Sunday 22 October 2017

Daniel Smith Watercolour Stick Palette

Cigarette case hack - now a watercolour palette :-)

I am back home after a fabulous road trip down and up the West Coast of the US, and while I was away I received many questions about some photos I showed on Instagram (@janeblundellart) of a cigarette case that I turned into a watercolour stick palette. I'll give the details here.

As I've said in other posts, the advantage of sticks is that they are all the same price regardless of series number and that they are a convenient way to transport watercolours. I think of them as pre-dried watercolour - convenient to just cut a piece off and add to a palette as needed. I don't choose to draw with them, though of course you could.

The colours are similar to what I would normally use though some of my favourites are not available as sticks. 

buff titanium
hansa yellow medium (or use hansa yellow light for a lemon yellow)
hansa yellow deep (optional)
quinacridone gold

organic vermilion (since there isn't a pyrrol scarlet stick)
permanent alizarin (since there isn't a pyrrol crimson stick)
quinacridone red (since there isn't quinacridone rose stick)
piemontite genuine (since there isn't an Indian red stick)

cerulean chromium
phthalo blue GS

phthalo green BS
Undersea green
sap green
serpentine genuine

yellow ochre (since there isn't a goethite stick)
burnt sienna
burnt umber (since there isn't a raw umber stick - this is one I'd really like to see added - I love raw umber!)
sodalite genuine (instead of Jane's Grey)

Daniel Smith watercolour sticks used to create a 19 colour palette - no pans needed.

To take it up to 20 colours you could add Indanthrone Blue - a gorgeous rich deep blue, or rich Green Gold - a very green-yellow, or Graphite Grey - a graphite watercolour that is fascinating to use, or raw sienna - I often like to have yellow ochre and raw sienna as extras as well as my favourite goethite since the pigments PY43 and PBr7 mix differently.

A larger palette might fit 24 colours so I'd add the above colours and perhaps Quinacridone Burnt Orange as the 24th. There are 51 sticks to choose from. (You can see them here)

I have simply wet the bottom of each 1cm of watercolour stick and pressed them into the re-purposed palette, which was an early 1900s cigarette case. Provided they are used with care, and not too much water, this palette is a compact and simple one to use.

Happy painting :-)


  1. Sweet. I think I have a repro cigarette case I was using for credit cards for a while. I know I still have it but just can’t rememmber where it is.

    I’ve been wanting to buy some of the sticks. I only have the original New Gamboge PY153 ones I scored on eBay. It looked like they might discontinue a few of the sticks so I wanted to definitely get all of the Primatek sticks they have because those are also the colors I use a lot. Plus the Quins and Cobalt Teal. I, too, am disappointed they don’t have a Raw Umber and that was holding me back from ordering but I think I might just go ahead now.

    Do you think you are going to have problems along the way of these melting into each other as you wear down the sticks to the end? Or will you simply add more stick once it’s mostly used up.

    Where did you end up going up and down California? Would be interested to hear what you painted. I want to eventually do a trip up the coast, probably stopping at San Simeon and Heart Castle, stopping at points along the way.

    1. I'll post up more about my trip but arrived in San Francisco, had the weekend there then drove to Monterey, stayed in Carmel, then to Santa Barbara. Drove drive back to Gig Harbor, then Tacoma to sketch on the way to Seattle for a week. Drove again to McMinnville and had a night in Portland, then returned to Seattle to fly out via San Francisco. 30 years ago I did a massive West Coast trip up as far as Mount Bachelor, down as far as Mexico and east as far as the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas etc so this was a little of a reprise, sketching along the way this time.

    2. Monterey and Carmel are lovely. If they'd let you, it would be wonderful to set up in the Monterey Bay Aquarium and paint that huge tank with the sun shining down into it and the kelp swirling. I've never been north of San Francisco. I just did Yosemite in May.

      You'd be surprised how much of Southern California on east to Arizona is now developed.

      Today I picked up the perfect little tin for stick watercolors. It's a Romney's Kendal Mint Cake hinged pocket tin I picked up in the Christmas section of the local World Market store. I'll spray the inside of the lid white and then start acquiring sticks. Might put full pans in there in the mean time. It's deep enough to hold travel brushes on top. It's a bit large but could even hold some paper, making it a single container holding everything I need.

    3. If you want to send a photo I could add it to the blog's always nice to get a kit set up well so you can grab it and go :-)

  2. I wonder if this would work with Caran d'Ache Neocolor sticks - worth a try (use with a water brush).

  3. Neo-color did't work like this for me, they crumbled when I tried to cut them.

    1. That's helpful to know. Perhaps you could try with a hot knife or warming them first? I have some but they are generally brighter than I choose to use for painting. Fun for accents in mixed media work.

    2. Have you tried wrapping the in dental floss and then gently pulling? Works for cinnamon rolls.

  4. I'm a bit constrained for space and budget, and also find that having too many colours to choose from makes things hard for me while I'm still learning colours and mixing. If I had to limit myself to 4 or 6, and perhaps no more than 12, can you suggest any good sets? I've been re-reading your blog and looking at the handprint site as well, and I'm taken with the idea of trying to build on ultramarine+burnt siena with the DS sticks. The suggestion on is a yellow - he suggests yellow ochre or raw siena. Any suggestions for a 4th or 5th or 6th colour? Or for a different yellow? I see that I can get some but not all of the DS colours as sticks, and I'm not yet familiar enough with the theory to fully work through what might be a good next choice. So any advice you can give much appreciated.

    1. A basic set of a great primary triad - Ultramarine, Quinacridone Red and Hansa Yellow Medium would be a good start. Add Burnt Sienna as it is so useful for mixing (with the ultramarine for greys and dark browns and dark blues, with the yellow for raw sienna hues and with the red for red-earth hues)
      Add yellow ochre or raw sienna or Quin gold as the warm/earthy yellow - great for mixing lovely greens etc.
      Then add cerulean chromium to help make lovely skies.
      Six sticks that will really get you mixing.

      If you want 12, I'd add buff titanium, another yellow (yellow ochre or raw sienna or quin gold or the brighter hansa yellow deep), sap green, undersea green and perhaps a warm red for mixing - it depends what you want to paint. I'd also add the sodalite for a nice convenient grey. That would make a convenient set of 12 with a nice balance of colours.

  5. Thanks for that. I can see the 6 will be very useful. And I like the others you suggest. 12 is perhaps an upper limit for me at the moment but I can imagine trying the buff titanium and the sodalite and the undersea green. I tend to like high contrast, earth tones, with the occasional bright colour for the contrast. I'm trying to collect pictures that I like at the moment to help me home in on the common features of what I like. I'm finding pinterest handy for that. At the moment though I'm following the last few days of Inktober on instagram and tumblr. Were you doing anything for that? I've liked what you've presented on inks so far as well. So have been slowly collecting some of the de atramentis inks to experiment with.

    1. You'd be surprised what wonderful mixes you can get with that Buff Titanium. Jane turned me on to that and I've never gone back. It's in almost every palette I put together. The sticks have my favorite Primatek colors at bargain prices; Sodalite, Piemontite and Serpentine. Mixing the Sodalite with the Buff Titanium gets you an awesome gray.

    2. No I have been too busy for Inktober. Shame - it's a fun challenge but travelling for half the month made it impossible. Maybe I'll do my own challenge for December. I really like the Da Atramentis inks - especially the brown and black, but also the grey you can make with the brown and blue.

  6. Now this is a really clever way to make a travel palette.

  7. Lovely tin, and great selection of colours. I do find some of the options in the sticks puzzling. Not having a Quin Rose, for example, I would expect it to be rather a popular colour? I do really like the piemontite and serpentine sticks, such nice, interesting colours!

    1. Yes I think Quinacridone Rose is the more obvious choice, but there is so little difference between Quin Rose and Quin Red that it also works - both are PV19. I'd like to see raw umber added. So useful!