Quentin Blake Inspired DIY Watercolor Palette

Did you know that I'm very obsessed with Quentin Blake?

art by Quentin Blake from James and the Giant Peach

self-portrait by Quentin Blake

art by Quentin Blake from Matilda
 He is one of the most amazing illustrators of all time, most famous for Roald Dahl's classics such as Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and many more. If you've never read a Roald Dahl book, do so immediately and I am so sorry you had no childhood. I am so in love with Roald Dahl that my dog is named Matilda.


QB's illustrations really brought the stories to life. His work is so loose and fun and he is a master visual storyteller. In my stalking of QB's process, I discovered that he uses the coolest custom watercolor setup:

And I got jealous so I decided I had to have it. It took me a while to figure out what was happening here, but I did and now you can make one, too!

  • illustration board (mine is 12x16, cut down from this)
  • a frame for the board (not necessary but mine is here)
  • Velcro or glue (I used Velcro 5/8 coins)
  • Empty FULL PANS for watercolors (this was IMPOSSIBLE to find but Amazon has them here)
  • cheap table-top easel like this one
  • 5 ml (or larger if you want extra for refills) watercolor paint tubes
You can put as many colors in your palette as you would like. You can also buy already-filled full pan watercolors (also difficult to find, usually they sell half-pan) but I wanted my own color choices so I decided to fill mine from tubes. QB has a lot more colors than I do, but as I am not a super famous illustrator, I decided to have 16 colors in my palette.

Step 1: I decided to frame my illustration board as it just looks nice. QB seems to have his board in the lid of something, but I didn't have anything like that, so I got a frame. I just pulled the glass out and stuck my illustration board on top, then the glass (to make it thick enough for the pegs in the back). Illustration board by itself is plenty thick if you don't want the frame. 

Step 2: I arranged all my pans out with equal spacing across my board. I then used the Velcro buttons to stick them into place. You can use glue or modge podge, I just used Velcro so if I destroy my illustration board, I can easily transfer my pans to a new board. Or I can bring them in a travel palette. You can also use half-pans, I just wanted the full ones because QB has them and I wanted to refill them less often. Full pans are really hard to find for some reason, so if you have trouble, half-pans work just as well.

Step 3: Plan where you want to put each color. I used Winsor Newton watercolors because I wanted to spend a ridiculous amount of money (just kidding). But really, I decided if I were going to go through the trouble of doing all this, I might as well get nice paint. For all 16 colors, it was about $130 at www.dickblick.com. Certain colors are more expensive than others. Winsor Newton is what QB uses and they rewet really nicely. They're highly pigmented so you need very little paint. Here are the colors I used:
  1. Cadmium Red
  2. Alizarin Crimson
  3. Lemon Yellow
  4. Cadmium Yellow
  5. Yellow Ocre
  6. Sap Green
  7. Viridian Green
  8. Cobalt Blue
  9. French Ultramarine Blue
  10. Violet
  11. Payne's Gray
  12. Ivory Black
  13. Raw Sienna
  14. Burnt Sienna
  15. Burnt Umber
  16. Raw Umber
You don't need all of these by any means, but this is what I ended up with. I also arranged them in the above order, rainbow progression and then neutrals.


Then you just fill each pan. I wrote the name of each color next to the pan in ink. Some colors will dry very dark so it's good to know what they are for refilling!

Step 4: Let them dry overnight and they will be ready to rewet and use the next day. (My violet was backordered, so that is why one is missing in the photo.) Some colors shriveled up a bit once dry and I just filled them again with more color. Each color has a different consistency, so some colors I used the entire tube, and some I have plenty left to refill later.

Step 5: Once dry, just stick your frame onto a table-top easel (for easy adjusting and to save space on your desk) and you are done! QB has his on pegs if you prefer that, but I have limited desk space and appreciate having the option of making mine a little more vertical. Happy watercoloring guys!

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