In search of a Perfect Watercolor Palette Box

It was decades ago, somewhere between my teen and early adult years, when I first decided that I was interested in working in watercolor. Until then – I was happy using the Crayola set of 8 colors that many of us will be familiar with. This was a big improvement over the tin box I received at some point as a child.  That set – which is still sitting in a box somewhere – was remarkable in its ability to resist water. I swear that each pan was coated with a layer of shellac just to keep the kids busy a few minutes longer. In any case, the little set of eight colors I had progressed to was, and still is, quite versatile, but I’m not one to limit myself to the basics.

Color Chart

My useful color chart

 I believe in the watercolor world there are two kinds of people – those who work from pans of color and those who work from tubes.  I’m a pan kind of guy.  I like to buy my paint in tubes and then fill some sort of permanent container with the colors for my use. If I need a large amount of something, I just get the tube and work that way. I’m sure years of working with watercolor sets as a child have influenced me.

Grumbacher Blue Box

Grumbacher Blue Box


So back to my young adulthood, all those years ago I had stumbled upon a palette box by Grumbacher which contained about twenty-five little wells and for years I was happy with it. I’m not sure if it was for watercolor or ink or what have you but I filled it with the basic colors and it served me well for a long time.  The lid was a perfect place to paste in a piece of watercolor paper for reference. This set up makes me happy.

Grumbacher Paint Box

Old Blue - my trusty paintbox for a couple of decades

As it happens with much of my art & craft supplies, my collection of paints has increased. Note: This is the point where all the purists go crazy and begin to lecture me about how you only need six colors, maximum and you can create any color from those very basic collections of warm and cool basics. If you want to go over the top you are allowed to take in a few earth tones, but don’t overdo it!

 I say BAH!!!! I was not put on this earth to limit myself to a tiny color palette!

 When I embarked on my mission to “Find Art Again” I pulled out my old blue box and began to search for another one so I could expand my available “pans” of color. Of course the Grumbacher paint box was nowhere to be found.  I wanted something that would allow me to expand to new colors as I found them but also to be flexible and somewhat portable.

 There are several “pan” boxes out there which would allow me to buy empty pans, fill them with my own color and rotate as desired. The cost of about $60 for a metal box with plastic inserts just didn’t sit well with me.  At that rate my Altoid’s mint boxes should be worth at least $5 a piece and I must have a fortune in soup cans at home.  For the record there are projects out there for making a travel palette from old mint tins and fimo clay.  I looked at make-up artist palettes but they were black in color and did not look like they could travel if needed.  I purchased a few Mijello Palettes but they sit in a drawer.  Next I decided that a custom solution might be in order.  I found these little paint containers sold at most craft stores and an idea began to form.  The main issue was how I would store and track all of these little containers. They are sold loose and the packages contained several sizes.  Some were opaque and others the wrong size.  None of them came in a handy storage box. How could I make them useful?

Storage Jars

Storage Jars

Then one day I stumbled upon these little containers by Darico that I think are designed to hold beads for jewelry makers.  They were exactly the right size for my needs, everything was clear plastic. There was a container with a lid. I could work with this.

Punched Watercolor Samples

Punched Watercolor Samples

So I began by making swatches of my paint colors and then I punched them out with a circle punch which was slightly smaller than the jar lids.  I glued them on with a little dab of white glue, labeled them with permanent ink and have found this to be a workable and flexible system for my watercolor pans.

Palette Box

My new and "improved" palette watercolor paint box.

So far I’ve enjoyed this type of paint box.  Perhaps the only thing I miss from my old Grumbacher box is the color chart that I’ve pasted to the cover.  The chart is a very useful thing to have.   I’d like to design something in the future that would allow me to arrange a selection of jars into a holder without the lids, but to still keep track of the contents either by a color chart or something that holds the lids to function as a color chart.  I’m sure I will come up with something – I just need more time to figure it out.

Jar of Color

Jar of Cadmium Yellow

I’m sure many will think this is just too complicated or time waster but once it was all in place there isn’t much to think about and every color I want is instantly at my disposal.  I can arrange colors any way I see fit depending on my project.  I can grab a few key colors if I want to take my paint on the road. 

Paint on the Horizon

Paint on the Horizon

I wonder if anyone else has ever done this or how they have solved the same need in the studio.  This is what happens when crafter meets artist I suppose.  There is a project in everything!

A Quick Reflection

Art can be a frustrating business.  Have I written this before? I have a major feeling of déjà vu going on right this moment. Finding art is fun when your head is full of ideas and every paint stroke produces a magical interaction with the page.  Finding art is not fun when you find yourself mentally maxed out and you “hate everything” you produce.

In an age of digital perfection it is easy to forget that there is a human behind every image you see.  The success of that image is directly linked to the hopes, feelings and dreams of that individual. We are controlled by our brains and they in turn control the movement of every muscle and I’m sure that is reflected in every artists work.  It is certainly reflected in mine.

For example – I had worked… no labored over a piece for weeks – fretting over every color selection, working and re-working the design. I followed all the “rules” and I carefully transferred the design to my watercolor paper. I studied insects and mushrooms and skies and leaves and bark and dirt.  The result was a dull piece that fostered almost no commentary or complements.  Then one day during my lunch period I scribbled off a quick drawing of a butterfly and sloshed paint on top of it.  It was purely an exercise to take up some time and have some fun.  This sketch got more positive feedback than I had previously received on anything.

Go figure. Art may be found but it will not be tamed.

Butterfly sketch in Watercolor

The “Art” of Self Promotion

It starts off so innocently with finger paints or crayons then on to big kid pencils and markers. Maybe some clay beads and definitely paste.  You graduate from the craft aisle of a big chain store to one that sells only creative supplies! Soon you are online searching for the stuff you can’t get by driving to a store and browsing the aisles.

 You make stuff and hang it in your room or your house. You make stuff and give it to your closest friends as gifts. One day you make stuff and realize that you are making art.

 “O”, “M”, “G”!  How did this happen?

 These days you start to post your creations on your favorite social network. It’s a great ego ooster. You can post a sketch and your friends tell you how much they like it.  I suppose it’s inevitable that at some point you start to think – I should sell something – I want to share the things I create.

 In the past this would mean that you needed to put together a portfolio and hoof it to galleries or prospective buyers.  You sent letters to publishing companies. You would create your rear end off and then you would sit at craft fairs and hope to make the cost of your table.

 I remember that world. It had its good points and bad points. I do miss the craft fair circuit of the late 80’s. I’m sure that it survives on some level. I wouldn’t know, however. I shut myself off from that stuff almost two decades ago. Anyhow, I find myself again wanting to sell.  I sold boxes of crafts and a few art pieces in the past so I figure it isn’t all that horrible a notion.

 Things are different now. We have websites, Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Zazzle, Café Press, Etsy, Ebay and “Blogs Blogs Blogs”.  The electronic world has made it relatively easy to present your idea to the public for sale. In the past you were competing against just those individuals who contacted the same publishers or gallery owners. You competed with your fellow crafters in a church basement.  Today you compete against hundreds of thousands of other artists, craftsmen and businesses to make that precious sale.  The question isn’t “Can I find a funny t-shirt about my Grandmother’s Chicken Soup” it’s “Which Grandmother’s Chicken Soup t-shirt should I buy from this list of 100.”

Scary Grandma is Watching You

Scary Grandma is Watching You

 Marketing yourself becomes the problem.

 Recently I’ve been asking myself how can I pull together different parts of the online world to build my own presence there. It seems all too obvious that the most successful artists these days not only have a respectable body of work but it’s also supported by a fan base that is tapped into the artist via electronic social forums.  Where you once had to wait to see an artist’s finished piece you can now share the creative experience through updates directly to your phone!

So I find myself at that scary but exciting place where I’m thinking about names and web designs and content and everything else.  In the modern word it isn’t enough to be a visual artist – you need to be a marketing artist as well.

 Only time will tell the path that is ahead of me but now that I have found my art again – I want to share it – not loose it.

In the spirit of Self Promotion – you can find grandma and other items I designed on my Zazzle store:


Starting vs Finishing

This was originally written in October of 2009 but never posted which fits in with the general concept perfectly.

I’ve always been very good at starting projects – finishing them – not so much.  I’m not sure why exactly.  Somehow it seems that when I take up something new, my brain turns on, the gears roll and I get myself immersed in whatever I’m working on.  Mid way to “completion” it is like someone turns a switch and my brain announces that it is all done and it is time to find something new.  Joy becomes work.

Still, I have finished some things.  In 1977 I finished a fundraiser which was called the “Bike Hike”.  You would get people to sponsor you and they would pay you so many cents per mile you biked (or hiked).  Not only did I complete this task (on a flat tire) but I won for raising the most money.  To this day I think I got so many donations because nobody expected the fat kid to finish.  Of course the big secret that they didn’t know was that there was a huge object of motivation dangling there for me.  I knew the prize for this was a battery powered calculator – something I really wanted to win at the time.

A couple of years ago I completed a year as figurehead of a fundraising organization.  It was a big challenge for me.  Still I stuck to it and somehow managed to make it to the end.  I’m better off for making myself finish what I started and I learned some of the most important lessons of my life by not quitting.

Even so the starts outweigh the finishes in my life.

The World Progress 5/2010

The World Progress 5/2010

But what about things you can’t really finish.  The pursuit of making art or as I like to call it, “Finding Art”.  How do you exactly finish it?  Is it learning a technique?  Is it completing a piece? Is it selling a piece?  Maybe it is creating a portfolio?  Maybe it is publishing your work to a magazine or a book?

Perhaps Art and creativity have been a constant in my life because the whole concept of “finishing” as it pertains to art is flexible.  If you think about it you can build one finish line upon the other.  At one point – just creating one drawing was a goal in itself. Then another took its place.   Each time I work on something there are a multitude of goals to set and finish. Each is obtainable and is a mini-win.  Each step is something new to start.

Big projects with finish lines so far away scare me.  Lots of little tasks one after the other are not.  I’ve been working on that feeling of being overwhelmed by breaking down projects, art or otherwise, into manageable steps.  This works for me. 

Life has been full as it always is between autumn, the holidays and the annual charity ball each February.  I’ve kept myself on task by working on small art card sized projects but I have to admit – I’m starting to think a little bigger and I’m looking forward to starting something new when my obligations have been met.

The Sketch Project Image 1

The Sketch Project Image 1