Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pocket Palettes

My first pocket palette from an Altoids tin
My love of pocket palettes began in the early summer of 2012. I was preparing to visit France and was enamored with the idea of painting Paris. But being very new to watercolors I wasn't sure how to travel with them. A friend mentioned using an Altoids box for a palette, and as I started looking for options I fell into the world of pocket palettes!

These wells are bigger than full pans!
That summer I made my first palette and it went to France with me stocked with very cheap student watercolors. I sat in parks sketching statues with it and there painted the first watercolor painting I was proud of. Now I know how huge the wells were, but overall I loved the thing. While I've since seen great tutorials ranging from using empty half-pans with magnets to soldering wells into the tins* this construction was easy to construct in an urban apartment and I didn't have to order any supplies.

*This tutorial has since been removed.

Mixing area as extra "lid"
The wells and mixing space were shaped with SculpeyTM polymer clay inside the tin and baked there according to directions. After cooling, I painted the wells and mixing area white with acrylic paint to help seal the clay and to make the colors more visible. With use, the mixing area detached from the lid. Instead of gluing it back, I found that it fit well as an extra "lid" over the paints. After three years of use the tin is beginning to rust in a few places, but given all I've put it through a little rust doesn't seem like much.

After finding USk Chicago, I upgraded to a 24 color Field Kit of Koi watercolors made by our sponsors Sakura. It is a great kit with little details that really take it up a notch! (If you've been wanting to try one, be sure to join me for Supply Speed Dating at the seminar in July.) But I'm always looking for ways to change up my sketch kit.

Makeup case pocket palette (with two additions)

Last summer just before the seminar, I learned a new mix for skin tones and wondered how my sketches might change if I mixed all my colors. I planned to rework my Altoids palette but was too busy painting to think about a layout. That's when I noticed the eyeshadow box I was about to throw away. After cleaning out the remaining makeup, I had eight empty slots about the size of a half-pan! I painted the inside of the lid with clear gesso to make it a better mixing surface and put in my colors. At less than half the thickness of my tin it is truly pocket sized!

I love the Quinacridone Gold in the top left, but needed the tamer Yellow Ochre too

I used this palette for all my sketches at last summer's seminar, but latter added in two other slots for variations in my primaries. When I just go out with my smallest watercolor kit, I choose this little palette and a water brush. It even fits in the tiny pockets of women's dress pants!

But as always, I'm still looking for a better pocket palette to carry with me. Right now I'm considering making a trip to the Chicago Public Library to make a 3d print of this insert for a pocket palette.

Have you tried making a pocket palette or even several? What makes a watercolor palette ideal for your urban sketching? What's the smallest palette you've ever worked with or seen?


  1. This is my favorite palette by far, it is very versatile in that I can change the half pans out very quickly and completely change my palette. This little guy is very sturdy and is always in my bag, wherever I go! (TSA APPROVED)


    1. Wow, that looks nice and study – like you could feel the weight of its quality! How long have you been carrying yours around?

  2. Hi Allana. Two things in your post caught my attention. I'm very curious, what's your new formula for flesh color? Also, when you wrote,"Right now I'm considering making a trip to the Chicago Public Library to make a 3d print of this insert for a pocket pallette," does that mean, that the Chicago public library has a 3-D printer that is available for the public to use? I'd be very curious to hear how that worked out for you

    1. Hi Mark! Well, my new formula for flesh tones is making its appearance in a post later this month! Stick around and I'll share it :)

      Yes, the Chicago Public Library has a 3-D printer that is available for public use! I still haven't been to test it out, but I'm eager to try – let me know if you make it before me!