Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Customizing the Winsor Newton Sketcher's Pocket Box (2015)

Few travel watercolor kits are as beloved -- and customized -- as the Winsor & Newton Sketcher Pocket Box.  I'm no exception.  I purchased the pocket box for its diminutive size, and switched out the paint to better suit my needs.  You may remember that I'm a fan of the Koi kit from my Meet my Kit post.  I still use Koi on wood pulp paper, but I also need a paint kit that plays nicely with cotton paper.


One of the things I love about the pocket box is how well it works for beginning watercolorists with no change at all.

The colors in the box -- lemon yellow, a couple of cads, a quin maroon, ultramarine, a couple of pthalo blues/greens, and a handful of earth colors --  are a nice mix for a beginning watercolorist to learn urban and pastoral landscape, florals, and portraits.   Only two of the colors, sap green and burnt umber, are formulated with more than one pigment. A few of the pigments are pleasant surprises.  "Viridian" is actually the versatile Pthalo green (blue shade), PG7 and "Alizarin Crimson" is the gorgeous PR206, Quinacridone Maroon.

Photo by Inky Dinky Doodles.  Click the link for a full color chart from the original pocket box.
Factoring into my changes..
  • I'm an intermediate level painter just beginning to develop my own personal palette.
  • The sketch pocket box is just that:  a set of paints that work well for ink and wash.  I am not attempting photorealism or gallery style art in the field. 
  • I primarily paint botanical subjects and simple rural landscapes in New England.  Gray and grayed colors are important in my world.  
  • Value trumps color for me.
  • I use 2 -3 paint colors per painting, and rarely use a true yellow/blue/red triad. My box reflects a set of triads more than a complete palette. A recent chickadee on a branch was painted with Burnt Sienna (PR101), Ultramarine, and Pthalo Green (BS).  
  • I usually work in either a 5-1/2 x 8"  or a 9 x 12" journal. I rarely do more than two passes on a piece, and prefer to do just one (charging color rather than layering).   New England is humid/freezing, and paints can take hours to dry enough to add another layer.
  • My goal is to mix the shades on the paper using only two colors from the palette.  The two greens are an exception (yellow or blue adjusts the shade, red or purple the tone).  For greens, I mix up a "mother green" in one of the palette spaces and then charge in another color as necessary.
  • Unlike most American artists, I prefer the soft glow of earth colors to the more brilliant transparent pigments.  Trevor Chamberlain is my favorite watercolor artist.
  • I am thoughtful about my choices, and change pigments as reluctantly as I change friends. Like any nature journalist, I do occasionally swap out colors if I find redundancy or am in a short season where a different color is more appropriate.  For example, in the spring, Permanent Rose (PV 19) will briefly replace Perylene Maroon (PR 179) for wildflower season.
I customized my box with the following pigments.  I tried to find a high quality photo of each color painted out, and they appear as close to life as possible when using the Safari browser on Apple devices.

Lemon Yellow (PY53)  The pocket box comes with Cotman Lemon Yellow (PY 53), one of my favorite yellows.  When the student grade was gone, I replaced it with WN Professional Lemon Yellow, also PY53
PY53 resembles aureolin's soft yellow hue and its tendency to dull in masstone. It is a relatively weak pigment in tints and has moderate mixing strength with other paints, but creates wonderful pastel greens, browns and blues; and mixed with a touch of burnt sienna, it makes an interesting naples yellow. This is my preferred light yellow pigment for an earth palette.  ~Handprint.com

QoR Indian Yellow (hue) I don't care for cadmiums, and removed the Cad Yellow that came with the set immediately.  QoR Indian Yellow is a convenience mix that exactly matches the yellows native to New England.  Indian Yellow is also the yellow in my go-to 4 color restricted palette. This transparent hue makes rich and varied greens with the Pthalos included in the palette, and lends the earth colors a warm, golden cast.  With the ultramarine blue, I can quickly achieve grayed greens that are suitable for landscapes.  This spot has been Quin Gold in the past and may be again, but for right now, I find the Indian Yellow (which contains Quin Gold) more useful.


QoR Pyrrole Red Light (PR 255)  Cad red was quickly replaced with the more versatile PR 255 (also called Pyrrole Scarlet).  I can create very dark green/blacks using PR 255 and the Pthalos or a wide range of oranges with the yellows.  PR 255 is the red in my 4 color palette. Winsor Red is a similar shade (PR254), but semi-opaque rather than semi-transparent.


WN Perylene Maroon (PR 179) replaced the Cotman Alizarin Crimson (PR 206 Quinacridone Maroon) once I used it up.  I prefer the moodier Perylene to the sweeter Quinacridone.  Thinned to a tint, Perylene Maroon makes a nice colors for pink noses on the ears, noses, and paw pads of mammals.  Mixed with PG 7, Pthalo Green (BS), PR 179 creates a black that is as deep as india ink.


QoR Quinacridone Violet (PV 19) replaced the nearly useless Chinese White.  Quin violet is another superstar mixer.  Quin violet warms Pyrrole Red Light up to a bright cherry red and deepens Pthalo Blue to a moody indigo.  Quin Violet is the color of the sky at sunrise in my neck of the woods, which is why it edged out Dioxazine Violet for palette space.  PV 19 is the wild child of my 4 color restricted palette.

Cotman Intense Blue (PB 15) I left alone.  I have a pro grade of Pthalo Blue if I ever choose to use it, but I find the intense blue a little more manageable to mix in the small amounts I use than the atomic Winsor Blue Green Shade.  Pthalo blue (GS) is another favorite, and one of my basic 4 palette choices.  Intense blue is easily adjusted to any color from turquoise to indigo, and makes a beautiful olive green with Yellow Ochre, moss green with Burnt Sienna, and gray-green with Raw umber.  PB 15 and Indian Yellow make a classic sap green.

Ultramarine Blue (PB 29) is included in the Cotman palette, and I used it until I was able to replace it with the Daniel Smith PB 29.  I use Ultramarine as a mixer only -- it's wonderful for graying down all the warm colors in my palette or making beautiful purples with the Quinacridone Violet or Perylene Maroon.  New England skies tend to be a mix of ultra and pthalo blue.  Both Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber make deep, lively grays when mixed with Ultra Blue.  I often sketch in just Burnt Umber/Ultra Blue and then add a touch of color later.

Greens were considered a primary paint color during the Renaissance, and are an invaluable starting point for botanical and landscape work.  The two greens on my palette are single pigment twins, Pthalo Green Blue Shade and Pthalo Green Yellow Shade.  Pg7 and PG 36 can be used interchangeably.  I tend to mix them with the reds in the palette most often.   I keep them both in my palette because they behave differently even though they look almost alike.

WNC Viridian (PG 7)  I think of this shade as my "male" green.  It's aggressive in tints, doesn't disperse well wet in wet, and tends to granulate.  A garish blue-green, it makes deliciously deep blacks with PR 179 Maroon and a gorgeous night sky color with PV 19, Quin Violet.  A wide variety of "shadow greens" is possible with PG 7, making it an invaluable color for botanical work.  It also can be quickly grayed for use on distant hills.  PG7 is a good starting shade for cooler evergreens as well.  Lastly, PG7 is a necessary pigment when painting the ocean and larger lakes in my area.  True Viridian (PG18) requires a great deal of skill to use well -- PG 7 is a much more forgiving pigment. Like the Pthalo Blues, Pthalo Green is powerful and staining and more difficult to use in the small amounts necessary for journal work, which is why I stuck with Cotman for this pigment.

WN Winsor Green (PG 36) replaced Sap Green, a  convenience mixture. I think of this as my "female" green:  it disperses quickly wet-in-wet, tints other colors without overpowering them, and produces a lighter, brighter version of each mix than the Viridian.  PG 36 mixes a lovely purpley-gray with Perylene Maroon.  I almost never mix this shade with the yellows because it produces an other- worldly green.  I find Winsor Green more difficult to work with than sap green, but worth the learning curve to have a single pigment.


WN Yellow Ochre (PY 43) came with the palette and I avoided the color for over a year.  Recently another nature journalist on a facebook page listed this pigment as "indispensable" and I was intrigued.  I studied the little I could find on the internet, and began incorporating PY43 more and more into my work.  In mass tone, the Winsor & Newton is the color of my mother's refrigerator from the 1970's, but in a wash it turns into a hazy gold that transforms everything it touches. I ordered -- and disliked -- Daniel Smith Yellow Ochre which has a definite terra cotta tinge.  WN has the perfect golden glow.

WN Burnt Sienna (PR101) is in virtually every painting I make.  I don't care for the cooler PB7 from other manufacturers, because the PR101 is the color of the iron that stains our soil, rocks, and rivers in New England.  Burnt Sienna and Pthalo make beautiful mossy shades of green/gray, and Ultramarine turns it a true deep gray.  Many of the birds in our area have this rusty-red color in their plumage, and it's common in the fur of woodland animals.

WN Burnt Umber (PY43, PR 101, PB7) replaces the Cotman cake that came with the kit.  Burnt Umber is a teddy-bear brown convenience hue that easily cools with a dab of Ultramarine.  I originally replaced the Burnt Umber with the QoR Raw Umber (PB7), but straight PB 7 and I have issues.  Burnt Umber and Ultramarine make deep blacks and a wide range of grays that work well for doing two color pieces in the field. (The pocket box has 3 palette wells in the lid which work well for mixing a puddle of Ultra blue, a Puddle of Burnt Umber, and a Puddle of neutral gray.)  Very quick sketches are possible with all three puddles pre-mixed.  Any color can be glazed on top of a grisaille painting once it's dry.  

Why no Payne's gray or Neutral Tint?  I like to mix my gray from Ultra and Burnt Umber so I can "tune" it warm or cool.  If I'm graying down a color, I use its complement, not gray.

I first looked into the Pocket Box and upgrades after seeing this John Muir Laws post a couple of years ago.  He eventually went on to create a huge palette of colors for field use, but his tiny customized pocket box is still a great resource for those who like to paint with a limited palette.

Have you customized the Pocket Box or another common palette or did you create your own?  What do you consider your indispensable colors?  Feel free to pop a link to your own palette in the comments below.



1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful review of your palette choices. I'm just beginning nature journaling and I learned a lot from this!

    ReplyDelete