Watercolor: Make a Peerless Watercolor Palette


My goal this year is to do more personal projects...

As a teacher, it's really easy to fall into the curriculum trap where everything you produce is either a teaching reference or a prospective lesson.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

So my solution to this hole I'm sitting in is simple: get the heck out of my studio! Now that the weather's warmer, I'm forcing myself to unplug and head outdoors for some soul-building field work.

In fancy art circles, we call working out-of-doors "en plein air" which roughly translates to "you can't take your 900 pound ceramic watercolor palette with you".

Yep, if it's going to be me and my dog drawing/chasing ducks in the park, I can't exactly drag along my studio paints.

So I went shopping- a little Home Depot, a little Amazon, and a quick stop at Peerlesscolor.com

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Here's my new travel kit

(warning: affiliate links ahead...)

First off, I needed a bag.

I know that sounds like putting the sleigh before the horse but because I knew the palette could be any size, I figured I'd find a great carrying case and then create the perfect palette to fit.

I found this bag on Amazon. If it came in red, I'd declare it utterly perfect. The pockets are deep, it has pencil & brush storage up front, and these handy little flaps to keep your inside stuff inside.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

The best part about this bag is something I didn't realize until Mr. Fed-Ex dropped it off on my doorstop- this bag has a hard board backing, sewn inside the back panel.

Once I'm on location and have emptied out my bag, the bag can lay on my lap as a mini-desk!

What's perfecter than perfect?

Oh, if only it came in red...


Next up, Peerless Watercolors!

There are lots of portable watercolor kits on the market. I do own and love my Winsor Newton watercolor makers, but I do not like juggling multiple markers in one hand while I paint with the other.

And yes, the practical part of me thought about buying a small empty travel palette. Because I use tube watercolors, it would have been very easy (and economical) to simply fill a smaller travel palette with my favorite watercolor paints.

But as I said earlier, I'm in a rut and doing the same ol' things with my same ol' stuff (only outdoors) really wasn't jingling my bells. So I ordered a 60 color set of Peerless Watercolor swatches.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Peerless swatches are little cards embedded with transparent and vibrant watercolor. They work just like the watercolor coloring books we had growing up. Simply touch a card with a wet paintbrush to rehydrate the color, then paint your project. Because the color is intense and concentrated, you don't need to carry around a big swatch.

The problem with Peerless cards is that they arrive like a deck of cards... NOT very travel friendly. I Googled up a storm to see how other crafters were storing their Peerless. Most people are using photo albums with 2-6 colors per page. With 60 colors, that means lots of page flipping and wet swatches touching each other and generally getting nasty. Oh my sweet heavens, spare me that kind of color contamination!

I also wanted a white mixing surface. I almost never use a color straight up as is.


Hello Home Depot!

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

This is corrugated PVC plastic. You'll find it in the same aisle as plexiglass and sheets of replacement glass for windows and picture frames. If you're not handy enough to enter the hallowed halls of Home Depot, Amazon has the same thing.

This stuff is sturdy, lightweight, and pretty inexpensive.  I paid $5.48 for a 18 x 24 inch rectangle. That was enough for one, three page travel palette (plus scraps). 



Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com


I've used this plastic before for other projects and it cuts very easily with a craft knife (this is the best one ever, it doesn't roll away!!!).

I cut 3 panels at 7 x 10 inches. That's large enough to hold 30 swatches on a single page and it fits very easily into the bag. I could have gone slightly larger but then the math for the swatch sizes got weird.

artist + weird math = great angst

A T-square, a large self-healing cutting mat, and a brand new knife blade make this part of the job very easy and precise.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

The cut edges are not sharp but because I'll be handling this palette a lot, I wanted a more finished edge.

I ran a line of white electrical tape around all four sheets and burnished it down with a bone folder. The electrical tape may shift over time and with wear, so I'm not thrilled with this solution... but it works for now.

Plus the mitered edges makes my inner OCD patient smile.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

I used my Cinch machine to bind the three panels together with .75" wire. Cinch wire cuts easily with wire nippers.

The plastic sheets are 4mm which was a smidgen too thick to fit into the Cinch but I was able to squish just the end area with a bone folder. Then each compressed sheet slid in very easily.

I bound my palette along the short edge. That's another big difference between my palette and the other tutorials out there. I wanted long and narrow so that I can clip it closer to my project. I don't want the wind catching a tall palette like a sail when I'm outdoors.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Here's where my palette starts to differ greatly from other internet tutorials.

Because I intend to mix colors and because I know the swatches will be damp when I close up my palette, I wanted space between the swatches and the mixing surface.

Even if not wet, these swatches can contaminate each other if they make contact color-to-color.

Plus, I suspect that wet swatches pressed up next to plastic means they'll dry really slowly and could grow mold or fungus over time. Ugh!

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Little adhesive backed vinyl bumper feet solve this problem and insure that even when folded, the swatches never touch the middle page mixing surface.

Here's an end shot of the closed palette. The pages all have a nice air gap.

Yes, it takes a hyper-critical perfectionist weirdo to think of these things...

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Here's the swatch cutting process.

Each of my swatches are 1/6 of a card, adhered to a sheet of watercolor paper with Tombow tape. When a swatch wears out, I'll rip it off and replace it with a new 1/6 piece.

I left room next to each swatch for the color name and a wash sample.

I used double sided Gorilla tape (super sticky stuff) to stick the entire card to the palette. One card on the inside of the front cover, one card on the inside of the back cover. The middle sheet (with the feet) is left blank as that will be my mixing surface.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Warm colors on one page.

Cool colors on the other.  Yes, I'm missing a color. It was supposed to be 60 colors but they sent two Amethyst cards. I'm still not sure what color I'm missing...

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Here is my palette at work.

For smaller projects, I can tape the watercolor paper right to the mixing page. For outdoors, I will clip the entire palette to the side of my journal.

I'm not happy with the way the paint beads up in some areas, that makes mixing harder. I'll pull out some 3000 grit sandpaper later (super fine for polishing jewelry) and rough up the surface slightly. 

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com
Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com

Here's my travel bag loaded up with supplies.

I've got room for 2-3 journals here. Or I can throw in my case of Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers.

Add some water to my flask and I'm all ready to go!

Make a Peerless Travel Palette | VanillaArts.com
Make a Peerless Watercolor swatch palette | VanillaArts.com

Yep, I even made a label for the front cover.

That's it, one travel palette chock-full of pretty Peerless Watercolors in a grab-'n-go messenger style bag.

I'm all set to go a-painting in the wilds of Michigan...

... if only it wasn't 42 degrees outside.



Back to Art Basics: Learning from Color Exercises (no matter what your skill level)


I'll be honest: I haven't made a color chart in 21 years

Color Study for Stamplistic Carousel Seahorse | VanillaArts.com

That's not to say I don't do my homework... I do color palette studies for each project. Because no one wants to be knee deep and 2 hours into a coloring project or a painting, only to find that the color palette doesn't work, or that you forgot an essential color.

And when I bring home a new paint, marker, or color product, I always play with it on scratch paper. One, because it's fun, but also because I genuinely want to know how the color works, what it looks like on different papers or surfaces, and where the new color fits into my existing collection of supplies.

But I've not sat down and painted actual color blending charts, the little rows of boxes upon boxes, since those exercises were assigned back in college.


Color charts are great for beginners or anyone new to a medium

Color charts are like doing math. You make a box of color A, a box of color B, and then show what happens when the two mix or are layered on top of each other.

Charting how your paints or markers behave is an excellent learning experience for newbies. By painting box after box of "A + B = C" type color mixes, you not only learn what happens when blue meets purple but you're also getting very familiar with the feel of your new product. "It bleeds when I add X amount of water" or "A second coat of marker feels slick while a third coat feels sticky" is incredibly useful information that every beginner needs to know.

Sap Green Color Studies | VanillaArts.com

Yes, boxes can be boring. But the hours you spend with the paint or the marker in your hand definitely increases your skill level.

And finished charts make great reference material for future projects. You might not need a funky shadowy green right now but you will someday. I can guarantee that at some point you will encounter a project which needs a weirdo green. It helps to remember the recipe or the path for getting there. Charts remind you of mixing ratios and that eliminates future guess work. Having a recipe (or even a clue to the recipe) saves you time and materials because you're not fumbling around trying to get the mix correct.


WARNING: Color Charts are not the same as inventory charts

Please, do not confuse a color chart with a list of the markers, pencils, or paints that you own.

Even if you do swatch out all the colors next to each color name, even if you arrange them all in like-groups, this is still nothing more than a memory jogger which keeps you from buying doubles the next time you're in a craft shop.

I know, a lot of crafters use their inventory list to pick colors for projects (and that's smart) but it's still only a list. A list tells you absolutely nothing about how colors behave in different circumstances- how they bond with the paper, their translucency (or lack of it), how they look next to analogous or complementary colors, how they react with other colors...

Just because you've filled out the manufacturer's inventory list doesn't mean you learned anything about the product.

That's why it's essential to chart your colors. A + B = C is far more useful than "I own A, B, and C"


But as I said earlier, I haven't charted my paints in at least 21 years.


Well, to be honest, it's 50% complacency and 50% hubris.

I'm about to teach a class on color theory for watercolorists. In order to teach my students how to chart, I needed to make class examples. I really dreaded the charting process; box after box after box after box is not my idea of a fun afternoon. I've got better stuff to do with my time than paint 300 boxes which all confirm "hey, after all this time, I still know what I'm doing. No early onset senility yet..."

After so many years of working with transparent paints and markers, I'm pretty darned good at predicting what A + B is going to equal. It's hard to surprise me at this point.

At a certain point of experience, artists develop intrinsic color sensitivity. Just like a baker knows how to make chocolate cake without measuring ingredients and brick layers can sense when something isn't plumb, color is my job and I mix colors by feel now more than by reason. Once you've been doing it a while, mixing color is like breathing, if you have to think it through, something's wrong.


yet, once I sat down and started the darned Chart, I found that it wasn't a waste of time.

For starters, the process of painting without the pressure to produce a specific result was unusual for me.

It's rare that I simply lay down color without worrying about creating a likeness of something.

Color Wheel Comparisons (quick wheel, true CMY, BMG) | VanillaArts.com

For once, I was able to simply enjoy the paint and to really look at my colors. I'd truely forgotten how much I like sap green paint.

I'll be honest and say that I didn't learn anything new during the process. I'd need to dig out some seriously odd colors to really startle myself about combinations.

But the process of walking myself through the wheels and mix charts was still valuable. It served as a reminder- why I love color and why I especially love specific colors.

It's like riding a bike. Once you learn how, you don't really have to go back and learn it again. But sometimes, even professional racing bicyclists need to take a leisurely Sunday pedal through the park to remember why they first fell in love with bicycles.


Exercise, even rudimentary repetition is good for the brain and it's good for the soul


Ink & Water: “Amaryllis” Watercoloring & Modern Calligraphy


It's not too late!

Ink & Water class was held last night at Remember When Scrapbooking.

Wow! The students were great and it was fun to teach a subject that's really close to my heart.

But don't worry if you missed it!

Class packs are available now

Each pack contains instructions and a color map. This means that you can easily catch up!

While I can't teach you my exact technique via the packet, once you attend a watercolor class and see the method at work, you can go back to the Amaryllis pack and understand exactly what to do and when.

Our next watercolor session is Tuesday, April 12th from 6-8:30pm. We can catch you up to the class on Amaryllis AND you'll have the next botanical image to practice as well!

Next month we're back to calligraphy where we combine our Italic skills with your handwriting to develop a unique-to-you style of modern calligraphy. I'll also bring along my watercolors in case we need a quick demo to solve student problem spots.

Join us on Tuesday, March 15th for Ink & Water. You'll love this low-key and easy-on-the-ego style of lettering and watercoloring.

Hey, it's a Vanilla Arts class, you know it'll be fun!


Rebel Blending with Copic Markers: Learn to blend bold & unusual color combinations

Rebel Blending with Copic Markers: Learn to blend bold & unusual color combinations

Be a rebel blender!

Traditional Copic Marker combinations are rather monotonous. Light, medium, dark. Three greens or three blues or three pinks. It’s all light, medium, and dark.

But wait. Real life is almost never light, medium, and dark! Flower petals and tree frogs can shift from yellow to violet seamlessly, so why would you ever color them with a standard Copic blending combination?

Join Amy for a challenging lesson that introduces you to color sculpting and rebel blending.

Amy will show you rebel blending.…

Green into yellow into violet into pink into white!


Just like magic.