Bijou Watercolour Palette

When I replaced some of the colours in my Winsor & Newton bijou watercolour box last year, some of the original selection weren’t available so I thought that it would be worth doing another set of swatches to familiarise myself with the new palette.

I’m always impressed by the variety of colours that can be mixed from such a small selection; basically a warm and a cool version of the three primaries with a few useful secondaries, such as sap green and my go-to colour for so much natural history, yellow ochre. I find neutral tint useful too; more versatile than black.

It’s always good practice for me to paint swatches, and to try and hit that midway point between the two colours that I’m mixing. It’s also rather therapeutic to settle down for a while, listening to Radio 3 as I mix colours.


Winsor & Newton Professional watercolours


Walton Hall Watercolour Workshop

Walton Hall lake

A GEORGIAN country house on an island in a lake surrounded by parkland, Walton Hall, near Wakefield, is a great location for a watercolour workshop and we’re glad of the comfortable shelter the cafe offers as it rains heavily all morning.

Walton Hall

I was asked to lead the workshop last month as part of the Walton Arts Festival.



A beginner has brought along a brand new box of watercolours but doesn’t know where to start.

sable brushWith any new set of watercolours I like to paint a page of swatches. This helps me familiarise myself with the layout of the box and gives me practice in mixing the range of colours included. It’s useful practice for painting  smooth, graduated washes, the basis of watercolour technique.

Cotman watercolours

Some colours behave better than others when it comes to giving a smooth transition. I have several ‘wash backs’ where a colour runs back into the previous wash. Earthy colours such as yellow ochre have a tendency to go a bit spotty. But if you want perfection you might as well add the colour in Photoshop. These limitations are part of the medium, so you need to use watercolours enough to feel comfortable with them.

As usual when I’m working with beginners, I find myself encouraging students to add a bit more water to their washes. I can see the attraction of plastering on the pigment with such bijou watercolour boxgorgeous colours on offer but the luminosity of watercolour comes from letting the white of the paper show through a transparent or semi-transparent wash, giving a sense of light and atmosphere which wouldn’t be quite the same in oils or acrylics.

Thumbnail Layouts

pencil 3b

The rain eased off a little after lunch and we found shelter from a cool wind under the back porch. I often feel that I learn as much from the students as they do from me and today it was a request for a session on pencil and watercolour that prompted me to have a change from my habitual pen and watercolour.

thumbnail sketchThe panorama of lake, woods and hillside, not to mention a foreground of flowerbeds, urns, chairs and tables gives us a little bit too much in the way of subject matter. I explain that one way to tackle an overcomplicated scene like this is to draw a two-minute matchbox-sized thumbnail of your composition, rather than simply start in one corner (as I admit I often do) and commit to a full-size two hour sketch from the start.

Working with a soft 4B pencil on the cartridge paper of my sketchbook gives a tonal effect. Adding a simple watercolour wash gives an instant impression of how the finished drawing might turn out.

lime green sketchbook

I like this quick method so much that I try a second thumbnail, this time in letterbox format (top of page). It’s just as well that I am working quickly because even in this sheltered spot after an hour we’re getting chilled through and it’s time to adjourn to the cafe, take a look at the day’s sketches and discuss what we’ve learnt and how we might take that further.

Taster Session


A good place to finish and it was a good place to start too. The first task that I set when we started this morning was to draw a scone . . . then eat it. A chance to briefly introduce the basics of drawing and adding watercolour without the challenge of changing light, shimmering water and masses of foliage that we’d be face when we turned to the view from the Hall.

Link; Walton Hall & the Waterton Park Hotel.

Bijou Box

Some of the mixes, top to bottom rows, of Winsor green (blue shade), permanent sap green, Winsor lemon, cadmium yellow and permanent rose.
bijou watercolour box
Bijou watercolour box.

AFTER NINE YEARS of almost daily use my smallest watercolour box has been worn down to the metal on the outside, like a battered old ammunition box.I decided that it was time to treat myself to a new one, although I’m keeping the old one so that I don’t have to keep transferring the new box from one art bag to the other.

The new Winsor & Newton Bijou box has the advantage over my old unbranded version, which is exactly the same size, in the arrangement of the half-pan watercolours; I can get an extra two colours in it.

swatchesI decided to go with the selection of eight that comes with the box – scarlet lake, permanent rose, Winsor lemon, Winsor green (blue shade), French ultramarine, yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ivory black – removing the tiny brush from the central section to add four extras; cadmium yellow, permanent sap green, cerulean blue and raw umber.

I’m surprised how well ivory black mixes with other colours (the far right column and the second row from the top in my swatches), for instance it makes an olive green when mixed with cadmium yellow.

Made in France and described as a ‘superior hand finished stove enamelled artists metal box’, it seems that unfortunately the Bijou has recently been discontinued but it’s worth checking your local art shop to see if they’ve still got one in stock.

Colours of Britain


GIVE OR TAKE a few colours that have been swapped around since, this is the box of Winsor & Newton’s artists’ watercolours that I took with me on a tour of England, Wales and Scotland, when I compiled my Britain sketchbook for Collins (1981). One review commented on ‘the brownish greenish charm’ of my sketches. That was partly due to my choice of colours, including so many greens and earth colours in my selection, but also because, in the mainly off season periods when I drew on location, Britain really does have a certain brownish greenish charm.

Rannoch Moor, July 1980, Britain sketchbook.One of my favourite pages was a double page spread of Rannoch Moor, where I let heather, bog and misty hills fill the entire field of view. You can’t get much more greenish brown than that! The book was printed on slightly tinted paper which muted the colour still further.

I scratched away at brown watercolour washes to suggest some of the lighter stems of rushes and the wake of a Water Vole, swimming across a peaty pool. I’d forgotten that Water Vole until I took the book off the shelf just now.

swatchesI can see why these colours appealed to me at the time. If I was making up a similar box today, I’d definitely include a cooler red – alizarin crimson for example. I’ve just added four colours that I happened to have spare, to fill in a few gaps. I could take a guess at the names of most of the remaining original colours – sap green, sepia, burnt sienna and so on – but at least painting these swatches familiarises me with the general layout.

Why have I dug out this battered old paintbox from the back of the watercolours drawer? I’ve got 4 art bags and one art passport wallet on the go at the moment, with sketchbooks ranging from postcard to place-mat in size but it’s frustrating when, like Goldilocks, I grab a bag that is ‘just right’ for the location I’m heading for, then later realise that I’ve forgotten to transfer the watercolours. Hopefully I’ll end up with 5 bags with a reasonable box of watercolours in each.

Trackside Landscapes

I DREW Xander the black and white cat in colour this weekend and I felt that my usual rapid sketches drawn as the train headed for London should have colour added to them too.

Instead of drawing individual trees, hedges and buildings as they flash by, I try to link them into a landscape composed of bits and pieces that may have been drawn miles – ten miles or more in some cases – apart.

By my first sketch I’ve written ‘Doncaster to Grantham’, while the second was drawn between Stevenage and Potters Bar.

Midland Landscapes

On the return journey there’s a section where the line follows an attractive lowland river for a while.

After that the landscape features rolling hills, farms and stumpy church towers with small spires. My sketch also includes a couple of sheep, a crow and a cutting through Jurassic limestone. These features were scattered across miles of trackside landscape in the Grantham area.

Finally, as we neared Doncaster, here’s a landscape of more church towers, cows and distant hills that I didn’t quite get finished. I got as far as dabbing in a grey and pale green wash. It was a dull, overcast afternoon.

A Sketchbook Underground

Until you leave the central zone, there isn’t much to see through the windows of a London Underground train. A fearless drawing journaller like Dan Price might have sketched fellow passengers in the busy train but I settled down to drawn my left hand. Again, as this is unfinished, you can see how I start off with a pale wash of grey before adding yellow ochre, sometimes with a dash of permanent magenta.

Permanent magenta is the cool red that I’ve used to replace alizarin crimson, or permanent rose or whatever else I was using in my pocket watercolour box. The thinking behind this is that magenta will be more useful for mixing the colours of wildflowers, so many of which are variations on magenta. Neutral tint recently replaced the rather acid, greeny blue version of Paynes grey that I’ve used for a decades as the grey in my watercolour box. So far neutral tint seems to work well for the natural subjects I’m keen to draw.

Finally, here are hand studies, and a handful of details drawn as they flashed by through the window, drawn between Kings Cross St Pancras and Hunslow East on the Piccadilly Line.