Boxes and Palettes: Daniel Smith Watercolour Boxes (review)

One of the most important tools a watercolour artist can have is their watercolour box or palette. There is a huge variety of boxes and palettes available, and every artist will have their own preference depending on how many colours they use and how they arrange them, whether they paint in the field or in their studio or any number of personal criteria. Some prefer to have their mixing area separate from their paint set. Though some artists prefer mixing in a porcelain dish or going for cheaper plastic or disposable paper palettes, many like to have a proper metal palette box, and there are plenty of these on the market to choose from. One type is the Daniel Smith empty watercolour box. Here are the two I have:

Daniel Smith WC Boxes Closed Top

I don’t remember where I bought the larger one (probably from either Jackson’s in the UK or Jerry’s Artarama in the US), but I got the little pocket-sized box from Senior Art Supplies, a Melbourne-based store (many of the empty pans and half pans were also purchased here). As far as I know, these palette boxes are only made for pan and half-pan users, so if you’re looking for a metal box to hold your tubes of watercolour, you won’t find one in the Daniel Smith range. In terms of sizes, the biggest one holds 24 half pans/12 whole pans, the middle one holds 18 half pans/about 8 whole pans and the smallest one holds 12 half pans/6 whole pans; there’s also an option to get one of these tiny ones with a built in water bottle, though it’s a lot more expensive. Some of the larger boxes appear to have built in dividers to fit either whole pans OR half pans, so keep this in mind; if you get a box made for half pans, you won’t be able to put whole pans in there later (EDIT: It appears that the larger paint box I have is actually a Jerry’s Artarama brand box, not as Daniel Smith one as I’d first thought. After seeing other artists post photos of their Daniel Smith boxes on various art forums, I can say that the Daniel Smith boxes don’t have the individual pan/half pan dividers like the Jerry’s Artarama boxes do, but otherwise they are identical).

Daniel Smith WC Boxes Open

Though the smallest boxes only have a mixing area in the lid, the middle and large ones also have a fold out flat metal tray to give you more room for mixing, and there’s room down the middle to put a pencil or a brush and perhaps a kneadable eraser or sponge. The outside of the boxes are coated in black enamel while the inside is white enamel, making it easy to see what colour you’re mixing. Though they don’t stain as easily as plastic, it’s worth cleaning off any particularly staining colours (such as any of the phthalocyanine pigments) as soon as you’re done to reduce the chances of ending up with a stained palette.

Daniel Smith WC Boxes Closed Bottom

The Daniel Smith palette boxes also have a ring on the bottom for your thumb or finger, making it easier to hold if you’re painting out in the field somewhere. Though I found the larger box to be quite sturdy (in terms of build, these feel more solid in general than some other metal watercolour boxes I have), I have noticed that the little dividers that hold the half pans in place in the smaller box don’t really like staying put; the slightest impact causes these dividers to pop out, sending my half pans exploding all over the place. Not a huge deal for me since I mainly paint at home anyway, but it would be a huge pain to have to crawl around in the grass if you drop your box while painting landscapes, or scurry around a footpath to save your half pans if the box takes a dive while you’re painting a street scene.

These palettes are good quality, but they do seem a little pricey compared to some other watercolour boxes I have seen. If you want a particularly sturdy box that can withstand a bit more abuse (I accidentally stood on my big Daniel Smith box once and it remained unharmed), you might be happy to shell out the extra money, but otherwise you might be better off going for a cheaper watercolour box and spending the money you save on some extra paints instead.

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