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:

The Binning Monro watercolour palette by The Little Brass Box Company

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:

Holbein 500 (top left), Holbein 1000 (right) The Little Brass Box Company’s Binning Monro (bottom left) 

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.

How much?

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.

Addendum

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!

31 thoughts on “Binning Monro watercolour palette by The Little Brass Box Company

  1. I’ve been painting for 2 1/2 years and started with a small metal Schmincke palette, moved to a medium-sized metal Schmincke (the long, narrow one), and ended up with a Holbein 500. I settled on the Holbein in order to have more and larger mixing areas and to have the thumb hole to hold the palette, as well as have larger ‘pans’ for holding tube paint.

    In the spring of 2017 I discovered both the Little Brass Box Company palettes and those from Craig Young. As a custom cabinetmaker I appreciate quality tools not only for their aesthetics but for how they affect one’s work, both physically and psychologically. I appreciated the construction, materials, design, and handmade quality. At first I considered the cost beyond me but after thinking it through at some length and considering the wait time, it worked out to having to put away about $50 per for 10 months which is what it turned out to be. That’s only about $12 per week, the cost of eating out at a cheap restaurant. So in July of last year I ordered a James Fletcher Watson palette from the Little Brass Box Company.

    I picked the JFW palette even though it’s large and heavy and I’m a plein air landscape painter because I felt it would best serve my desire to have a sufficient number of large and deep mixing wells for my style of work. My ‘style’ is very much in the English tradition of, you guessed it, James Fletcher Watson and in fact it was through watching his videos and reading his books that made me think that his palette is what would work best for me. I have a small pocket kit that literally fits in my pants pocket so I was really looking for a regular size palette for larger work I could carry in the backpack I use for my regular painting kit.

    Though I expected to wait up to 14 months, my palette was ready in 10 and I received it this year in March, just before my trip to Bermuda in May. Since receiving it I have had dozens of chances to use it both while hiking and from my car when it’s raining. I can honestly say that in terms of quality, craftsmanship, ruggedness, and practical use-ability it is everything I could have wanted and more. I can also say it has definitely improved my painting. No, not by casting a magic spell over me, but in both physically practical and psychological ways. As to the unseen yet real psychological aspects, I take great pleasure in using it, it makes me feel good, and I have a heightened level of confidence in the performance of an important tool in my kit. These things can be hard to quantity but I know from my work as a cabinetmaker that one’s attitude plays a significant role in how the work turns out. It may be in subtle ways but it’s there. It is literally still a thrill to open it up and get it ready, to mix washes in the large, deep wells, to have the painted mixing surface hold the colors perfectly without beading or even staining.

    Some of the psychological aspects start with the physically practical that contributes in real ways to a better end result. For example, the ability to mix a large wash, to have a number of washes or mixes going at one time, the white surfaces finished with a special paint that allow a true sense of the colors. While the Holbein for example is a fine palette, I can say from actual use that it is no match for my JFW.

    Does all of the above justify the price? I think it can only be decided by the individual. Certainly many people produce excellent, moving work using a plastic palette, butchers tray, an old dinner plate, etc. I can’t speak to that. What I can say is that I would be miserable using a plastic palette in the same way I would be using a plastic-handled chisel. I don’t necessarily need ‘the best’ and there would be arguments over what that constituted anyway. But one of the things I need as an artist is to feel good about my tools, that feeling stemming from their quality and practical features that will ultimately affect my work and provide the pleasure and satisfaction I seek from painting in the first place. As far as a palette can contribute to that, my JFW does the job to perfection so for me, it was well worth it.

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    1. Ah, Richard! I so enjoyed reading this comment and I’m so pleased to hear that you’re so happy with your palette – even just hearing that helps to validate the decision I made to invest in one of these palettes. I completely agree with your view that the sheer pleasure of working with good quality equipment, that you feel confident and comfortable with, is a price well worth paying for. I still get a tingle of excitement every time I open this up to start painting with it – and long may that continue. I wish you all the very best with your palette, and with your painting – and really appreciate you taking the time to tell me the story of you and your palette!

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  2. What a wonderful piece, John! I did not even know that something like this exists! I think you work very accurate and this handmade palette is in good hands. I would be almost afraid to use it because my painting process is so messy – i am probably better with the cheap plastic palettes I use. 🙂

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    1. Thanks Carsten, to be honest I’m also finding such a pristine palette a little intimidating! Unfortunately I’m not so sure I paint as neat and tidy as you might think! Hopefully I’ll start to feel a whole lot happier and more comfortable with this palette one it’s a bit more messed up!

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      1. haha, thanks Carsten, I’m feeling increasingly comfortable with it each time I use it – and it’s gradually getting messier and messier, but I think you’re right, I’d still probably lose in a ‘messy-est palette competition!’

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    1. Thanks so much for this Laureen and yes, you’re quite right – when I think of how else I fritter my money away without so little to show for it, it puts this investment in something I love doing into perspectice! (PS – Have you changed the ‘theme’ of your site? It’s looking great!)

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  3. Ooh lovely John. I am totally with you on spending this much! I bought my beautiful brass palette in 2013 for £140. I do love it and on days when I didn’t have time to paint I would still open it up just to look at it! I still do though I seem to have rather fallen in love with gouache for the moment. Interesting comment about the mixing area.
    I wish you a lifetime of happy painting with this…and yes I think the pleasure of painting increased for me by having such a beautiful piece of equipment.
    Happy painting!

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    1. Have to say Carole, £140 in 2013 is a total bargain! I do know what you mean about opening it up just to look at! I keep opening mine up just to spray the pans with water to keep the paints moist, like I’m tending a special bonsai! I’m delighted to hear that your pleasure in painting increased because of your happiness in the equipment you used – I’m already feeling glow of contentment and we’re only just getting to know each other!

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  4. Lucky you! It is a beautiful palette, I had no idea that there were handcrafted palettes out there. I think that I am too cheap to even consider it. I am always taking a pause with my husband’s purchases for his motorcycle. I get to enjoy the fringe benefits. Keep us updated as you use your palette. It is fun to hear about it.

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    1. Hi Margaret and thanks for this. As with so many things, as soon as you scratch beneath the surface, there’s a whole world of wildly expensive options! Hopefully I’ll be able to get some decent painting spells in with this soon so that we can get much better acquainted!

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    1. Thanks so much for this and yes, I’ll be sure to share the paintings that come from this! I can’t promise that they’ll be significantly better than what have gone before it but I’ll certainly keep trying!

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  5. I haven’t had chance to read past the headline yet but can I just say you should give it a few weeks at leastL there’s no point in binning it before you’ve given it a fair chance.

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  6. I looked at these as well when I was considering a new palette, they do look wonderful, however I bought my MGB sports car some 32 years ago and it cost me £650, it’s much more functional and still going! Would be better if it was made of brass though as there is no stopping rust. Enjoy the palette, for now I’ll have to stick with my plastic Windsor and Newton field box.

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    1. haha, thanks so much for this Warren and I’m delighted for you that your MGB is faring much better than mine did! I do know what you mean about the comparative ‘value for money’. How can a watercolour palette possibly cost as much as a car!? Still, a 32 year old MGB and a Windsor and Newton plastic field box is a pretty good combination – both classics in their own right!

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  7. I think you mean, the beginning of January 2018.

    Congratulations! If it makes you feel happy and comfortable painting, that’s really what matters. Tools are important. We take such care about our brushes, the balance, the snap, the load, the release. And our paper. The palette is just as important.

    I have never heard discussed the feel of the mixing area of the interior of Hurtley’s boxes. How very interesting. I’ve looked at his website as well as the few others out there, dreaming of what I would order should I hit the lottery. In the end I have to be content with ready made. That said, I have managed to acquire an original Binning-Munro I bought with a “lot” of watercolor items. I actually wanted the Daler-Rowney travel palette but got the Binning-Munro plus a porcelain mixing palette. I also managed to buy an original C. Roberson for a lot less than a Little Brass Box one. Neither are brass, of course, but that just means I can use the magnets on my pans to hold them in securely. I doubt they’ll rust away until after I am dead.

    What really intrigues me is to finally see your basic color palette. Interesting choices.

    I’ve never been comfortable with the Holbein style palettes because there is always paint “upside down” when you close it up, being on both the bottom and the lid. I have a very cheap plastic in this style I bought for a class, hated it and have never used it since. So all that paint is still in their. But the Roberson I am using has the thumb hole. So far I’ve only used it in the studio sitting on a table but I anticipate I might switch to holding it when I do plein air.

    The removable hinge pin is great but I’m with you. Why take it off? It doesn’t reduce the weight but it takes away an extra mixing area. I find I like mixing on the flat more than in the wells unless I’m making a lot of juicy wash.

    You only have to sell a few more paintings and you’ll have covered the cost of the box.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mary and thanks so much for this! (I corrected the 2019 typo and then only realised later that I’d also called it the Binning Munro palette, when it’s actually a Binning Monro palette!
      I’m pleased that you found the colours in the palette useful to see. I’m pretty settled with most of them at the moment with the exception of the yellows – Turner Yellow and Transparent Yellow. I’m still getting familiar with these two, especially the transparent yellow – I more familiar with Winsor Yellow.
      It sounds like you’ve already got yourself quite a collection of palettes to work with but I do think that the surfaces of them is likley to be different. I noticed it most moving between plastic palettes and enamel ones, but I also think that porcelain palettes are likely to ‘behave’ differently. (It could also be the case that after spending this much money – I quite naturally want there to be a significant difference, even if I have to make it up!)

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    1. Thanks so much for this and yes! Having it as an early present was in my mind and why I was keen to order it as early in January as possible! Unfortunately I just couldn’t wait until Christmas day to open it!

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