Review – Van Gogh Watercolor Half Pans

As part of World Watercolor Month, Royal Talens North America sent me all forty of their Van Gogh half-pan colors and an empty palette box that holds 24 half pans.

I was asked to give you a ‘tour’ of the forty colors and then choose twenty-four of my favorites to create my ‘dream’ watercolor palette.  Now this is my kind of game!

And after you read about my choices, you can head over to Doodlewash, where Bekki Page has selected her favorites from the same set. She is such a talented artist and I can’t wait to see which colors she chooses.

Even better, we both have giveaways – two winners, one from each review – will receive forty half-pans and a palette to create a dream palette of their own!

The half-pans came individually wrapped …

… so, I decided to put them all in a tin while I played studiously experimented with them and decided which would be advanced to my dream palette.
The empty palette box is a sturdy plastic.
The lid snaps shut snugly, and the hinge moves well, making it easy to open and shut.  You do need to set it into exactly the right position to keep the lid upright, but most times you’d want to use the mixing area inside the lid, so that isn’t really a problem.
The wells are made for a half-pan to fit inside, or you could fill them from a tube if you preferred.
The pans will come loose if you tilt the palette, but that’s easily fixed with a little double-sided tape on the bottom of each well.
The box comes with a long, rectangular sponge.  I like the shape because it gives a lot of options for blotting or creating texture.
It does NOT come with a brush, but there is a place for one and it holds a surprisingly large brush, unlike most watercolor palettes I’ve seen. This is a feature that I really like.
I’m not someone who enjoys swatching colors and I was rather dreading doing a chart for forty of them.  Then I had a brainstorm for a way to do it that was a lot more fun.
As you can see, the colors are bright and except for a few exceptions, transparent or semi-transparent. The colors that are opaque, such as indigo and sepia, are colors that I would expect to be opaque.
The colors all have the same consistency and re-wet easily. I believe the main difference between these and professional quality paints is that the colors are a bit more muted, and some of the colors are very close in hue.  Sometimes, this means that they will have other properties that are different – more granulation or they mix to different hues, but I didn’t find that to be the case with these.
Having all forty colors is nice, though, because sometimes even that slight difference can lead to a different effect.
Van Gogh paints would be great for a beginner, someone looking for a more complete set but watching the cost, or someone who wants a set for plein air, urban sketching or practice painting.
The 40 Colors:
Chinese White – PW4
Perm. Lemon Yellow – PY184
Azo Yellow Lt – PY154
Azo Yellow Med – PY154/P062
Gamboge – PY154/PR101
Azo Yellow Dp – PY154/P043
Naples Yellow Red – PY42/P043
Permanent Orange – PY154/P073
Vermillion – PR254/PY154
Permanent Rd Lt – PR254
Perm Red Dp – PR254/PV19
Madder Lake Lt – PR264/PR254
Madder Lake Dp – PR264
Quinacridone Rose – PV19
Perm Red Violet – PV19
Perm Blue Violet – PV19/PB29
Ultramarine Dp – PB29
Cobalt Blue (Ultram) – PB29/PW6
Cerulean Blue (phth) – PB15/PW6
Prussian Blue – PB27
Phthalo Blue – PB15
Indigo – PB15/PBk6
Perm Yellowish Green – PY154/PG7
Hooker Green Light – PG7/PY154
Hooker Green Dp – PG7/PY154
Perm Green – PG7/PY154
Viridian – PG7
Phthalo Green – PG7
Sap Green – PY129/PG7
Olive Green – – PG7/PY154
Yellow Ochre – PY42
Raw Sienna – PY42
Raw Umber – PY42/PR101
Burnt Sienna – PR101/PBk11
Light Oxide Red – PR101
Burnt Umber – PR101/PBk6
Sepia – PBk7/PR101
Vandyke Brown – PBk6/PR101
Payne’s Grey – PBk6/PV19
Ivory Black – PBk6/PBk9
Now, for the fun part – choosing my dream colors.  I’ll admit it.  I was daunted.
I could just choose the colors based on what I know about color properties, but colors vary by brand, so mixing them together is really the only way to see what they will do together.  But … augh … mixing forty colors in all their variations?  Not fun at all.

Breaking the job down into smaller parts seemed a better way.

I paint everything.  High-key- bright and light, low-key -dark and heavy, animals, landscapes, people, abstracts – everything.  My dream palette isn’t going to be a matter of favorite colors, but of flexibility.

So, I decided to break the forty colors into eight triads, knowing that three colors are often enough to create beautiful complex paintings.  I wouldn’t have to use the colors only as triads, but with eight to choose from, I’d know that I would have the right color, vibrancy and intensity for almost anything I wanted to paint.

I started separating out likely choices from my paints.

Every day my hubby works, I paint a postcard and slip it into his lunch bag.  As part of my test, I started using the Van Gogh colors for his paintings.

But for the real testing, I drew small boxes with lines that would help me determine transparency of the mixes.  Then, I let the triads blend, get nasty, bloom and blossom, and do all the things that colors do.

It didn’t take long before I had eight possible triads.

Now it was time to see how they would do on a larger, more complex scale.

Azo Yellow Light, Madder Lake Deep, Cobalt Blue – I chose these three as high-key, but delicate colors.  They’re bright, but not too intense so they’re good for light-filled paintings.  The drawback with this set is that darks are hard to achieve.
Gamboge, Permanent Red Deep, Ultramarine Deep – With this triad, I tried to come as close as possible to the most common, traditional primary set.  Sort of a jack-of-all-trades, that isn’t the best for anything in particular, but does almost anything well.
Azo Yellow Medium, Permanent Red Violet, Cerulean Blue – This is similar to the triad above, a bit cooler in temperature, a bit more opaque.
Pure Lemon Yellow, Quinacridone Rose, Phthalo Green – I only had Prussian Blue left and really wanted it with another triad.  I’d recently learned from my good friend, Jennifer McLean, that PV19 – a red pigment with violet overtones, creates an interesting bluish neutral when mixed with Phthalo Green, so that’s where I went with this triad.  It makes some interesting greens as well.
Azo Yellow Deep, Permanent Red Light, Phthalo Blue – This is my bold triad, and probably the one where the Van Gogh colors fall short the most.  The colors are usually deeply intense with staining qualities, and this would be a different triad in a professional quality set.  That said, it will still be possible to create interesting paintings with bold qualities.  Just not as bold.
The three remaining triads are the most unusual so I decided abstracts would give me more information about the quality of the color mixes.
Naples Yellow Red, Burnt Umber, Prussian Blue – This was the odd-ball triad out of them all, not based on any classic triad that I know. I felt the colors could be used to good effect for portraits, animals, and night scenes.
Permanent Orange, Hooker Green Deep, Violet Blue Permanent – This is a secondary triad. Orange, Green and Violet are secondaries – colors that can be mixed by the primaries.  Probably the hardest triad to work with (at least for me), it’s great for unusual lighting and autumn scenes.
Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Indigo – This triad is based on a classic Old Master’s palette.  This is definitely a low-key set of colors, good for darker paintings, wood-grains and rusty metals. It’s also good for autumn scenes and somber portraits. This is a palette that can surprise you with its range.  The Old Masters knew what they were doing!
And this is my Dream Palette!
Van Gogh watercolors are Artist Grade, a tier above student grade like Cotman, but below professional grade, like Rembrandt. The colors are slightly muted compared to most professional quality watercolors, but still bright.  All colors have the same consistency, re-wet easily and have excellent lightfastness.
These watercolors would be good for the beginning artist, an artist who wants decent color at a lower price, or the artist that wants a set for plein air, or preliminary paintings.
The Tools Used: Van Gogh Watercolors, Princeton Neptune & Velvetouch Brushes, Hahnemühle Cold-Pressed Expressions Watercolor Paper.


In 1899, Marten Talens founded the “Dutch Factory for Paints, Lacquers and Inks”. The company, now called ‘Talens’, received the designation ‘Royal’ in 1949. The Van Gogh brand was introduced in 1963. In the 90’s, they became part of the Sakura Color Products Corporation.

You can follow Royal Talens North America on Instagram for inspiration, updates and information.

Sandra Strait 
I’m a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I’m a little bit crazy, but doesn’t that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways three times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.
I was given the forty Van Gogh Half-pan watercolors and empty palette for purposes of this review. I received no other considerations. I was given the forty Van Gogh Half-pan watercolors and empty palette for purposes of this review. I received no other considerations and all opinions expressed are my own.

Published by Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

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