Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Few Wildflowers

The purple vetch is very luxuriant this year. Although it's a small flower, it shows almost the same range of blues as delphiniums. The sketch doesn't do them justice. This little bouquet also includes a red clover blossom and some Dutchmen's Breeches.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My Watercolour Box

Behold the perfect watercolour box.

Perfect for me, anyway. A painting kit is such a personal thing for each artist. I'm a casual, undedicated, impulsive watercolour painter, so this sturdy black plastic box made by Pelikan suits me very well.

I've had it for sixteen years. It's 8.5 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 1.25 inches deep. It came with 24 pans of colours, arranged in two trays that snap together, one on top of the other, allowing seldom-used colours to live in the bottom tray, while all the current favourites stay in the top.

The inside of the lid is white, or used to be, and serves as a palette. It also used to be attached to the top tray with hinges, but they wore off around the tenth year. If anything, this is an improvement. I can now remove the lid altogether and place it wherever it's most useful. It still snaps back into place with no problem.

This box is so durable that it once spent an entire winter outdoors, when I forgot it on a rock in a campground at the end of the summer. When we returned in the spring, it was right where I had left it, no harm done. Being made entirely of plastic, there's never any worry about rust.

It's very light and easy to carry around. I just put it on the scale and found to my surprise that it weights 8.9 ounces, or a smidgen over half a pound (roughly 225 g) - the weight of a large Delicious apple. I didn't think it was that heavy. I usually carry it in a canvas tote bag that easily accommodates it along with a couple of sketchbooks, a set of brushes rolled in a bamboo place mat, a plastic water bottle and a cheap plastic juice glass. In a pinch, I could carry it in any reasonable-sized (i.e. large) purse. Water would be a problem, perhaps solved with one of those plastic waterbrushes, but I've never tested that idea.

Not liking the Pelikan paints much, I gradually replaced them with Windsor and Newton pans, which were a slightly different size and had to be glued down with globs of that blue sticky stuff, but that worked fine.

Then, for reasons I have never understood, all the manufacturers stopped making full pans. You could only get half pans or tubes.

Half-pans are too small for my slap-dash approach, and although the tube paints have a lovely fluidity, and are worth the trouble for indoor painting, they are just such a royal pain to use outdoors. First, they have to be carried in some kind of separate container, a box or a bag. The colours don't gaze soulfully up at you when you open the lid of the box, but lurk inside the tubes thinking of ways to waste your time and ruin your day. Sticking caps is one way, lost caps another, squirting tubes a third, drying inside the tube a fourth. Their ways are endless.

So I squeeze tube paints into the old empty pans and allow them to dry. The labels kindly fixed in place by Pelikan don't match the new colours; I have to guess and test a bit with the blues. Most of the others are easy to identify by sight.

The old pans, made of flimsy plastic, are remarkably long-lasting. I often wonder what I'll do when they wear out, because the closest thing to a full pan that I've seen advertized lately are the round pans in a new Pelikan box. Who needs a round pan? You can't fit as many in a box, and they look like the first watercolour set I ever had, at the age of five - eight puddles of cheap paint on a kidney-shaped wooden palette with a thumb hole. (Hello, toymakers, you don't use wood for water-based paints. Stop leading small children astray!)

It seems that some manufacturers make good paint, others make good boxes, and some make beautiful boxes that are works of art in themselves but are as useless as casters on crutches. So it's a good thing my box is so durable.