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In Praise of the Watercolour Tin

Having recently returned from a few months travelling around such colourful places as Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala it is quite obvious my trip would not have been as fun if I was without my trusty little watercolour box. With twelve colours set in a black enamelled tin, as a portable means of artistic expression it is unparalleled in its ease of use and sheer potential. Partnered with a pad of paper and a trio of brushes there is little in your way except the need to show some willing.

On holiday no one wants to look like a fool, with a watercolour box it is impossible to look like one. The reason being, if you end up making a bad painting you can quickly scrunch up your painting and slide your humble tin into your pocket, and so when some fellow comes strolling over the hill to have a look, you can simply say you were admiring the view, and that they should now go away, and leave you to your wandering thoughts. This escape would not be possible if you were burdened with an oily canvas, indeed the shame would be unavoidable and the harsh words of the strolling man upon seeing your work – “Good God, that’s awful” –  would positively ruin your holiday whilst also being forever fiercely etched in your mind. Even worse, if it was a small canvas the man would still know something was up, since you’d reek of turpentine. Therefore, not only does the preference of aquarella save space, it saves your ego too. This is particularly important if your reason for going away was to get some clarity on where you are in life. This is the fundamental reason why I took with me my trusty little tin. 

Away from the psychology of the matter, and more towards the actual thing. As I’ve noted, little space needs to be taken when travelling with watercolours. Even better, when travelling by air, and when your watercolours are in small enough quantities you can take the paints in your hand luggage, unlike explosive oils! Typically, even though I knew this, I still worried about it. Even better, being water based there is none of the bore from cleaning, or the guilt from dumping solvents in a pristine land. Most importantly however, the small tin is brimming with colour eager to burst forth onto some virgin page. Any watercolours can be used for this, but best of all are Daniel Smith. They are honest, true colours that go wonderfully far. These are what I was most fortunate to use. 

Watercolours very lightness of being translates into a lightness of touch, with their translucence and luminosity being very effective at quickly capturing changing light effects or general moods. To explain what I mean, the following is an extract from my upcoming best seller ‘Painting in the Exotic’, coming out in 2020!

“The sky was briefly streaked with milky magenta and pale blue, banana leaves and palms lost their zest and colour and transformed into abstract silhouettes against the greying sky. I stared at a bare lightbulb strung up under the timber floor of the house above. It was so bright and round, but not so white that it could be mistaken for the doorway to Heaven. Nonetheless its luminous nakedity was entrancing and strange. Insects danced around and I blankly stared, not with melancholy, but contented and full nothingness typical of someone has just smoked a doobie, not that I smoke.”

This is just the sort of poignant, emotive, cripplingly moving scene that a quick watercolour would suit. O boy! It would sell for thousands! 

As ever I haven’t really explained myself very well, but the point is, the watercolour tin is a classic! There is a reason the likes of Turner and Constable were so devoted to them. Like a great belt, a watercolour tin will stay with you all your life, not as an object, but as an intimate friend. Ooo er! Like having a dog who takes you to new places a watercolour box encourages you to venture around and absorb new surroundings, whilst it’s very simplicity makes it suitable to share with other curious folks. Equally, having mine, I was encouraged to sit down without need of an excuse. Best of all, if you decide you don’t want to use the tin, just slip it away in your bag. You cain’t do that with an easel!

So, that’s that, in the deep dark winter, be brave and get out, or wait eagerly for the summer ahead when you can rest a pad of paper on a rock or on your lap, pull out your tin and while away the day. There is almost no greater pleasure!

By Ned Elliott