Introducing my new watercolour palette
I’m delighted to finally be able to introduce you to my new Binning Monro watercolour palette from The Little Brass Box Company.
At the beginning of January 2018, and after much research (and procrastination!) I finally bit the bullet and committed myself to invest in a handmade brass watercolour palette by John Hurtley of The Little Brass Box Company. I knew at the point of order that the waiting time is approximately 11-12 months so I also committed to myself to not talk about this until I had the palette in my hands! I think it’s the most patient and tight-lipped I’ve ever been! So after 11 months of nigh on excruciating anticipation, I recently received my new handmade, Binning Monro style brass watercolour palette. As this felt like a landmark moment, I also felt it merited a landmark blog post, so here I am introducing my palette in my first ever ‘talky’ for the website:
Up until now, the two palettes that I’ve used more than any other are from Holbein. The smaller Holbein 500 and, most frequently the Holbein 1000. Here are the three palettes side by side so you can see how they compare:
I specifically selected the Binning Monro palette after giving a lot of thought to the number of paints in my palette at any one time plus ‘how’ I like to paint. The layout of this palette, with ample space for 16 colours, 6 deep mixing wells plus a large flat mixing area seemed like the best ‘fit’ for me.
Laying out the palette
The way I’ve set my paints out to date has been quite intuitive, especially in the larger Holbein 1000 where there are far more pans that I have paints to fill! I’ve tended to just group colours together such as blues, yellows, browns and leaving spaces around these groups for whenever I add in a new colour, such as a cadmium red or orange etc. For this new palette I felt I need to be a little more structured in my thinking – not least because in the past year my palette feels as if it has expanded. As all of my watercolour paints are from the Winsor and Newton I popped over to the website to download the professional watercolour paints colour chart. I also did some cursory searches on laying out a watercolour palette, whether to go with a value-based system or a temperature based system.
I then cut out from the colour chart all of the colours I use most frequently so that I could move them around easily to try out different combinations. I tried both the value-based approach and the temperature based approach, before deciding to go for something from a little bit of each that I thought would work for me. Here’re a couple pictures to show how I tinkered and where it led me:
So running left to right in the full pans is:
1 Neutral Tint
2 Burnt Umber
3 Burnt Sienna
4 Light Red
5 Cadmium Red
6 Quinacridone Magenta
7 French Ultramarine
8 Cobalt Blue
9 Cerulean Blue
10 Raw Sienna
11 Turner’s Yellow
12 Transparent Yellow
The four ‘half pans’ sit slightly out of the system as they’re colours that I use, but not as frequently as I use all of the others but, again in left to right order:
1 Winsor Violet
2 Cobalt Violet
3 Cobalt Turquoise
4 Cadmium Orange
On top of this, is a tube of white gouache for the odd highlight that I carry separately.
There are no two ways about it. A handmade watercolour palette of this sort is a huge investment. This one, in total with a bespoke colour choice for the external enamel, came in at £410.
It’s also the type of investment that I’m not sure you can ever realistically expect to attribute a financial return on. A painting done with this palette will not be worth more than a painting done with another palette. Will it lead to better paintings? I have no idea but I hope so, and I think that the early signs are very promising! It certainly won’t compensate, however, for any lack of putting the hours in painting.
That said, there are those harder to quantify elements. Does it make me happy to paint with this palette? It’s far too early to say yet but I certainly hope so! I’ve always been a fan of craftsmanship, of the skilled handmade item that may sometimes lack the unswerving uniformity of the mass-produced, but is inherently unique, faults and all. Such items are crafted with love, care and an attention to detail (note the removable hinge pin, and I love the spigots at the back of the palette to keep the three well flap ‘level’. With an item like this, much as with my favoured Frazer Price Palette Box for sketching, it’s brass, so won’t rust and, as long as I look after it, it should be pretty durable. Then there’s the internal enamel. This, to my mind, is the element that promises the watercolour equivalent of the Midas touch and is largely why I took the plunge. I’m already noticing a discernible difference in how the paint behaves in the mixing areas of this palette compared to those of the Holbeins.
Honestly though, yes I do feel a little uncomfortable spending so much money on a watercolour palette – especially when there are so many other perfectly good and more affordable palettes to choose from. However, as mid to later life crises go – it’s still a whole lot cheaper than a convertible car, although I got that one of my system some time ago so not perhaps the best analogy!
I think that I’ve said before that I’m in this for the long haul, so I see this as an investment towards my own happiness…. which suddenly makes it seem quite reasonable! What I’m really looking forward to now is spending a lot of time painting with and getting to know this palette. It’s a beautifully crafted object in its own right and I can only hope that the pleasure I derive from using it will somehow translate to my paintings!
What I can’t compare is how this palette stacks up against an equivalent palette by the many other providers out there. I did my research and made my decision. So far, I’m delighted with the decision and, in terms of quality of the craftsmanship, the friendly service and communications I received from John at The Little Brass Box Company, I have no hesitation in recommending John should anyone be considering investing in a palette like this / having their own mid-life crisis! (Re: the midlife convertible car crisis, I’d definitely try to avoid MG MGF range – no end of trouble with the head gasket!)
So, in parting, here’s a little gallery of images.
If anyone has any questions about this palette, or the decisions and deliberations that led to this choice, please do let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer. I’d also welcome any feedback on the video too as it’s something that I’m minded to do more of.
Having invested in such a beautiful palette, I was mindful of how best to protect and look after this palette. I started off by keeping it in an old fabric shoe protector, the type you sometimes get it posh hotels. While this was fine, it didn’t quite feel like a perfect ‘match’.
For Christmas, I was royally treated with a voucher for a one day workshop with Wolfram Lohr in his Brighton leather workshop (well, Hove actually!). Wolfram makes beautiful leather goods and I’m fortunate to own a few smaller items such as an A6 notebook cover and my goes everywhere with me glasses case!
I’d already contacted Wolfram in advance of the workshop to see whether it would be possible to make a bespoke case for my palette on one of his one-day workshops and he’d said that we should be able to manage it on one of his ‘clutch-bag’ making courses. I was one of only three people so there was lots of time for Wolfram’s personal attention. I didn’t do any preparation in advance and, after a brief introduction to the day and some basic design principles – we all set about coming up with a design and making a cardboard pattern to test and work from.
This was followed by thinking about fastenings, choosing our leather, marking it, cutting out the component pieces and then, bit by bit, glueing, punching, poking, prodding and hand-stitching it all together before a final bit of polishing, chamfering the corners of the seams and sealing all of the edges.
I had a great time doing all of this. It was great to be working with my hands and I loved being in Wolfram’s workshop. From the smell of the leather to being surrounded by so many fabulous tools and machines, some modern, but mostly old and the type that has been used in the manufacture of leather goods for many many years was wonderful. Here’re a few pictures from my day:
If you can discern any blemishes on the leather, they’re not blemishes – they’re bloodstains! I did have a minor slip with a very sharp ‘awl’ but Wolfram was quickly on hand with his supply of plasters before too much damage was done. It was also at this point that I was especially grateful that Wolfram had talked me out of going for a yellow leather for the entire case rather than just for some detailing!
I feel that I now have a case that really complements my palette. To know that I made it from scratch with my own fair hands and that it turned out more of a success than a disaster makes me really happy.
As well as running workshops (I did this case on one of his ‘Make a Clutch-bag’ courses) Wolfram does also work to commission and I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear from anyone that wanted to have as beautiful a case as the palette inside!