Travel Palettes for Watercolor and Gouache

October 22, 2008


I like to paint out in the field and around town. To do this I like to carry my paints with me at all times. I also like to travel light. The above photo shows a selection of travel palettes with which I work.

The two smallest palettes in the center of the image are kid's palettes (note the U.S. Quarter positioned next to the palettes for size comparison). The one on the left contains watercolors, the one on the right contains gouache. I take out the pellets of kid paint and use my own favorite brands of paint. I had a shoulder problem several years ago and even my other travel palettes were too much for me to hold at the same time I paint (I typically stand and hold journal and paints in one hand and work with the other). These small palettes are filled with 11 colors each. Because they are so small they are in my fanny pack at all times. I can paint with watercolor or gouache depending on my mood.

On the top left I have a 4 x 5 inch Schmincke pan box which actually contains Schmincke watercolors. The box has been modified so that it can contain an extra row of pans.

On the top right there is another 4 x 5 inch Schmincke pan box. To fill this box I purchased empty pans (Daniel Smith and others sell pans which fit this box), and filled them with the gouache colors I like to use (Schmincke and M. Graham brands; both are pigment rich, don't have opacifiers in them to make the paint chalky and cloudy, and most important they both rewet really well).

The white plastic box in the front is a Winsor Newton Cottman watercolor box (there are a number of styles sold with Cottman watercolors; this box folds to 4.25 x 5.25 inches and is very slim and easy to pack; on the right of the box you can see the extra mixing tray just peeking out from the bottom of the box, it slides out and is the width of the box). As with the kid's palettes I tossed the watercolors that came with this box. (Cottman watercolors are Winsor Newton's student grade watercolor; I purchased the box on sale for $15 and the box was worth that to me.) I filled the pans with watercolor brands I like: Daniel Smith and M. Graham. (Note the Cottman pan colors come wrapped in paper, you throw out the wrapped color and keep the pans as other brands of empty pans do not fit in this box!)

On the far left is another palette I just got this summer. The photo was taken before I filled it. This 2.5 x 3.25 inch metal box has 2 rows of 6 wells for paints. Note that the end of the rows are not closed so you'll need to fill those areas with hot melt glue to keep paint from leaving the end wells. I used one whole pan and 3 half pans to fill the central area and add additional colors. This created additional small side areas between the pans and allowed me to fit 8 additional colors in the box for a total of 20 colors. (A friend sent me this box from the west coast; it is now available at Wet Paint for $12.95: the Pocket Painter Palette.)

I'm an advocate of using as few colors as possible, but this box makes a nice compromise between my full boxes and the kid's palettes.

I've been pushing myself to paint more landscapes and find that I have a need for some new colors not currently in my palettes. Because of this I'm changing some colors around, or maybe I won't. I'll write more about the contents of the palettes in upcoming posts. If you want to read about how I worked out which colors to put in the white watercolor box you can check out a PDF called "Adding and Deleting Pigments from My Watercolor Palette" under Educational Content? on the Leisure Reading page of my website.

Related Posts

  1. Reply

    I love seeing these photos of your gear. I could NEVER cope with those tiny, tiny palettes, but I love seeing how resourceful you are—and you certainly get great results. It is just posts like these that you were made to blog for! (That doesn’t make sense much—I hope you get my drift ;D.)

    • cynthia
    • October 23, 2008


    Love your new blog! I was so happy to see that you have set this up. I especially like your post on watercolor palettes–very thorough, as usual! Glad to see that you got Wet Paint to carry the little black metal one.Yay!

    • Roz
    • October 23, 2008

    Cynthia, it is nice when I can convince Wet Paint to carry something, instead of having to rely on far flung friends to pick up palettes for me (many thanks again!). Now if I could only get them to start carrying Schmincke Gouache again!!!

    And Laura, thanks for the post. I would love to carry the largest palette in the world with big pans to slide a brush through but more and more it seems about limits: what can I carry with me always and not break down under; what can I use while I’m standing and working in tight spaces, or large open spaces in the middle of nowhere. Dick always jokes that I have a better utility belt than Batman. Maybe I do, but now everthing is getting smaller and smaller! More gear posts will definitely pop up!

    • Janine
    • April 17, 2009

    Thanks for posting this. I want to get one of those Cotman Palettes and fill with my own tube colors. Now I know I don’t need to both buying extra empty pans! 🙂

    • Roz
    • April 17, 2009

    Janine, one thing you might consider doing, I found that the pans were a bit loose, so I put a dollop of hotmelt glue under them to really hold them in. I keep my palette open over night if I have been using it, so that all areas and crevices get to dry.

    Have fun with your new palette!

    • jean shah
    • May 17, 2009

    Hello – This post is very helpful, but where did you find the kid’s tiny watercolor palettes (sets)? I’ve looked around a little on the web and can’t find anything just like that. Thanks! Jean

    • Roz
    • May 18, 2009

    Jean, I purchased my tiny children’s palettes at Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN. You can find them on the internet and they do mail order.

    • Sharon A. Griffith
    • October 4, 2009

    Dan Smith has those tiny palettes on their front desk in the Bellevue WA store. I am such a sucker for all these palettes and have far too many to add any more but was not successful negotiating Wet Paint on line to find that little metal palette..what did I do wrong? I wonder! Maybe it was saying you don’t really need this!

    • Roz
    • October 4, 2009

    Sharon, Wet Paint is constantly updating their site. I hope you have better luck next time.

    • Marion Walsh
    • May 5, 2011

    How did you get the Graham watercolors to dry enough not to ooze? Even the company spokeswoman told me she didn’t travel with them. I love the product line but they tend to stay goopy. Have not tried Graham gouaches in pans, however.

  2. Reply

    Marion, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have a problem with M. Graham watercolors oozing.

    They do, because of the honey, stay a bit tacky (forever in the pan), but they don’t ooze, even on hot humid days in MN summer.

    I have heard from someone in the south who told me her palette never dried up enough for her to carry it with her without the colors “sliding” around, but she was sure it was the humidity.

    I put the color in a pan 1/3 at a time and let it dry over several days until the final 1/3 is put in, and also let it dry before I go off in the field. If the base layer is dried before you put on the 2nd and then 3rd layers. I’m sure this creates a good foundation for the top layer. If you haven’t tried it this way you might want to.

    If you are having a different result and the company spokeswoman tells you she doesn’t travel with them, then all I can tell you is you’re going to have to go to another line of paint to make your own pans.

    The great news about that is that I can recommend you use Daniel Smith!!!

    Just use up your current paints and replace them with DS as you can.

    • Marion Walsh
    • May 6, 2011

    Thank you! I should have mentioned I live in Raleigh, NC, and never thought about the humidity, with the honey in the paints etc. It will be interesting to see if the gouache oozes less; the products are wonderful, though. But I can buy DS locally, so another excuse to buy paints!

    D. Graham did suggest the paints creep less in metal palettes, but my Holbein metal ones are the worst for leaking. Thanks again for the tips.

  3. Reply

    Hi there! Where do you put the water? I hope you don’t think this question is too silly.

  4. Reply

    Sylvia, I don’t know if you’ll get this since it has been a year. Your 2011 message left on a post from 2008 escaped my notice until I happened today (2012, April) to come to this post to copy a link to send to someone.

    Nope that’s not a silly question. I use a Niji waterbrush when I am sketching in the city or the field, so I don’t need a water container. In fact in the Winsor and Newton white palette in the front I converted the area where they had a flat water dish to hold more paint!

    Google Niji waterbrush if you don’t know what they are, you can buy them pretty much at all arts and craft stores.

    If I am going to be working with paints for a longer session and actually able to sit somewhere (such as at a table in my hotel room or friend’s kitchen if I’m visiting) then I have a couple collapsible cups of the type found in camping mess kits. They collapse and telescope together into sections which form one large circular disk. I fill those little cups with water and use them as I would larger containers in the studio at home. Those small camping cups can be found at camping supply stores and in “collectible” stores. The best are of metal. Some plastic ones can also be found in the same places mentioned as well as auto and travel type stores.

    Hope it goes well for you.

    • Irene
    • September 21, 2014

    Hi Roz. Wonderful post. Just getting into gouache myself because I really like the opaqueness. Do you find either of these brands to break in the palette when dried. Thank you.

  5. Reply

    Irene, I recommend you have a read through of my Gouache Compendium page

    There you’ll find a bunch of answers about how and why I do and choose what I do and choose.

    I use the two brands I do because they don’t break up for me on the palette. Some brands like Holbein are very crumbly when used the way I use gouache in the field so if I use any of those it’s always just in the studio.

    Have fun diving into gouache!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close Cookmode