected world. 🙂

(And thank you Karin Panaino Petersen for making it all happen).




Charlotte’s Garden Web (Day 8 of 30)

Charlotte's Garden Web (Watercolour 6 x 4 inches)
Charlotte’s Garden Web (Watercolour 6 x 4 inches)

It’s been brilliant watching the paintings that have come out of the 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge. I’ve not had enough to time to paint and look at all the websites of the other artists, but of course they will be up there as a great reference even after the challenge is over.

I need to remember to keep it simple when I’m painting small. The urge to put in more detail is sometimes difficult to resist. Today’s painting was actually done yesterday – I only managed a short time in the studio so I did a very simple spiderweb with the slightly abstract garden view behind it. I’ve done a few of these before as cards, and they are a great way to practice working with masking fluid. I don’t know anyone who says they love working with it. Far from it, although it’s a fantastically useful tool for preserving whites, the fact that it ruins brushes and is fairly viscous (and therefore difficult to use when working on fine lines) makes it a bit of a nightmare to use.

My relationship with masking fluid was transformed when I discovered that using a dip pen made it a whole lot easier to apply, and of course there are no bristles on a dipping pen so it’s easy to clean.  I still can’t say I love using it, but it’s no longer a process I dislike intensely.

Spider web threads are perhaps some of the finest lines you might ever need to paint (or preserve if you want them to stay white). The lines are getting finer, but nevertheless I’ll keep on practicing.

(As always, there’s a Running With Brushes note to this post. Charlotte’s Garden Web is the 100th painting posted on the website – a pretty satisfying milestone. Now for the next 100).

Dusty Red Sunset (Day 4/30)

Dusty Red Sunset (watercolour 4 x 6 inches)
Dusty Red Sunset (watercolour 4 x 6 inches)

Amazing how things seem to come together at times. Last week I was working on a few RWB paintings in my lunch break down in London. Having had my family from South Africa around for most if August, I was thinking about Africa quite a lot – and feeling more than a little homesick. There are some memories that never leave you, no matter where you are in the world. For me, one that I miss the most is the sunsets. There’s a quality to the light that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I think it’s the dryness. The red earth seems to make a dust that gives the dying light the most amazing colour.

And with that comes the cooler air after a stiflingly hot day, and the sounds of birds gently setting for the night in the distance. As the daytime sounds quieten down, the insect sounds come to the fore. It’s a most wonderfully peaceful time of the day.

I never fail to feel nostalgic about my Africa evenings when I think about sitting quietly with friends and family enjoying the peaceful end to the day.

Here’s where the wonderful connections bit comes in. A couple of days ago I got an email via Running with Brushes from an old family friend who now lives in America. She asked me if I would do her an African sunset painting – I guess she feels exactly the same way I do.  I can completely relate to her wish for a painting of the image that bring such lovely memories. So today I have finished this and I’m hoping it evokes the wonderful African sunset feelings for her too.

And on top of that, there’s a little glimmer of possibility that I may have a business trip back to South Africa in the next month or so. Fingers crossed, I may get to sit and enjoy a sunset in Africa soon.

This is my Day 4 Painting of 30 Paintings in 30 Days.