Customizing the Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box



The Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box is an excellent little palette. It is inexpensive, sturdy, and small enough to bring on a backpacking trip.

Winsor and Newton Cotman Sketcher's Pocket BoxIt is good straight out of the box. However, with a little customization, it will serve you even better. The original pigments are student grade. As you use them up, replace them with artist grade paints. You can buy new half pans in any art supply store. You can also discard the pans and squeeze tube colors into the spaces in the palette.

To make a big improvement in the palette, replace these paints.

  1. Replace Chinese White with Neutral Tint
  2. Replace Alizarin Crimson with Quinacridone Magenta

As you use up the pigments in the set, consider also replacing these colors with these alternates.

  1. Replace Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue with Winsor Yellow
  2. Replace Cadmium Yellow Hue with Quinacridone Gold
  3. Replace Cadmium Red Pale Hue with Winsor Red
  4. Replace Intense Blue with Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)
  5. Replace Viridian with Hooker’s Green or Perylene Green (darker)
  6. Replace Burnt Sienna with Winsor Violet Dioxazine

I suggest reordering the pigments so that similar colors are aligned with the mixing areas on the fold out lid. There are two rows of six colors. In the first row I would place (in this order) Winsor Yellow, Quinacridone Magenta, Cobalt Blue, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre and Winsor Violet Dioxazine. On the Second row I would place Quinacridone Gold, Winsor Red, Phthalo Blue, Perylene Green, Burnt Umber, and Neutral Tint.

If you have a tube of yellow watercolor (Hansa Yellow light or Winsor Yellow) put a small dab of this color in the green mixing area so you can blend with this as you mix your greens. This will help you to keep your yellow pan clean as you mix your greens or browns.

When you first open new pans, the cake of color can easily fall out of the pan. One way fix this problem is to wet the back of the cake and place it back in the pan, wet side down. The damp watercolor will work like glue. If you are frustrated by the pans themselves jumping out of the sketcher’s box, place a dab of Elmer’s glue or a piece of double-sided tape under the pan. An even simpler solution is to do away with the little pans entirely. Take the paint cakes out of the pans and set them aside (more on them later). Now wet the back of the cake and rub it into place in the palette. You don’t need the pans and there is one less piece to fall out.

Now what do you do with those leftover pans? Glue them into an Altoids tin, fill the pans with tube colors, and you have a second pocket-sized palette. See instructions to make your own Altoids kit here.



14 thoughts on “Customizing the Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box

  1. Heather Suemnicht says:

    I followed everything you suggested above and I LOVE this paint set! Thank you, thank you! I’m confused about one thing– the blues in step 4. When I take out Ultramarine and put in Phthalo Blue (Green Shade), it seems like I end up with the same two blues (Phalo Blue and Intense Blue). Is that correct? Or should I be replacing the Intense Blue with the Phthalo Blue so that I end up with two different blues (Phthalo and Ultramarine)?

      • Heather Suemnicht says:

        Ok, thank you! I see you made the corrections already. You are fast! Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge with us! It has been a huge blessing not just to me but also to my children and our homechool community.

  2. Laurie Wigham says:

    Wait, I just re-read your color list. I couldn’t live without Burnt Sienna! It’s perfect for rocks, bricks, and people’s faces. You can mix just about any human skin tone with burnt sienna and ultramarine, plus the most beautiful granulating neutrals.
    Another good argument for moveable pans of color.

  3. Laurie Wigham says:

    One advantage of keeping the half-pans is that you can rearrange them and swap colors in and out as your tastes and needs change. I’ve found that a tiny bead of blu-tack under the pan will hold it in place until you want to move it. If you want to buy more empty half pans, Kremer Pigments has a really good price for a bag of them.

  4. Mazer says:

    What if you placed a piece of wax paper over the gouche paints to keep them from drying out, or place the whole palette in a ziplock baggie

    • I think they would still dry but in this case I want them to dry. With these paints you can re wet them and thereby reactivate the paint so you can use them in the field just like watercolor.

    • Dear Kate,
      That is a great idea. My problem with using gouache in a little kit like this is that the pigments crumble as they dry (I am using Winsor Newton). How do you get around this?
      It is a delight to be in contact with you- you are a great inspiration to me. I have learned so much from your books and recommend your them to my students.

      • I;d love to know how you keep the gouache wet too, Cathy! I’ve taken to carrying just a white gouache tube with my usual watercolor color kit because i have no wa to keep gouache in a pan moist…

  5. I just bought this little pocket palette yesterday.  Will save this information for use in the future.  Thank you for an informative post.

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