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Expeditionary Art: Late Night Adventures in Montreal

December 1, 2016

pcoketpalette_open-800x672Winter is coming in Montreal. That (normally) means the end of painting outdoors for awhile. But – it so happens Maria Coryell-Martin at has sent me one of her Pocket Palettes to review.

Maria is known for using her ultra-light gear on expeditions to the south pole, where the size and weight of gear in your pack are a matter of life and death. (Just ask the Franklin Expedition).

So I figured, if the pocket palette works for her, it should work on an arctic expedition of my own. I’m heading to downtown Montreal on a November night. Forecast says -3 Celsius! I want to try this thing out in the worst conditions possible. Dark, cold and tired – sketching doesn’t get more fun than that :)

About the Palette:

It’s a cute little gadget. Essentially a repurposed business card holder and three sizes of ultra-slim tin pans that you can re-arrange on the sheet magnet inside the case.

My take on the various sized trays is this: teeny small rectangles for pigments, squares and big rectangles for mixing areas. I suppose you could use the squares for pigment if there’s one you know you’ll use frequently. My initial worry with these slim pans is they might not hold enough paint for me. But we will see what we see.


I already use a pretty small paint box. It’s not as if my W&N kit could be called chunky. Is this a mid life crisis where we abandon old partners for a younger slimmer version?


I’m always shy about messing with my paint box. It’s time consuming to take apart, messy, and if I don’t like the new pigment, then I have to wash out the half pan and refill the color I *already* wasted! Petty I know. So I suppose there’s an advantage to the small pans. Not a big deal to wash one out.


So I’m heading out on a first trial run.

I’m taking along the tiny atomizer Maria sent, as well as some 30ml/1 ounce water bottles and my trusty old DaVinci travel sables – which I haven’t used in a while – not since I started carrying brushes in a brush case. That little black wallet is not included in the Pocket Palette kit – she has a much nicer case that I haven’t picked up yet.

This is a test of a micro kit! Which means I’m also trying out a little 3.5 x 5.5 Stillman and Birn Beta, (which, by way of disclosure, was also sent to me gratis. More on the sketchbook later when I get part way through it).


I’ve got a six color setup of fall colors, which I think will work for this night shoot: Neutral Tint, Raw Umber Violet, Turquoise, Quin Gold Deep, Buff Titanium and Grey of Grey. (Yes, this is just a subset of my everyday carry. I’ll try some weirder color choices next time :)

Wish me luck :) That is awfully tiny. I’m not totally sure it’s going to work.


So the kit works great! And the mixing area on the lid works fine. No leaking at the hinge at all.

I’ve got the 30ml Nalgene bottle stuck to a binder clip, with the assistance of a magnet taped to the bottom of the bottle.

Setup feels good. It’s ultra light, easy enough to hold in one hand. And I’m not finding painting with bulky gloves a big deal. Probably because I’m not switching brushes. I can do this whole thing with the #6 Pointed Round, DaVinci Travel Sable. With everything clamped down, I haven’t had to adjust anything, or even go into my bag once.


Round Two! Painting the monuments in Place Du Canada. It’s about zero Celsius right now, so no worries with freezing paint water. But it’s cold enough that I’m keeping this to a 15 min sketch. Walking to a coffee shop to dry paint takes longer than the painting itself.

I’m getting some weird looks from people – street painting is strange enough, never mind late at night. I overhear someone saying “…only in Montreal”. If only they knew! This is happening all over the world even as we speak :)


So, next time people say, “I wish I could paint loose like you” – here’s the answer. Go out at midnight in the winter and you’ll find it quite easy actually :)


Those were three very small sketches, and even though I was painting wet and juicy, you can see I’ve used between ‘almost none’ to 1/2 of a tray.

I would say – if you’re painting at a size this kit is intended for (under 9×12″?) – these paint trays are plenty large enough. I was worried for no reason.


Ultimately, mixing on the lid worked better than expected, so I removed two of the square trays, giving me four more colors. If it were spring, I could see cutting one more mixing tray to put some greens back on the menu – which would basically make it my full palette again.

Here (swatches above) is what I have in it right now. I’ll see how that goes at Urban Sketchers Montreal this fourth Sunday. And then – really – I do want to try some weirder color combinations. (Though, I keep saying that, then sticking to what I’m used to. I hope this gadget will unlock more experimentation).

In the mean time – the Expeditionary Art Pocket Palette gets five stars from me! Right now, for the holiday season, Maria is offering Citizen Sketcher readers a discount code. Head over to her store and use EXPLORE2016 sometime before the end of December.


35 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2016 9:16 AM

    I have both versions and keep both in the case I got. It’s a cinch to sketch with this mini palette. So glad to hear that you enjoyed using it. Have expeditionary sketching Marc.

  2. December 1, 2016 9:18 AM

    This is how I’ve set up mine.

  3. December 1, 2016 9:52 AM

    How incredibly talented you are to carry you work to this scale and temperature! I am intrigued by you all who can manage your visions under these conditions.

  4. Lynn Patten permalink
    December 1, 2016 9:59 AM

    When you attempt this in January say, I know Nina Johansson in Sweden uses alcohol in a waterbrush to avoid freezing with watercolors. She says the paint reacts quite differently as nearly all colors tend to granulate. So more I hope to see more of your wonderful expeditionary experimentation events eventually.

  5. December 1, 2016 10:07 AM

    Great post Marc!
    How’d you clamp the bottle to the setup?

    • December 1, 2016 10:10 AM

      Magnet taped to the bottom :) Then stuck to the metal binder clip.

      • Pedro Loureiro permalink
        December 1, 2016 10:25 AM

        Clever! Never would’ve thought of that :) Thanks!

  6. December 1, 2016 10:15 AM

    I’m so glad you like your Palette and I love your sketches! Intrepid, taking on dark and cold. :) I also fill my waterbrushes with alcohol (gin or vodka) in sub-freezing temperatures, it works on a small scale. Nice binder-clip/magnet technique for your bottle!

  7. Erik Madsen permalink
    December 1, 2016 10:35 AM

    Hi Marc, enjoyed your review. I’ve been using her kit since August, very handy. I’m carrying 14 colors, I like the mixing area even though small.

  8. Ann B permalink
    December 1, 2016 11:29 AM

    Instead of magnets, try using double sided tape to stick the pans in. I’ve been doing this for years and have never had a problem. It’s so much lighter.

    • Gina Bisaillon permalink
      December 2, 2016 5:10 PM

      It’s the palette that is a magnet, the pans are just plain metal — a very light setup altogether.

  9. carolyn cochran permalink
    December 1, 2016 11:31 AM

    Nifty post! What company makes Gray of Gray?

    On Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 6:02 AM, Citizen Sketcher wrote:

    > Marc Taro Holmes posted: “Winter is coming in Montreal. That (normally) > means the end of painting outdoors for awhile. But – it so happens Maria > Cordell-Martin at has sent me one of her Pocket > Palettes to review. Maria is known for using her ultra-light gear ” >

    • December 1, 2016 5:21 PM

      That is a Holbein Watercolor. It’s just Titanium white and a touch of black I do believe. No, wait – looking this up here its Zinc White! Which is a more transparent white than titanium and lamp black.(Soot).

  10. December 1, 2016 11:43 AM

    Bravo! I wish I had your courage.
    It looks like the paint is Not beading up in the mixing area..?
    Any tricks to ‘season’ new boxes. It seems to take me years to get past the beading.
    Thanks Marc!!

    • December 1, 2016 11:48 AM

      Yes! That beading with a new palette – it’s true I did not see that with the Expeditioanry model – there’s a kind of odd matte surface there – not the normal enamel. But yes in a tin palette I just try to get it dirty fast :) Same with a new dipping nip sometimes.

    • December 1, 2016 11:49 AM

      Also – good to see you over here! Its been a while!

      • December 2, 2016 12:46 AM

        Tanks Marc. I read you religiously of course!
        “You’re a braver man than I Gunga Din” to go out painting in the dark, cold night.

  11. December 1, 2016 12:29 PM

    Now that was awesome & very inspiring. I think you did a great job on your mini paintings.

  12. December 1, 2016 2:57 PM

    Those larger pans are interesting to me, since I haven’t seen them before. If it were me, I might choose a pair of paints that I plan to mix anyways, like a green and a yellow, and put each in its own corner of the square while leaving the other half for blending them in varying amounts.
    Good point about conditions like that giving incentive to paint loose. :)

  13. December 1, 2016 5:33 PM

    I have been looking at this palette. I have a WN cotman pocket box that I got for $2, pretty much unused, at a flea market. with the tiny brush, in the original box. I have since taken out most of te original colors and replaced them with tube colors. It is also about the size of a business card, very small. This metal one looks very cool.. thanks for reviewing it and for going out into a cold Canadian night. I live in San Francisco where “cold” is 40 F…bunch of wooses, hey if your water is not frozen , it’s not cold! I will be trying some urban sketching while skiing in Jan..Hope to meet you in Chicago!!

  14. Ann permalink
    December 1, 2016 6:44 PM

    I’m a novice but have experimented with many setups and this palette is my favorite. I was delighted to see your setup and what you could do with it. What surface did you use to clip the palette, water bottle and sketchbook (size and material)?

    • December 1, 2016 6:47 PM

      That black board is called ‘coroplast’. It’s just like ‘two side good’ corrugated cardboard, but plastic. It’s light AND rigid making it perfect for a drawing board. It’s just a scrap I had around from making a bigger board :) so it’s 6×10″ – but there’s no clever reason why that size. Worked for this little Stillman and Birn book though :)

  15. Richard Polinski permalink
    December 1, 2016 9:43 PM

    I started sketching this year in February and was using a Schmincke 12 pan palette like yours with a 5×8 Moleskin sketchbook. This works fine but being new it was taking me two to three hours per sketch. I decided going to a smaller format and having a more compact kit would allow more opportunities and more sketches and therefore more practice.

    I purchased the Expeditionary Art Pocket Art Toolkit in June and it has been fantastic. I can literally carry the entire kit in my pocket and do a sketch in about an hour. I take it everywhere and it has been the exact opposite of limiting. Even though the pans are small you would be surprised how long the paint lasts and the mixing area on the lid is all I’ve ever needed.

    I will start using my larger kit again but the Pocket Art Toolkit will always be with me. Btw, I use mostly regular watercolor sable and squirrel brushes cut short to fit in the kit as I like to have that variety. I still keep the waterbrush for those times I just need to do something very quick. For water I carry a small Naglene jar in my other pocket!

    Oh, and I keep a cotton athletic wrist band stretched around the kit. When painting I wear it on my wrist to wipe my brushes on and stick the handles of the brushes I’m using in, the bristles towards my elbow. It doesn’t seem to wear out and I just throw it in with my wash every week or two.

    • December 1, 2016 9:59 PM

      Great tips in there Richard and I absolutely agree about the size being perfect for everyday carry. Photographers often say, the best gear is the gear you have with you :) Being able to have it on you all the time is probably worth more than anything ;)

  16. Gina Bisaillon permalink
    December 2, 2016 5:16 PM

    I have that palette and I love it and especially how easy it is to switch pans (I bought extra pans for that purpose).

  17. December 3, 2016 1:20 AM

    Hi Marc!
    I like that painting kit.Less is more!
    I have done your Travel Sketching in Mixed Media Course (superb course).
    Now im doing my first attempts in watercolor. Very nice tips. Thanks for sharing with us.

  18. cathytyler permalink
    December 5, 2016 8:58 AM

    Great palette! I have two and love them. I did find that over time the pans on the first one I bought rusted, but then I didn’t completely fill them with paint. I’ve done that now and we’ll see how it goes!

    • December 5, 2016 9:57 AM

      Hi cathytyler, I had the same experience with my first Pocket palette. After a good wash, I dried them and applied a coat of nail polish top coat. This time I filled the pans right up and so far, so good. Even before I filled the second palette (Pocket Palette Version 2) I applied a coat of the nail polish top coat. They are both working just fine so far.

  19. January 10, 2017 5:23 PM

    Is this your favorite palette of colors right now? What brands are they? Thanks!


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