I was looking through a year-old sale catalog from Cheap Joe's while cleaning yesterday (I know, I know, let's just gloss over that little admission) and found the Cotman Compact Palette on sale for $19.99. (I'm recommending this palette NOT THE PAINT IT CONTAINS, so keep reading.) I wondered what it would cost today, a year later—well it's still on sale for the same price on their website for the holidays. Since it's a holiday sale I don't know how long it will last and wanted to bring it to your attention before the end of the year.
Note: Something is screwy with my cable connection today or with Cheap Joe's site because when I went to get you the EXACT product link the product came up with my search for "Cotman Compact Case" along with a bunch of other products and when I clicked on the item it wouldn't go to the linked item but gave an error. Incidently the picture that came up today also showed it at $14.79! Which is an old price, which probably explains the broken link.DO NOT GET THE Cotman palette which has "Watercolor Pocket Plus Traveler" in the title. It comes in a Cotman and a Winsor & Newton Artists' version too. It is a smaller palette without the same sturdiness and without the slide out mixing area and thumbhole present in the palette I'm suggesting above. That's why I included the photo so you could see it.You might have to call Cheap Joe's and ask them for the product number on the phone, so you can check it out on your computer.Also for some reason Typepad isn't letting me put paragraph breaks in my main text, but I've got to get going so you'll still get the idea, and maybe once it's posted they will magically appear.
You may remember me showing you this palette in the uncropped photo of my travel palettes in my October 22, 2008 post, "Travel Palettes for Watercolor and Gouache."
I've highlighted it in today's image so that you can see the exact palette I'm writing about.
When I first purchased this palette in the 1990s I paid $14.99.
I immediately unwrapped all the paints, tipped out the Cotman cakes (which are a student grade paint and not worth working with) and filled the pans with my own selection of colors from Daniel Smith Watercolor tubes. (Daniel Smith Watercolors have a heavy pigment load and they rewet wonderfully to deliver fully saturated color. You can't say the same about all brands of tube watercolor paint.)
This palette, which I don't carry daily, but do take on all my trips as well as on visits to the zoo and other extended painting trips, has now been with me for probably 15 years. It has been dropped on concrete, tile, and hardwood surfaces. It remains near perfect (the mixing well areas are of course a little more dingy than the first day I used it—but even that plastic has held up remarkably well considering all plastic surfaces stain over time, particularly with the use of staining colors. What you see in the photo is not staining, but actual puddles of pigment.)
I think that's a pretty good investment for $15. Considering that you can't get my favorite square metal box from Schmincke empty any longer (you have to buy it with factory selected pans that you might not be interested in using at a cost that last time I checked was over $100; and since Schmincke pan watercolors are an excellent product you aren't going to want to toss them—though you can add new pans). Even at $19.99 this means the Cotman palette shown above is still a great bargain.
If you don't read my other post (linked above) about the various palettes you'll miss the one drawback of this palette—it only accepts Winsor & Newton pans. No other brand of pan (factory-full of paint or empty) that I've found fits in this box. Since you can easily get the paint out of the pans and put in your own tube color, however, this isn't a problem if you're looking for a palette to use with your tube colors.
I haven't looked at one of these for several years (I bought a spare a few years back when they had crept up in cost to $17) so they may have changed how they wrap the paints, but you should still be able to remove the paint without much effort and have a wonderful new palette for yourself.
But remember, the paint it comes with is not worth trying to use—not even for your kids, just don't frustrate anyone that way.
And don't be confused with the Winsor & Newton version of this palette they used to sell and may still sell. It contained W & N's artist quality pans, but I am not fond of that paint either, and you'd be throwing away a lot more money to get the exact same palette. (They also make a compact box complete with a waterbottle, water cup, and sponge in both a Cotman and Winsor & Newton variety, price being the only difference—though I seem to recall the plastic outer case on one might be blue and the other might be gray. It's a nifty multiple use of molds.)
So if you use tube watercolors and are looking for an affordable compact travel palette to fill and take with you check out this one. All you have to do is throw the paint that comes with it away!
You can of course fill the pans with your tube gouache and have a gouache travel palette. I recommend Schmincke Horadam Gouache or M. Graham Gouache if you are going to squeeze out gouache and let it dry and expect it to rewet well in the field. (Click on the category "gouache" to find out my thoughts on gouache and how I use it; use the blog's search engine for things like "gouache palette"; check out the "Gouache Compendium" page, for links to my favorite posts on gouache.)