Sunday, 20 March 2011

Palettes Pt.3

Previously I have posted three pieces on palettes, Pts.1 & 2 and `The Craig Young Experience'. This 3rd part was prompted by the enormous interest in the subject and a feeling clarification was desirable. Pt.3 covers empty metal palettes, the principle alternatives to the superb but expensive hand-made Craig Young offerings.

Palettes exist for watercolour by the dozen in plastic, ceramic, aluminium, and there are several types of metal ones, but here I am concerned with Fome, Holbein, the cheaper Scminke type, which appear either with other logos or unmarked. Whether these later come from one basic source or several isn't clear. Prices do vary so quality may also be variable. I've also included the Spanish V.Piera paintbox.

 Scminke 12 Tubes
 36 Half or 18 full pans
48 Half of 24 Full Pans

Alternative (No Logo)

You will note on this last photo the smallest box. This takes 12 half pans or 6 Full Pans. With any of these you can mix and match full and half pans. You can either buy pan paints or empty pans and fill with your choice of tube paints. There are offerings slightly different to the above with a silver rather then black outer finish. Most mail order specialists, Jacksons, Bromley, Great Art sell one or other of the above types. Prices vary  for example with Jacksons the smallest starts at £12.50  to £19 for the 48 pan. Great Art however are even cheaper at £8.60 to £15.65p. Bromley, again unmarked as are the others, go from £15.47 to £24.95p. Quality of these boxes appear similar. They are fine but with hard use after a year or two rust can appear. That's my experience as I have had several. I have a filled Scminke box which was given to me as a present and I can see little difference to the unmarked boxes. 

We now come to Fome and Holbein and I will cover the former first. Up until quite recently I had never heard of Fome, `an Italian company with  a good reputation for the quality of it's products'. They offer several different empty boxes but are not easy to find. I contacted Fome and asked them where I could obtain their products in the UK. I received a prompt reply and t was told I could buy their metal boxes from:

14A Orgreave Close, Dore House Ind.
S13 9NP SHEFFIELD. Tel: 0044 114 288 0777


Whitefriars Avenue
HA3 5RH HARROW, Middlesex. Tel: 0044 208427 4343

I suspect they may have thought I was making a trade enquiry because COLART are the company that owns Windsor & Newton. This more or less confirms that the heavy duty filled metal paint boxes (they also offer a lighter, cheaper sort) are made by Fome. The telephone numbers above appear to be those as if phoning from Italy with a country prefix. 

This is the largest Fome box available from Great Art at
£133.40p. It has 48 wells, each with a capacity of 15ml! One for the big brush artists.

Three of the smaller Fome boxes

This completes the range. Some of the above may be duplicated but you can see all are individually numbered.

My pick would be the 12 full pan box 2096. There is adequate space in the centre for more empty pans which would need to be kept in place with a fixative of some sort. A palette of 20 to 30 colours, a mix of half and full pans is easily accommodated in this box. What do Fome boxes cost and where can you get them? Heaton Cooper sell Fome  and they are very well illustrated on the website. Click on `Accessories' and then `empty metal palettes'. Artifolks also appear to sell three Fome boxes. I say this because the website shows three illustrations but clicking on the link only brings up the smallest from £49.99p. Consideration should also be given to buying one of the Windsor & Newton heavy duty filled boxes. They are terrific value for money given the value of the paint alone and are perfect for plein air painting.

We now come to Holbein, long considered of superior quality and priced accordingly. I say this in the knowledge that it is perfectly possible to buy serviceable plastic palettes for 50p. They might stain over a period but at 50p does this matter. When this becomes a problem throw them away and buy another? I find Cif will keep them clean of most stains and also use this on my hand-made palettes.
Holbein 250 31/2" x 8"

Holbein 350 4" x 81/4"

Holbein 500 41/2" x 101/2"

These are three of the four Holbein offerings.The missing one is the 1000 model, the largest at 5 1/2" x 12". Prices vary but Jacksons are £31.60 for the 350 rising to £62.10p for the 1000. Holbein are good quality and used by many professionals. Charles Reid used a Holbein until  the  hand-made Craig Young boxes arrived . Availability has also improved recently. My main concern about the Holbein is the layout of the paint wells. When closed one lot are upside down. Several tube colours do not solidify fully and if the wrong way up will cause a huge mess. You need to be very careful about this.

The final metal palette I want to cover is the Spanish V.Piera paintbox. I first saw it at my 2008 Catalonia painting course with Charles Reid. Some of the Spanish participants were using them and we were given the chance to buy one at roughly £18. Several were ordered but failed to materialise prior to the course ending. Just as well considering how many palettes I already had. 

The V.Piera Paintbox

The centre is removable.

I am indebted to my friend Robert Armas for providing details as follows. The box is marketed by Art Materials S.A, located in Barcelona and mainly sold in that city through the well known Vincent Piera store, known as V.Piera hence the  name. There are three colour options, white grey and black with enamelled white inside. It is a heavyweight at 600 grams, open measurements 30.5cm x 19cm x 1cm. The 16 wells are very large , holding a considerable amount of paint, and are ideal for very large brushes, either rounds or flats.
Several Wetcanvas members have obtained them, some through Robert who has relatives over there. The main problem being carriage charges from Spain. This is also a problem for UK artists with carriage charges quoted almost as much as the cost of the box itself which is around £18.00 ($20 USA). As with so many things they are made in China.

Although initially enthusiastic Robert changed his mind, after finding problems, with the enamelled finish prone to chipping and scratching. Robert has since bought a Holbein because the finish is baked enamel rather than painted on as in the V.Piera. Nevertheless a great value box.

I'm not sure what availability is like in the USA, although both Holbein and some Fome boxes are available. I'll try and find out more and post the information in the final ` Palette Roundup'.


Robert P. Armas said...

Excellent review,Peter.You covered a lot of palettes here.Let me say that I feel about the v.Piera paintbox I sold,so I might get another one later this year,when my relatives come for Christmas.I realized too late that the chipping and scratching was more due to my negligence while treating the stains(I laid the palette several times on the balcony to the sun without anything under it.The friction with the floor probably was the cause of the chip and scratching.
I now believe that with proper care,it can last quite a bit.
The Holbein 500 proved excellent but somehow managed to get some faint scratches in the outer top.I can't figure out yet how or why or when.
As you mention some of the inexpensive paints I have did felt from the top half to the bottom,but since I plan to use it mainly w/M.Graham paints,it's not an issue that bother me much.
I will updated my comment when I acquire the other V.Piera palette.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Robert. I've corrected the Piera mistakes!

Robert P. Armas said...

You're welcome Peter :)

Zvonimir said...

Holbein's palette showed here, and other palettes of a similar design, are used by some well known artists. Joseph Zbukvic from Melbourne uses Holbein's 500 and the bigger version too.
However, I think Mr Young's palette is superior, simply because all other palettes have a serous design flaw — they are too shallow, and they destroy brushes more quickly than necessary.
If you don't believe me, compare the videos of John Yardley and Joseph Zbukvic; John Yardley mixes colours comfortably, his brush goes half bristle length inside the container, slants his brush just a little to fill it up completely, picks up paint beautifully. However, Joseph Zbukvic must hard press his brushes in a very shallow mixing area, distort their natural shape, split hairs with every single mix to pick up paint.
Joseph destroys brushes at a much faster rate, and in his studio he has jars full of brushes he uses for random textures because their fine point is destroyed. To a professional like him that may not impose such a problem (who knows, maybe he has sponsors to provide him brushed free of charge), but for artists like us, I think every single penny must be valued accordingly.
In the long run, Mr Young's palette seems to be best possible investment out there because his palette has been seriously designed and lots of good thought went into it.

Peter Ward said...

Very interesting comments Zvonimir and many thanks for them.

Actually John Yardley goes through brushes like nobody's business! When Ron Ranson was writing his book about John he visited him and said his studio was littered with discarded Series 7 brushes which JY said (after six months use) had `lost their point. And these were series 7 Windsor & Newton costing over £100 each!!!

The Craig Young paintbox - JY uses both the small and large versions. The small paintbox is a copy of an old and much loved box called a Roberson, not available for many,many years. Similarly Craig's palette box is a copy of the equally ancient Binning Munro. They don't make them like they used to!

Zvonimir said...

Yes, professional artists do go through brushes quickly. John Yardley in his DVDs uses very much just one brush for the whole painting, here and there he uses riggers. No wonder. Joseph wastes them like crazy too, and I can see why — he presses his brushes so hard to pick up paint in shallow palette that hair splits totally horizontal, in every mix! You can't keep brush point like that. That's also why he has switched to Ecscoda's nylon rounds, because they're not as expensive as sables.
I've noticed myself hair split and unnecessary brush torture is the trait with all shallow palettes; if I need to split hair while painting, well, that's all right if the painting needs it, but I don't need to do same whilst mixing.
I had a few shallow plastic palettes modelled after that Holbein's model, but don't use them any more and my brushes are in much better shape. They keep their spring ever since I started to use palettes with deeper wells and some brushed I thought were poorly made are actually quite fine now.
I, however, believe professional artists don't often go into such analysis as we do. We can learn from their work, but also from their mistakes. ;-)

Peter Ward said...

You make some interesting points Zvonimir. I suppose professional, well at least really successful ones, can afford to be cavalier with their brushes. One very good artist and teacher I studied with used muffin trays for palettes. He had several. They are very deep and he sqeezed out paint onto the top spaces between the wells. Thanks for commenting.

Robert P. Armas said...

Actually,it's possible to use a palette like the Holbein without causing damage to the brushes and making them to lose their points in no time.
All boils down to moist paint and proper technique while picking the paint from the palette.
You have to moist the paints if they're not fresh from the tube.Give them a couple of minutes and voila.Using the side and not the point of the brush to pick the pigment is crucial to preserve the brush shape and point.
It's my personal belief that most of the professional artists are very conscious of how to use the brush/es properly in the paper surface but don't realize how much damage or harm the brush will suffer when they pick the paint from the palette.Just my personal opinion.I'm a very meticulous person and do take proper care of my brushes-after all they cost me quite a bit considering my low income-,not only while picking the paint but also while painting and furthermore after use.
I use a soap bar made of 80% olive oil(Escoda brand) and hang them tips down to dry before storing them.
That doesn't invalidate that I'm dying to have a Craig Young paintbox in black.The CY palettes obviously make the process of picking the paint more easier than a Holbein one and are a work of art by themselves.
But that is a luxury I can't afford at the moment,maybe someday.....dreaming is cheap.

Robert P. Armas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert P. Armas said...

"I'm not sure what availability is like in the USA, although both Holbein and some Fome boxes are available. I'll try and find out more and post the information in the final ` Palette Roundup'...."

Peter,as an advanced information for your final 'Palette Roundup',I have found that Holbein is available mainly via ArtXpress:
FOME is available at Natural Pigments,Daniel Smith,Jerry's Artarama and ASW Express(Art Supply Warehouse Express).Natural Pigments carry different models,while the other retailers mentioned only carry the models 2095(24 half pans) and 2096(12 whole pans),ASW Express being the one with the lower prices for them and Natural Pigments for the pans themselves(half and whole packs of 10).
To my knowledge these are the only ones that carry these.
I'm expecting this week from Cheap Joe's an "Anderson Aluminum Palette"(a cheap version of the Holbein,but with 20 paint wells,all in one side of the palette-preventing the only concern I had with the Holbein 500:some paints on the upper palette might drop to the bottom side when the palette is closed.
I will let you know privately my evaluation and toughs about it after use.It might or not surprise me this inexpensive imitation of Holbein.

Zvonimir said...

Robert, thank you for you input.
I think you're right when saying shallow palettes can be used carefully. I can mix in them with small size brushes too. But bigger brushes, say round sables size 10 and up, and watercolour squirrel mops of all sizes are a problem. Squirrel hair is so thin it can't pick up a pigment easily, and if the well is shallow, you must split the hair for brush to absorb the mixture evenly.
I thank Peter for writing about palettes in many instances because they are a crucial part of watercolour painting. If we get that part wrong, or if we don't spend enough time investigating, from there everything else goes downhill pretty quickly.

Peter Ward said...

Thanks Robert and Zvonimir. I've been surprised at the amount of interest in palettes - quite staggering! It seems to be something that will run and run.In the latest edition of `The Artist' magazine May 2011, is an article, or rather extract from her new book, by Jenny Wheatley. In a large photograph of her studio is what appears to be a large metal palette which I don't recognize. It is roughly similar in shape to the Craig Young Palette Box but with 24 (full pan?) wells in the centre section, one long mixing flap divided into three, an undivided flap opposite and two smaller flaps.I might see if I can contact her and ask about it. Specially made? I wonder.

Robert P. Armas said...

Zvonimir,I have a Holbein 500 palette and an Escoda size 18 brush(a discounted priced one,thanks to Ricard Escoda,brother of Josep and co-owner of Escoda Brushes,whie visiting Miami)and I have no problem using it in the palette.I agree with the squirrel mops,specially big sized ones.
Nevertheless I would love to own a Craig Young in the future.More room,less worries.
Peter,ask Craig Young too,it might be a one of the special request that he gets sometimes,or often.

Peter Ward said...

Hi Robert I saw another very interesting palette in a piece from Jenny Wheatley's new book in this months Artists magazine. I e-mailed her and asked what it was but so far no response...

Robert P. Armas said...

Hmm,interesting Peter.I would love to see it,but I no longer subscribe to The Artist magazine,only to American Artist Watercolor and Watercolor Artist magazine :(.
Nevertheless I'm waiting till December that her book is out and will buy it.
I'm seriously considering saving little by little and maybe buy a Craig Young Paintbox in a year approximately.It's becoming an obsession and you know I'm hard headed ;).

Robert P. Armas said...

Sorry Peter,I confused Jenny Wheatley with Mary Whyte who has also a new book,due in stores on December.

Zvonimir said...

Hello Peter,
How can I send a personal message / email to you?
Much appreciated!


Peter Ward said...

Hello Zvonimir. I'm not keen to give my e-mail address or put it on the blog. There are good reasons for this. Why does it have to be a personal message?

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter
I currently have an order in for a Craig Young box...I keep switching between the pocket/sketcher's box and the small paintbox...I'm sure I'm really annoying him, as I think I've changed my mind between both boxes about four or five times now....since you have both boxes may I ask which you use the most often/find the most useful? I have the FOME four well full pan palette, and though I find it very well made...I don't like the long rectangular shape of it...and it's a good size when I just want to go for a walk and sketch....however, I'm worried that if I get the small sketcher's box...that it will be too small if I want to do a larger painting...I want one box..but don't want to really be limited...I would appreciate any input anyone has..thank you!

Peter Ward said...

Hi Brianne thanks for visiting. I have both the sketchers box and the small (four well) paintbox. If I had to choose I would go for the paintbox - no contest! The sketchers box is too small and I find I'm using it less and less. It is useful outdoors but even here I think it better to use pan paints rather than fill from tubes.
Downsides of the small paintbox by comparison? It is quite heavy.

Matt said...

If you don't mind plastic, then there is a John Yardley/Craig Young -esque model available from Frank Herring:

This lacks the flat, side panels of Yardley's (and will likely stain in time) but comes in full and half pan models.

P.S. Apologies for being late to this blog :)

Peter Ward said...

Welcome Matt. The Herring models are copies of the same old type palettes no longer available. The difference is that they are hard plastic as possed to brass. A good cheaper alternative.

Edo Hannema said...

I really loves this subject, thank you for this excellent review of those different paintboxes.
Also all the comments are very valuable, you have here a huge amount of skillful people, and it is priceless to get all this knowledge on one page!
Great stuff!
Best regards Edo

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for visiting Edo and commenting. Much appreciated.

Julie Paradise said...

And the quest goes on ... thank you for writing about all those wonderful palettes!
Watercolours are as tempting as candy to me and so I have found lots of other lovers of those sweeties. If you allow me to take you and your readers away for some minutes I show you my modified W&N (i.e. Fome) four-welled heavy enamelled box purchased from Jackson's. As mentioned before the price is very reasonable esp. when considered what the paints alone would have been worth.
I am very happy with my modifications to fit 50 half pans in it although I have to admit that I mostly paint very dry and with a lot of detail so this style might not suit most painters.
This is my flickr-link to the palette (uber-palette ;-):

Peter Ward said...

Welcome Julie. I'll certainly have a look at your flickr photos. Always interested in palettes. 50 half pans! Wow!

Anonymous said...

I m Watercolorist and I have two holbein paintboxes , but since I saw charles reid painting on a watercolor paintbox made by craig young I want to buy one and in a page of art dealers they are selling several paintboxes .how I m not a expert I want that peter the expert of experts say me if those paintboxes are originals o.k to buy one , the limk is this

Peter Ward said...

Thanks forr visiting Camille. Unfortunately without actually handling the paintboxes I couldn't say whether they are originals or not. However if you compare them with the photographs I published of Craig Young paintboxes you should be able to make a decision. Sorry I can't be more helpful.