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


Unknown said...

Love the post and my two Young boxes, Palette and Pocket, used at home and on the road. They don't make me a better painter but they do give me that little glow of working with quality kit and knowing that they will outlive me.

Peter Ward said...

I think your comments sum it up Mick.

hap said...

Oi! Yes, I'm green with envy! As you know Peter I covet a Craig Young paintbox...But can not justify the expense to acquire one..I am contemplating trying to make my own out of brass, or even copper...but have not made any serious moves in that direction yet. I have however (with great thanks to you and another UK painting friend) been able to get the Frank Herring plastic version of the Roberson paint box...Which is very similar in design to the C.Y. one. It's not as well built (obviously) but it's the right design which is one of the primary reasons I liked the C.Y. paintbox in the first place.

Thanks for sharing this Peter!

hap said...

Oh! And tell Craig I said "HULLO!" :-)

Robert P. Armas said...

I'll love to have a Paintbox in Black,but I can't justify the expense,neither have the funds for it.

Peter Ward said...

Hap and Robert. It is a dilemma. These boxes are very expensive - even Charles Reid says so - and they don't make you a better painter. I bought mine several years ago. At that time I'd never heard of Fome, and Holbein may have been available in the UK but where? As things stand now I'd probably be reluctant to spend as much.

hap said...

Oh if I had the coinage, I'd buy one in a heartbeat even with the long wait on delivery. They are a quality item and will last forever! For the present, I'll enjoy my Frank Herring box and continue to pretend it's made of enameled brass instead of plastic! When I sell a big painting I'll figure that's the time to give Craig a call!!

Anonymous said...

I think buying a good palette means a lot. It can last for decades, unlike cheap options that stain quickly or break up easily or are simply inadequate.
I have a metal enamelled WinsorNewton palette with 12 full pans and although it's almost nice, it stains on a flat mixing plate, and wells are too shallow. For certain type of watercolour painting and small rounded brushes it's perhaps all right, but for painting with bigger squirrel mops, no, it isn't. Instead of filling one well, I must fill in three wells, and the whole purpose of the palette with several mixing wells is lost. That cripples painting technique.

Craig's palette has wells with good 0.5" deep, which is more than twice than WinsorNewton's; for big squirrel mops, it works fabulous — just observe what Alvaro Castagnet uses in his work.

Now, yes, he's a professional watercolourist, he can afford it. But although I'm an amateur, I can confess that quality of painting material DOES effect the quality of watercolour approach. Good tools can help us a lot, or they can seal our fate in watercolours with endless frustrations.

For example, if I cannot complete a wash entirely because wells are not deep enough, and I like to work on half sheet size picture, it's painfully visible! Then I need to change the approach in painting that may not suite my love for watercolour. Or, yes, grab a big studio palette .. but what's the point of plein air painting if I need to carry around my whole big studio equipment?

And so on. Where watercolourists can save enormously is all other areas. Say, by choosing wisely some good paper — instead of painting on a 300lb rag, go for 140lb and learn how to stretch it, or use even 90lb one. (JMW Turner used lightweight papers, for example). Then, instead of spending on myriad of tubes of different paints, use 12 or 15 colours alone and learn how to mix colours better. In paper and paints alone in less than a few years we can save enough money for not just one quality palette like Craig's, that won't compromise our work and will last a lifetime.

Anyway, you may not agree with this observation. However, I can say that by merely using a 90lb paper alone (Fabriano), my watercolour painting has improved, I use less paint & pictures look brighter (pigment does not sink as deep in paper fibres), paper dries faster thus I don't need to waste more time than necessary waiting for washes to dry, and I can save lots of money too. And get myself a Craig's palette, for example. Or put them in a piggy bank.

Thank you Peter.
Sincerely, Thomas.

Peter Ward said...

Welcome Thomas. You've certainly expressed your views forcefully!
The way you paint mainly determines, at least in my view, the palette you buy. If you use very large round brushes, be they mops or otherwise, and/or large flats then a big palette, with large paint and mixing wells, is necessary. If you paint with rounds no larger than a 14, a la Charles Reid who I try and emulate, then a smaller palette, which can also be used plein air fits the bill.
The artist Mel Stabin, uses his John Pike for ALL his work including outdoors. Each to his own I say.
I use mostly 140lb paper but also have Fabriano 90lb and I concur with your remarks about it. I used to stretch but no longer. Too much of a hastle to be blunt.
As for buying a Craig Young palette that's up to the individual. There is a question of affordability and priorities differ. Many artists paint perfectly good paintings using cheaper materials. This includes brushes and paints, not so much paper but even here some good budget papers are available, Bockingford for example used by quite a few professionals.

Anonymous said...

I would so like to obtain one of Mr. Youngs palletts. Would you be so kind as to direct me where I can contact him or buy one. Is anyone selling a used one> please respond as I look forward to where I can get one.

Many thanks

Yvonne Schmidt

Peter Ward said...

Yvonne the link at the bottom of the post gives a link to Craigs website where all the details necessary to contact him are given. Unless he is on holiday, which may delay him replying, you should have no problem getting in touch. Used boxes are rarely to be found.

Anonymous said...

hello my pal in resent days I saw one web page where they sell many Craig Young and Holbein prototipe watercolor paintboxes exacts to original but much more cheapest, US 100 , I ever wanted to buy one craig young but they are so expensive and one have to wait 2 or 3 months in lis , all artists and specially watercolorist all over the world look this page

quingold said...

Curious if anyone has ordered from the watercolorpaintbox folks. Would love to know thoughts on their products from anyone who has one. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, do you know much about the GabiBox London? It is/looks like an hand made all brass field set filled with Roberson half pans. I have a new unused one. It has a water container and water pot 3 mixing palettes.


Peter Ward said...

Hi Martin. I've never heard about the Gabibox. What is it? An antique or more modern. More info would be welcome.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter! I was wondering if you often use your large palette box or just mostly stick with the Paintbox? These are the only photos of the palette box I have found on your blog. Do you like it? Is it heavy? :)
Best wishes, Ewa

Laurel said...

I bought a 16-pan Small Painbox from Craig a few years ago. I was very disappointed. It had scratches, chips down the the base metal, and a very poor finish of the maroon paint. I actually felt heartsick as I had spent almost $500AU dollars and waited twelve months. I was flabbergasted and my husband was furious with me. I put the box back in the packaging, intending to send it back and query the quality, but the whole topic was so depressing I just (willingly) forgot about it. Earlier this year I unboxed the palette after we moved house. The finish is still rubbish, and it is not worth near what it cost, but it is a very sturdy, and well designed paintbox. Last month I filled it with the paints from the palette of my most most-loved watercolourist (Thomas Aquinas Daly), and that has seemed to give it a good vibe again. Now I can use it without utter disappointment, and only minor regret. :/

Peter Ward said...

That is a pity Laurel. All CY palettes are handmade so you have to expect they might vary slightly. I have three and have no real complaints and I've not heard any others.

Plum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Ward said...

Thanks lissa Glad you found much of interest.