Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Coming Full Circle

Sketch kit with Koi watercolor box lid as mixing tray.
Not too long after I began sketching, I acquired a Sakura Koi portable watercolor set with 12 colors (and eventually the 24-color set as well), which I knew would be my key to urban sketching. Indeed, it did open up the world of portable paints, and I used that trusty little set all the way through last spring. I liked it so much that I researched the pocket sizes of a number of travel vests to find one with a pocket large enough to comfortably accommodate the box.
Once summertime rolled around and I was spending most of my free time sketching outdoors, the Koi kit was no longer cutting it. For one thing, the paints weren’t as concentrated as I wanted. For another, the kit required having a place to set it down as I sketched, which usually meant I had to find a seat. This crimped my style because many of the places in which I like to sketch (such as the zoo) didn’t accommodate chairs or stools well.
Thus began my quest for a portable sketch kit that I could attach directly to my sketchbook so that I wouldn’t have to support both the kit and the sketchbook while standing. I eventually developed such a kit with a mint tin and the miracle of Velcro.
Akashiya Sai mixing palette
The attachable watercolor kit met my needs almost perfectly. But the rub was always with the mixing palette. Up until last month, I used a small, plastic Akashiya Sai palette of petal-shaped wells (shown at right) that was ideal in size and weight, but the absence of an actual mixing surface was a severe shortcoming. I managed to muddle by, but it partially explains why so many of my sketches have washed-out, wimpy colors (lack of painting skills accounts for the rest).
Finally fed up with that limitation, last month I began a fresh quest for the ideal mixing surface. I decided to try the switch plate cover idea (shown below) that I had heard mentioned in various art forums and blogs. Although the indentations and marks on the back side of the switch plate cover kept catching my brush hairs, only one mixing area was large enough to work well, and its cream color gave me slightly inaccurate hues, it was a serviceable (but not ideal) solution.
Switch plate cover mixing palette
Fast-forward to last night: I hadn’t used either of my Koi kits in nearly a year, so I decided to clean them up and possibly offer them to someone who might use them. As I scrubbed the inside of the lid of the 12-color set, which serves as a mixing area with divided sections, I had a light bulb moment. The lid is less than a half-inch wider than the switch plate cover and about the same weight. If I could detach it from the box – voila!
The Japanese-made Koi box has a fairly high-quality hinged lid that wouldn’t simply snap apart. But spouse-man Greg likes to take things apart and is good at it, and I knew he’d have the right tools. In a few minutes, he had the lid off – and I think I now have the ideal mixing palette for my portable sketch kit: lightweight, the right dimensions, and with smooth, white, divided wells (shown at top). So I’ve come full circle with the Koi kit – but in a redesigned form.
Finding the ideal solution gives me goose bumps!

Edited 8/31/13: The evolution continues! Take a look at the Van Gogh mixing tray I'm using now.


  1. Great idea...Now I need to remember where I put my out-of-favor Koi box to retrieve its mixing tray! Thanks!

    1. You're welcome, Carole -- I'm happy that you found the idea helpful!


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