Sunday, 8 August 2010

Palettes Part One

I joined the wetcanvas forum a few weeks ago  and an interesting discussion has taken place about palettes, driven by some of the posters discovering the Craig Young hand-made versions. Several appear to have ordered them and according to one poster the waiting time is now a year and the prices he quoted (in dollars) indicated they had risen steeply compared to when I purchased mine.  Some of the contributors appeared a little confused with what to buy when balancing cost against functionality. As a result, and due partly to new information about what is available and where I decided to do this piece.

First of all watercolour palettes come in various shapes and sizes from small to (very) large. If you are painting on say half sheets or larger and use big brushes size 16 and above and large flats, 1" or more, then it is obvious you need a big palette. Not everyone uses conventional palettes and various sorts of flat trays are used by artists, including some top professionals. Butcher's metal trays of different sizes and/or the flat plastic ones sold in some kitchen shops can be perfectly adequate. With such trays you squeeze out paint from tubes. This method is normally associated with limited palettes of 6 to 9 colours.  You can mix large quantities of paint but it can be wasteful with what remains and is then washed off.

The above selection of palettes includes two of the largest, the John Pike (A) which is on the left hand side complete with lid, which can also be used as another mixing area. The Robert Wade Palette (B) is at middle bottom with the lid, also used for mixing, touching to the left. Top centre is a muffin tray (E) (as used by the artist Trevor Waugh) and to the left (D) is a plastic palette of a type commonly available. Centre is the Zoltan Szabo palette (C). The three remaining palettes in the top left hand position are top a cheap aluminium version (F) commonly available and underneath the smallest palette, a Windsor and Newton plastic one (G) with an empty metal palette (H) of the sort commonly available but in this instance filled with empty full pans. I have labelled each palette with a letter A to H, but you may need to click on the photo and enlarge it to see the letters clearly.

What you need and what you should obtain depends on how you paint and whether you use tubes or half/full pans. The other criteria is how large you paint because in my experience most amateurs paint fairly small. These are only a selection of palettes that come in four basic materials, plastic, metal, ceramic and porcelain. There are other sorts but not usually used for watercolours. The John Pike palette is American  and all the information you need is here The Robert Wade palette is obtainable in the UK from . The JP palette is very popular with professionals like Mel Stabin and in his book `Watercolor, Simple, Fast and Focussed'  is illustrated more than once as he uses it for everything including his plein air painting! I'm not sure about the Zoltan Szabo palette as he is deceased (as is John Pike) but it is probably still available if you Google it. Added Note: Yes it is. Try Wade and Szabo palettes are vacuum formed whereas the Pike palette, those from Herrings and several others are made from much stronger materials.

What is readily available? In the UK we have Ken Bromley, Jacksons, Lawrence, Herrings and several others possible suppliers. Great Art are German but have a UK telephone ordering number. Great Art have palettes from 85p up to a `professional' box with 48 large wells (!) costing £133.40p. Try Great Art . The enormous catalogue stretches to nearly 400 pages. Jacksons, who tend to be the most popular supplier amongst my artists group  list a large number and have recently added the superior and more expensive Holbein metal palettes. They are not yet in the catalogue but are on the website. Bromley also list a good number including the plastic Maxwell palette `designed by artists'. Herrings are interesting because the Herring brothers (and family) are enthusiastic artists and have introduced a range of artists products `designed by artists for artists'. These include several palettes plus other items like easels. Herrings also sell two `professional' metal empty boxes. Herrings have a website but it is still under construction and art materials are not yet on it. Most of the above also sell various empty, lightweight, metal boxes, cheaper and not to be compared with the more expensive heavy duty `professional' sorts.   

Here are three typical metal boxes, purchased empty and filled with a mixture of half and full pans. I suggest half pans for the least popular colours and full pans for the colours you use most often. You can purchase empty full and half pans at both Jacksons and Bromley and some of the others and fill them from tubes or  half and full pans from manufacturers like Windsor and Newton. Not every paint manufacturer offers both half and full pans.  One of my local art shops in Bath (Minerva) also sells them in packets of ten. You may note two of the boxes above have the Scminke Logo. Some of these boxes, very similar whatever the source, have logos like Scminke, Rembrandt and Lukas. others nothing. They are basically cheap enamelled metal so don't compare them with the more expensive heavy duty palettes I shall cover in Part Two. They do the job if price is an issue but won't last more than two or three years with heavy usage.


Mick Carney said...

Interesting stuff - how many palettes do you own?

Peter Ward said...

Guess Mick! I've tried an awful lot but then I've painted, at various stages, with large flats, large rounds etc and now the Charles Reid way, a number 8 round being the most used. The photos tell the story. Am I embarassed by this proliferation. A little!

Robert P. Armas said...

Great review Peter.Thanks,I was the one that started the thread you mention :).I found here in the US a palette that seems to be ideal for was I was looking for.It's a Fomer metal palette with capacity for 12 whole pans(I can mix and match, whole and half,as you said,depending on colors most or less used).It s made of heavy metal(according to description)and enameled,with 4 deep rectangular wells in one side and one big flat one on the other side when open.And it has the convenience of a metal ring or loop to hold it with one of your fingers.It s sold by Natural Pigments:
and its price is 57.00 dollars,a good relief from the inflated price of the Craig Young one.It's my impression that is made either on what was the former Eastern Germany or somewhere in Russia because most of the products of this company appears to be Russians of origin,some carry a name:Rublev,that says a something about where it comes from.And the operator(s) I have spoke to on the phone have a Russian accent.Anyway judging by the description and picture seems to be a fair deal and good palette.I will follow this comment when I receive it(is on back order).

Peter Ward said...

That was a good discussion Robert and much interesting stuff has arisen from it. I dug around and discovered Fome are an Italian company specializing in quote "high quality metal products for which they have an excellent reputation". These days though It doesn't matter what Nationality a company is they are just as likely to source their products from either Asia or Eastern Europe.

In Part Two Palettes - soon to be posted I shall cover the better quality metal palettes including the alternatives to the hand-made Craig Young and where you can get them.

Anonymous said...


"They do the job if price is an issue but won't last more than two or three years with heavy usage"

The stamped tin boxes you show have lasted me more than a few years with constant use and travel.
they definity have wear and tear on them, but nothing to interfer with their use.
For the price an excellent investment, and they will take both whole and half pans. This makes them very flexible for designing a color palette

Peter Ward said...

IF price is an issue of course they will do the job. So will palettes made of plastic costing as little as 50p. However my experience of these cheaper pressed metal palettes, and also the aluminium ones, is that they start to rust after two or three years. It is possible to prevent this is you adopt a regular cleaning programme removing the trays etc. Each to his own I say.

Cindy Salaski said...

Hi Peter, I just discovered your wonderful blog!
I found one error on this thread, though.
The Robert Wade palette you describe is actually the Robert Wood palette.
Thanks for taking the time to share all this great information with us. All my best to you!

Peter Ward said...

Welcome Cindy and thanks for commenting. The one I described and illustrated is the Robert Wade palette. he previously used the Robert Wood one which is a similar size but has a slightly different layout. I bought the palette from APV films who also sell his signature brushes. I had previously been in e mail contact with him about this and he confirmed he had changed from the RW to his own Australian designed palette.

Cindy Salaski said...

Wow - thanks for letting me know about this, Peter. Robert Wade is one of "Our Top Ten Watercolor Masters of Today" on my website, Please check out artmatch4U as I've just added your blog to "Our Favorite Watercolor Blogs" and put you at the top of the list on page two - I hope this is okay with you.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Cindy. I'll certainly have a look at your website. No I don't mind.

Cindy Salaski said...

Thank you, Peter. I hope you enjoy artmatch4U. Take care!

Anonymous said...

they have several Craig Young WATERCOLOR PAINTBOXES ,WILL THIS PAINTBOXES BE ORIGINALS? SAY ME BECAUSE I want to buy one look the link