Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A messy little watercolor project

Sorry folks, but here comes another nerd-post about art materials. If you feel that customizing watercolor boxes may not be your cup of tea, then stop reading now or you´ll be suffering from total boredom very soon.

I have a small watercolor box that is almost always with me. It´s a quite usual model, a metal box with room for twelve half pans of colors. There used to be a metal holder for the pans in it, but I got rid of it long ago to fit more (and bigger) pans in there.

Lately I´ve felt the need to start using tube colors instead of pans. I want to be able to use a bigger palette when painting at home and with two different palettes it´s cheaper to use tubes for both than to maintain the pan system for one and buy tubes for the other. Also, the pans in the pocket size box were slowly sliding around in spite of the double-coated foam tape I used to try to keep them in place and I have been looking for a solution to this little but annoying problem.

I decided to build permanent compartments for the colors, and found an excellent plastic material for this in a trash container just around the corner (it´s not always a bad thing to live on a building site). I cut the plastic into strips, two to fit the length of the box, and five to fit the width. Then I cut slits into these to be able to assemble them into eighteen compartments. (I hope the images help to get the idea here.) Then I glued it all into the box with silicone (the kind you use when you build kitchens and bathrooms – totally waterproof), making sure there were no holes between the compartments, to avoid colors leaking in to each other. A bit messy, and the finished result is not a pretty sight, but then it wasn´t the sight I was after, it was the function. And after it dried for a couple of hours, I was ready to put the colors in.

Now, watercolors are expensive, and of course I couldn´t just let my pan colors go to waste. So I poured water into all the pans and waited for the colors to dissolve, then I shovelled them over to the new compartments in the box. It was messy like crazy but then they dried just fine (except Schmincke´s Phthalo blue, which took at least a week). When they run out, I´ll just fill them up from tubes.

Now I have the perfect watercolor palette for everyday use. It fits into my pen case, it can be refilled from tubes, it gives each color a bigger surface than the half pans (about the same as the bigger pans, only square), which makes it easy to fill the brushes with paint.

This image shows my current setup of colors (bigger if you click it, of course). I´m quite happy with them, I don´t feel like I need any more colors. I do have two empty compartments in the box, but I´ll just let them stay empty for now.

I sometimes wonder why I do these things… It took time, it was messy, I got Scarlet Lake over the whole kitchen, I went mad a few times, I cursed the silicone tube at least twice, and before I had finished the whole project I was ready to just go out and buy myself a new box and throw the old stuff in the garbage. But as much as I like buying and trying out new art materials, I can´t help feeling very loyal to the stuff that I´ve had for a long time, and that has served well over the years. It felt better to rebuild this old box and keep it working, than to throw it out for something shiny and new. I´m glad I did it. But I would perhaps not rebuild it again in the near future...

14 comments:

Laura said...

Well, Nina, I think this is fascinating and I applaud your ingenuity. Really, really I do. I, however, want to cheat and ask you where you got that nifty-sized box to begin with! I have one that is too small and one that is too big. Yours is just right.
Signed,
Goldilocks

Toni said...

Perhaps as artists we like to construct things. I know i do and this is something I would have done.
So bravo you have a new compact watercolor travel kit and homemade ready to go.

Anonymous said...

Nina, you are so right - it is much better to rebuild something old and loved and that works than it is to buy new. Your palette is interesting; there's a few hues in there that I don't usually use so I might add them to my palette for a bit and see what happens. Thanks for the great project rundown! gabriella

Sioux said...

Wow, Nina, this is great!

Linda T said...

Nina, I am always looking for the perfect small watercolor box, and I think you have the best solution: make it yourself. Way to go!! I'm inspired...

Gene McCarthy said...

It's interesting that you choose to fill the WC pans letting them dry for later use. I have always been taught to always squeeze fresh color on top of the dried residue before beginning a painting. Your thoughts?

Virginia Hanley said...

Lovely job, Nina. Just before all this discussion about refitting small watercolor pallettes or making one's own with mint tins, I bought a new travel set from W&N. It's small enough, but squarish, not flat, when folded. Nothing's perfect, but your solution looks great. Worth your effort, I'd say.

Felicity said...

Fascinating stuff! I agree about not buying shiny new things - I think that can become an end in itself and the less you you buy the more imaginative and productive you become (it's true for me anyway. I'm tempted to waste way too long shopping instead of doing!)

Jennifer said...

Very cool! I think it's great that you reworked the old instead of chucking it for new. Definitely the more creative solution!

swee said...

Nina, Looks like one of the colours is a Schminke. Good paint. Tried Van Gogh?

swee said...

ps: Forgot to say this: instead of cutting and glueing, ever thought of using pill boxes? I have seen various sizes and they have compartmentalised caps which will keep the colours from drying too much and prevent spillages. Just a thought

Jana Bouc said...

Brilliant idea--thanks for posting it. I've got several different little and big pallettes and none are perfect (isn't that life though!). One is very old and just like yours and the pans are always sliding around and there's a lot of wasted space in there, I agree. I like your new paintings too.

possum4all said...

Nina, this is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth said...

Brilliant! Hadn't thought of silicone caulking...