Friday, April 06, 2007

Home Made Watercolour Bijou Box

It seems that the people at Home Depot rarely know what they have as products. I have received many emails saying that they don't carry shelf edging. NOT TRUE! The do. They are usually kept in black piping that is hug from the bottom of the wood section in the shelf isle. For your convenience, I stole a bar code so you can print it and take it with you and ask them to scan it and maybe that will alert them to the FACT that they have it!! Here it is:

For the watercolour sketchers, The Winsor an Newton Bijou Box has got to be on top of their wish lists. It is a beautifully compact and solid enamelled box that measures 79mm x 60mm x 16mm (or approximately 3" x 2.5" x 3/4"). I have always wanted to have one of these, but since I own two larger Winsor and Newton boxes and have made my own Altoids watercolour boxes before, I could not justify the cost of the Winsor and Newton Bijou Box.

This size box is excellent for carrying around in a pocket for sketching when you are out in the everyday world. It is the size of a Blackberry, and when coupled with a small size pocket sketchbook and a waterbrush, can turn into an instant pocket studio.

I love my Altoids box. It has been my companion for a while now, but over time it has become loose and clunky and with spring around the corner, it was time to retire it. I had been constantly on the look out for a metal box that approximates the dimensions of the Bijou Box. Call it an ideal, or just the fact that it is a classic and THE one to be imitated. I always look for boxes, mint boxes at convenience stores, metal boxes at garage sales. Anywhere I see a metal box, I try to envision it as a watercolour box.

A few months ago I was at a conference where they were giving away mints boxes. They called them "Manage-mints". Smart idea! I didn't care much for the mints, but the box? The dimensions of this small metal box were almost the same as the Winsor and Newton Bijou Box. They are exactly 80mm x 63mm x 17mm. It is professionally covered with white enamel, and I was able to easily remove all the marketing graphics off of the box by using a bit of my wife's Acetone. That left me with a very nice white enamelled box. Granted the Bijou Box is black, but hey! This was the home made version so white would be just fine by me.

In my earlier work on the Altoids box and in restoring one of my Winsor and Newton boxes, I used 3/4" shelf-edging to hold the pans in the boxes. These shelf edging strips work perfectly and allow you to change the pans and half pans easily, but hold them in place extremely well. For this box, I decided to use 5/8" shelf-edging. If you go to your local hardware store you will actually find three sizes of these shelf-edgings. 3/4", 5/8" and 1/2". The first two sizes will hold half pans very well in different directions, the third size is not useful for our purposes, but I am sure I will find a use for it soon. The reason I used the 5/8" edging is that three strips of that size, will fit perfectly in the box while only two of the 3/4" would fit in and I would be left with significant unused space in the box. Moreover with the two 3/4" strips, I would be able to hold 10 half pans, while with the 5/8" edging, I could fit 12 half pans into this box of 2.4" x 3.0" x 3/4".

Aside from the shelf edging, I needed a plain white vinyl tile, six 1/2" staples (The kind used with a staple gun), and a small piece of white adhesive shelf lining. I also needed the smallest drill bit in my tool box.

I started by measuring the inside of the box and cutting a piece of the vinyl tile to fit snugly in there. I also measured the inside of the cover and cut the shelf lining to size and stuck it there. The white shelf lining makes the inside of the box cover a perfect place mixing colours.

I then cut three strips of the 5/8" shelf edging to fit in the box and secured them to the vinyl tile by drilling holes in the edging and the tile and threading the 1/2" staples in these holes to hold the tile and edging together. The 1/2" staples hold the pieces together very well and you do not have to worry about them becoming unglued if you try to change the half pans. I fit the finished component in to the box, and filled the edging with 12 half pans.

I am ready for spring now. This blackberry-size paint box fits easily in my jacket pocket and with a couple of travel brushes and a small moleskin-like sketch book, I am ready and able to sketch any where, any time.

Watercolour artists fall into two groups: Those who use tube paint, and those who prefer pans and half-pans. Whether you are traveling near or far, you should consider using paint in pan and half-pans in boxes. There is a myth in North America, that you can't get rich colour out of pans. Not true. You can get colours that are just as rich from the pans as you can get from the tube. All you have to do is wet them before you use them. If you are still not convinced that you should give pans a try, maybe this will do the trick: With new carry-on travel restrictions on liquid and jells, tube paints are not likely to make it past the security counter at your local airport. So if you plan to travel with your paint, I hope that this article has given you an idea of how to make your own home made watercolour Bijou Box.