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'.

Thursday 10 March 2011

The Craig Young Experience

Craig Young has become famous in the World of Watercolour as the maker of very special hand-made paintboxes. How did this come about? Craig was always interested in making models of various sorts, micromodels and also aircraft. He graduated from University and studied Metallurgy, initially being employed in the research department of the motor giant Ford. Later he worked for ICI, where he was involved with metal, plastics and paints.

 In about the early 90's he became interested in watercolour painting and decided to enrol on a course with the famous British watercolourist, the late James Fletcher-Watson. When on the course he noticed JFW's paintbox, a venerable antique, which had been repaired many times and went back fifty years! James told him he had asked both Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney to make some of these old style paintboxes but both refused. I should add that at one time there were several distinctive old designs, made by, amongst others, Winsor & Newton, but they have been unavailable for many years. When they occasionally turn up at antique sales they command high prices.

This got Craig thinking and he thought he would have a shot at making one. He decided to use brass instead of tin as it was easier to solder and did not corrode. For the first one he encountered all sorts of problems, tried different soldering tecniques and also paints, overcoming the difficulties by seeking specialist advice. The paint he uses is one from the garage trade which includes a hardener. This all took several months before success was achieved and that was with the first box! The initial boxes were all in black but other colours have since been introduced and proved more popular. At this time he was still working for ICI and made the boxes at weekends in his garage. First years production was 12 units.

Naturally James Fletcher-Watson was the first customer and the Fletcher-Watson palette was the first box. After several years, at 57, he was offered early retirement, and jumped at the chance although he afterwards did consultancy work for Manchester University.

With James Fletcher-Watson promoting his palette orders began to come in. One day he received a call from a lady wanting to order a box, purporting to represent the Duchess of York. He thought it was a hoax  but later received a call from JFW saying had he received any contact about this. It turned out she was having private painting lessons with JFW and he had recommended Craig.

The Fletcher-Watson

.Craig is a keen artist and he believes this has helped considerably as he understands and is interested in talking to other artists. Following his experience with Fletcher-Watson he heard about John Yardley and duly went on one of his annual courses. Once again he noticed that John was using an old battered paintbox of a distinctive design.This relic was an old famous box known as a Roberson. He decided to try and make a replica which proved much more difficult than his first, due mainly to the oval recessed wells of the old design. However this man is nothing if not persistent and after much trial and error the problems were overcome. Craig became friendly with John Yardley and has been attending his courses for 17 years. He says they are more of a social occasion these days with several other friends, like professional artists Judi Whitton, Steve Hall and Don Glynn, regular attendees.

Then came Charles Reid. Craig heard about Charles and booked one of his courses in America! During the course Charles came to look at his work and noticed his paintbox. He picked it up and proclaimed to the class he had been looking for something like this for years. Craig also became friendly with Charles and Judi Reid and for a few years organized his UK courses, although this has now been taken over by Jane Duke. Charles has four of these hand-made beauties!

Once again word of mouth recommendations, and other artists seeing the palettes, has led to repeat orders from all over the World, especially the USA which accounts for 50% of the total. Many famous people who paint have them including the singer Tony Bennett, the actor Gene Wilder, both friends of the Reid's, and some important corporate figures. Steven Spielbergs wife has one. Each box incidentally has an engraved plaque with name or initials on it. This is the only bit of the box that Craig doesn't make personally.

The Small Paintbox

The Large Paintbox 6 oval wells instead of 4, and 20 paint wells instead of sixteen

The Sketcher's Box Judi Whitton has a `special' with 20 paint wells.

My three treasured boxes, The Paintbox, Palette and  Sketcher's Box,
two in British Racing Green the other brass.

As above but open.

I contacted Craig this week and asked a number of questions which he kindly answered.  In making the palettes he uses a cold curing modified epoxy paint, together with a hardener. It is sprayed on and cures in around 30 mins at 60 Deg C. Despite being urged over the years to buy specialized equipment and get a small workshop, he has resisted this for various reasons. He still does all the work in his garage and uses minimal tools, vice, tin snips and hammer! He does have steel blocks to form boxes around, but dished wells are all hand shaped likewise hinges etc.

Craig produces around 15 boxes a month and prefers to mix the types, rather than do a long run of one particular sort. He has made over 2500 to date and the most popular is the Small Paintbox (Roberson type) with sales approaching 1000. He did make two very small boxes, the Pocket Box and the Sketcher's Box, but now only one, which takes either half pans or tube paint. The Palette Box is a replica of another old type called the Binning Munro. This was used by Trevor Chamberlain who now has the Palette box without the flap as  does David Curtis. When I was on a Charles Reid course in 2008 I noticed he was using a similar box to the Palette one but rather lighter. I'm not sure what the differences are but Craig tells me has sold a number, although not advertised it due to the large number of orders he has for the others. He is open to `special' orders but naturally at a price. I have met quite a few artists with his boxes, and not all are professionals by any means, many amateurs like me. One point that needs to be made is that these boxes are heavy duty, in other words quite heavy compared to the cheap metal ones on the market. This doesn't refer to those made by Holbein and Fome, and the Spanish Viera, which will be covered in another post. 

There has been a great deal of comment on Wetcanvas and also Painters-Online about Craig Young palettes. They do create much interest and some controversy. Those who have them treasure them, while others, for different reasons perhaps, question the need to spend such large sums of money on a painting palette. Other artists would dearly love one but feel unable to make such a large financial commitment. Unfortunately as I have shown niche products, hand-made not an inferior replica mass produced in  China, don't come cheap. Does possession make you a better artist? Of course not but those of us with them can still dream of becoming one.  Craig's website with full details of his product range, prices, delivery times etc is

Sunday 6 March 2011

Model Portrait

Last weekend the Guardian colour mag had a lovely cover photo of a beautiful model with fantastic hair. I was so taken with it I decided to try and paint her. Unfortunately due to copyright restrictions I can't show the original photograph so you'll have to use your imagination!

Stage 1 & 2. The drawing and first try at the features.

Hair (!), face and lower area.

THE MODEL! Waterford 16" x 12" Not

She has quite dark skin and striking eyes. As for the hair. Wow! The hair was painted mainly with a combination of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue mixed partly on the paper. There is a little Burnt Umber, Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine Violet (Rowney PV15) plus some Viridian (Rowney), but the main colours are various mixes of the Burnt Sienna/Ulramarine Blue combination.  The face colour is a mixture of Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Gold (PO49) and Quinacridone Rust (Graham PO48). with Ultramarine and Cerulean to darken. The colours in the dress are Ultramarine Violet and Cerulean, heavily diluted. Also small touches of Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna. I used mainly two brushes. The Isabey Size 6 retractable for the features and Rosemary Size9 Series 33 Kolinsky for most of the rest. I also used a long-handled No 4 W & N Cirrus. Comments welcome.