Here’s a fun problem: You’re going on a trip, whether just for the day or for a long holiday vacation, and you’re trying to figure out which of your art supplies to bring (after all, you do have to make room for some clothes). We got advice from an expert on the perfect travel watercolor palette.

Brenda Swenson is this week’s teacher in our Seeing kourse. She’s an illustrator and author who loves to travel and sketch on location. Over the years, Brenda has perfected her travel watercolor palette, and here, she gives you her picks for the best watercolor supplies to bring.

Not a lot of information is available on how to set up a watercolor palette, so I wanted share my thoughts, technique, and paint choices.

My travel palette of choice is a Heritage Folding Palette with 18 wells. It’s one of the nicest travel palettes I have seen in a while and a great price. The lid has a soft plastic seal, which keeps the palette from leaking and keeps your colors from drying out quickly. It comes with a removable clear plastic tray. I don’t use the tray since the palette has an ample mixing area.

Before I use a palette, I give it a light scrubbing with a mild abrasive such as baking soda or soft scrub. This takes the slick surface off the mixing area and removes any residues from the manufacturing. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the palette; you don’t want this in your paint. I then fill the wells with my favorite selection of paint. Don’t put tiny dabs of paint in the wells—they’ll eventually just fall out. FILL the wells! Hold the tube over the deep end of the well then come back towards the shallow end while squeezing the tube.

Let the palette sit open for a day or two (longer in damp climates) to dry. When the paint is set and no longer sticky, I wet my thumb and push down in the center of each well. This creates an indentation for water. When I’m ready to paint, I lightly mist the paint wells and they’re ready to go. I travel a lot to teach and paint. I never want to arrive and find my art supplies have gone elsewhere without me! That’s why I always take my palette and brushes in my carryon luggag. I don’t bring paint tubes; I fill my palette with fresh paint a few days before and let air dry so the paint becomes more solid. When I arrive at my destination, I mist the paint with fresh water, put a small sponge inside, and close overnight. The next day the paints are fresh and juicy again. And I haven’t had a problem with airport security yet.

In the image above, you can see how I lay out my paint. All of my paints are Daniel Smith Artist Watercolors. Occasionally I switch Italian Burnt Sienna for Transparent Red Oxide.

Next to the paint name you’ll notice numbers beginning with “P”. These numbers refer to the Index Code Name. Example: Nickel Azo Yellow PY150. The number refers to the pigment used to make the paint, not the order reference number. Okay, you’re all set. Now…get out and sketch! Brenda

If you’d like to take watercolor lessons from Brenda Swenson, she’s teaching this week in our Seeing kourse; click here for more info. And if you think you need talent to draw and paint, listen to Brenda’s words of wisdom here.

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