A new challenge...

May 31, 2024 | 16 Comments

This week, I decided to lighten my load and remove my normal watercolour palette, brushes and water containers.

Instead, I plan to use a small palette and a waterbrush.

I’m not a fan of using waterbrushes but last year I spent a number of weeks really trying to get better results with them (see here). I thought it was time to have another go. BTW I’m using a Large Aquash waterbrush by Pentel as I find that the wetter the waterbrush, the better the results.

I’m also not a fan of small palettes! I don’t mind a limited selection of colours, but a minimal mixing area is difficult to use. 

This particular palette, which I recently discovered during my big move, was a gift from Paul Wang 10 years ago! I managed to squeeze 14 half pans into it by 1. using Winsor and Newton pans and 2. shaving the corners off the edges of some of the pans (I seem to recall discussing these two hacks with Jane Blundell at the time.) I will make a few tweaks to the colour in this palette (for example, I will swap out Sap Green for my Mixed Green – see this article for more about that), but it’s great to find an old palette that hasn’t been used for 9 years and immediately start using it.

Note: I could also use an Art Toolkit palette, but I didn’t have one ready to use and didn’t feel like filling up some Art Toolkit pans (I find them very fiddly to fill!).

My first sketch with it was of the Teacosy tearoom. I’ll talk more about this next week… but for today, I just wanted to share the state of the mixing wells at the end of the sketch.

Stay tuned for more about this new challenge.

When was the last time you challenged yourself with a change to your everyday sketching kit?


  • Jamie C says:

    That looks like the size of a mint tin! So cute! Looks like a streamlined, light-weight kit all ready for on the go sketching. Looking forward to seeing how the small palette works along with a new stab at water brushes. Like you, I struggle with them.

    • Liz Steel says:

      THanks Jamie – waterbrush will never be as good as a real brush but oh! it is so convenient!

  • Denise Robinson says:

    What to leave out when downsizing is a challenge! You have no Buff, down to one yellow and 2 others? Curious what you decided?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Denise. It’s an old palette so will share the colours once upgraded. Buff isn’t normally in my palette and I have Quin gold as second yellow

  • Denise Robotham says:

    I think I might have read this in your blogs, something I always do now is wet the paper a little before applying paint to the next section of the painting. The exact amount depends on paper, temperature, humidity and how weak or strong you want the paint to be… just a few variables so plenty explore!

    Also when the waterbrush bristles are worn out or accidently ruined don’t throw them out just fill them with water and use them as spare reservoirs if they are the same model or if they are different makes you can usually gently pour the water from one handle to another.

    I love to use them all sorts of water soluble media as well as paint pans. eg, markers, pencils and crayons, etc.

  • Laura Truffaut says:

    I know what you mean about filling the pans of an ArtToolKit palette, but I am finally getting the hang of it. Ahead of a big trip, I filled a Folio palette right after taking your Watercolour course, using the double-size pans and lots of toothpicks. I was able to keep the 14 or so colors I most wanted. I even mixed my own grey in the larger, square pan, something that was much easier than I had thought and that turned out to be a huge timesaver (and mixing area saver!) on location.

  • Sharon Foster says:

    I’ve been urban-sketching for about 2 years with waterbrushes, and it’s still a challenge, but I just don’t want to have to juggle a water jar(s) while sketching on-site. Many times there’s not a flat surface to set up on — just me and my folding stool. I’ve tried several brands of waterbrush, but I keep coming back to the Pentel Aquash. Mainly I use the flat brush and the large brush, and occasionally the small. I use an ordinary office clipboard and a small metal palette (14 half-pans) and fasten the palette to the clipboard with a big magnet-clip.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Sharon and totally understand your use of a waterbrush. Glad you have a system that works.

  • Yvonne Frindle says:

    My EDC kit is pretty stable: a sketchbook and a fountain pen. Very occasionally I have a graphite of colour pencil handy, but mostly its ink. This is my kit for “commute sketches” and small, quick on-the-spot sketches when I’m out and about.

    On the other hand, I change aspects of my urban sketching excursion kit quite a lot – it depends on the location and what media I think I might want to use, or sometimes I’m keen to try something new. Or I might be going to a heritage or similar site with restrictions on what can be used. So I’m always thinking about the location as I pack the night before. It’s a more deliberate thing. The other factor is that I’m exclusively a pedestrian/public transport person, so I’m always aiming to carry as little as possible.

    I do always carry a waterbrush, though, as it’s handy for cleaning palette surfaces and yellow pans, also for adding water to watersoluble pencils and crayons. I too like the large Pentel Aquash as the water capacity is good and it’s pretty easy to control.

    The other thing I occasionally do is carry a few waterbrushes filled with suitable dilutions of Dr Ph. Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art Watercolor. These can be useful if I want to add spot colour to an otherwise monochrome sketch, e.g. placing a blue sky in an ink sketch, but don’t want to get out my complete watercolour kit. I have a “sky blue” mix and an “Aussie green” mix, also a clear, bright red (not too diluted) and a clear yellow.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Yvonne. I sometimes mix up the things in my kit depending on what I plan to do but I’ve always ended up leaving important things behind. Well done for doing it consistently!

  • Chantal says:

    What is the colour of the cream pencil?

  • Cassandra Scott says:

    Ohhh. I haven’t tried sketching out and about, bit I have changed my palette to Winsor and newton quin. Magenta, winsor lemon, and maganese blue hue. I had m grahams ivory black on hand so added that. I was told that these are the colors that would be equal to what is in your printer. Soooo…I am trying to see what colors I can make and having fun playing. I have discovered that I make a beautiful teal very easily and that is never the color I want LOL. It is all good fun and a nice new challenge as I have had to part with my dear favorites

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