DIY Ultra-Light Watercolor Pencil Palette

I enjoy using watercolor pencils to create artwork in my journals, but carrying the art supplies into the field and onto the trail can be a hassle. The 50+ pencils are cumbersome, take up a lot of space in my backpack, and are a pain to keep organized while outdoors. I pondered a lot about how to make a watercolor pencil set for the field. Rather than switch to a small watercolor palette setup, I wanted to modify my pencils in a way that works best for my style of painting. Here’s what I came up with:

My watercolor pencil palette!

Final Watercolor Pencil Palette

I find that using watercolor pencils rather than watercolor pans allow me more control over the amount of color I add to my journals. I also love the simplicity and minimalistic aspect of applying color using just a drop or two of water from a water brush mixed into the tip of a watercolor pencil. Before I implemented this palette, I would whittle a long groove into the tip of a watercolor pencil in order to expose more of the colored lead. I would rarely apply a watercolor pencil directly to paper, but rather dab a water pen onto the pencil, then onto the page.

Here’s what you needed for this project:

  1. 5×7″ picture frame
  2. Beacon Quick Grip All-Purpose Permanent Adhesive
  3. Exacto knife
  4. Balsa wood
  5. Sandpaper
  6. Xacto X75300 Precision Razor Saw Set
  7. Watercolor Pencil set (Palette will hold up to 96 colors)

To start, I went down to my local frame seller (Rite Aid, Michael’s, Target, ect.) and found a solid frame that looked like it could take some bangs and hits out in the field. I chose a 5×7″ frame, but you could probably use a 4×6″ frame just as well for this project. Just make sure that it is deep enough to hold a pencil (1/2 inch deep will do). I looked for a frame with some shelf damage and convinced the the store to sell it to me at a discount. At home, I removed the guts of the frame (the glass, cardboard, and leg) and replaced it with a 5×7″ cut piece of balsa wood. (You can find balsa wood at most local hobby stores.) In a well ventilated area, I glued in the wood using Quick Grip All-Purpose Permanent Adhesive and let it set for a few hours.

Glue & 5x7 frame

While the glue set, I cut my Prismacolor pencils down to size. I took my well-used set of pencils and cut off their heads. For those of you following along in making your own palette and you’re starting with a new set of unsharpened pencils, can skip this step.

Off With Their Heads!

Headless pencils.

Pencils Ready to be cut

I then cut off two 12mm sections of each pencil. Why two, you ask? I figured that since I took the time to do this project, I’d spend a little more time making a backup set. Here’s what all 100 cut pieces look like resting in the frame. I laid them in at this stage just to figure out how many pieces would fit comfortably in each row (the answer in my case is 24).

12mm each

I then whittled each 12mm piece to expose the pigmented lead center. I also exposed a bit of the raw wood on the opposite end to write down the watercolor pencil number. In this photo is Prismacolor’s “Dark Green”

Widdled Pencil

And here are the rest:

Modified for use

After whittling all the pieces, I organized them by color out of the palette, laid down a few rows of glue in the pallete, then placed each whittled pencil, aligning them carefully. The Beacon adhesive takes a while to cement, so if you make a mistake, you have a few minutes to move around the pencils.

Glueing in Place

Since I only have about 50 colors in my set (all I really need), I removed a row to make room for misc. art supplies (pens, graphite pencils, brushes, etc.) I also made sure that the color end of the pencil was facing away from its neighboring color. This will help keep your colors separated when you add water to the palette. The top row is 24 duplicate colors, the colors I use the most in the field.

Don’t throw out the remaining shaft of pencil that you didn’t cut! It is still useful as a pencil or as stock for when you need to replace a depleted color in your palette.

Lost Dinner Camp 2

I originally envisioned a hinged lid – and I bought the supplies to make one – but I travel with this palette in a freezer bag, which does a fine job in protecting the palette.

Have any questions? Feel free to post them below!

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