Using the Frazer Price Palette Box

Tim Fisher puts an updated classic through its paces and comes up smiling. Back after 30 years, find out how the Frazer Price Palette Box makes its mark on Tim’s sketching style.

I was introduced to the Frazer Price Palette Box only recently and I must confess that I had never heard of this product before. The palette is supplied in a gold-lined blue presentation box and, upon opening, I was most impressed with the design and workmanship that was displayed in the bright brass-lacquered finish. It measures 110mm long, 68mm wide and 44mm deep, and the palette folds out to reveal a number of very functional mixing areas. The three main ones have white enamel surfaces, which give it a quality feel. A water bottle is provided, with enough capacity to fill the reservoir at least twice and has depressions on one side that create further mixing wells. The water well is divided into two, for dirty and clean water. The divided reservoir is provided with a detachable access cover to help reduce any spillages. It’s recommended that the reservoir is emptied before closing the box.

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Frazer Price Palette Box

Tim’s first sight of the Frazer Price Palette Box

On the opposite side is a removable section that will hold up to 18 half pans. A clever feature is the catch, which can also be used to stabilise the box when working off a flat surface, such as when using it in the studio. The palette box is also surprisingly light. 

Frazer Price Palette Box

The box holds up to 18 half-pans of watercolour, but is easily adapted to hold full pans. This photograph includes Tim’s own travel brush.

A short history of the box 

The idea came into being through the need of Tony Frazer Price, whose work itinerary involved long plane journeys between assignments. Wanting to paint during the flights but failing to find the ideal paintbox, he decided to develop his own. After a great deal of work involved in producing a working prototype, the Frazer Price Portable Palette Box was born. The palette box was launched in 1985 and sold until 1994. 

‘’Like many artists, I am pleased to see the return of the iconic Frazer Price Palette Box to the marketplace.” – Sally Bulgin (Editor of The Artist magazine)

It proved extremely popular with the artistic community, with some 5,000 boxes sold originally. After trading ceased, used boxes became sought after, with units in good condition trading for large sums of money on eBay. It’s still possible to see these boxes changing hands for high prices, even today. It was because these old and used boxes were selling so well that Frazer Price decided to return his trusted design to the market.

After two years of development, the palette box is now back with a modification to the way paint is stored, and with the brass being electro plated, which can be kept clean by just wiping with a damp cloth.

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The box in action

Tim Fishers painting set up

The palette box takes pole position in Tim’s sketching kit

To put the box through its paces, I decided to venture out to a nearby village to paint. Now that the paint storage area has been modified, not only does it have the capacity to store a number of half-pans, it also gives the artist an opportunity to customise the box for their own needs. I like the St Petersburg White Knight watercolours, for instance, and although these come in full-size pans, they slide into position into the plastic housing quite easily. If you prefer using tubed paint, you can buy empty pans and squeeze the paint into them. Choosing a limited palette, I added three primaries – carmine, ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow medium – plus yellow ochre and burnt umber into the next row of slotted holders.

There was still plenty of room left over to store a soft hair travel brush and if needed, another White Knight whole pan and a couple of half pans of any specific colours. Like most artists, when going out on a painting expedition I tend to take everything, including the kitchen sink. 

Tim Fisher using the Frazer Price Palette Box

Tim at work with the Frazer Price Palette Box

The discipline of working with a compact paintbox means that all these accoutrements are drastically reduced, and all essentials can be stored in one place. My equipment now packed away into a rucksack and comprised a small folding stool, a fine black waterproof drawing pen and a gummed NOT watercolour pad, measuring 356x254mm. This is larger than A4 and the size would put the box through its paces out in the field. In addition, I carried a small pack of tissues and an Iroda hot air gun, which is useful for drying watercolour on cold damp days. It has a deflector plate provided, which must be used to prevent damage to the painting surface.

Tim Fisher paint en plein air

Settling down to work with the view of Hoby village in the distance

"I found this to be one of the easiest and most robust paintboxes to work with. The design allows deceptively large watercolour paintings to be produced. The build quality is excellent, making this light, compact unit one of the best I have ever used, and I will have no hesitation in using it frequently in the future.” - Tim Fisher

Comfort and convenience

Watercolour painting by Tim Fisher

View of Hoby, White Knight watercolour on Lana 185gsm NOT sketchbook, 10x14in. (25x35cm)

After a short walk to the nearby village of Hoby, I set up in the meadow to view a group of houses nestling into the hillside. After creating a drawing of the scene using the fibre-tipped pen, colour was added. The numerous mixing surfaces provided allowed me to paint reasonably large washes without any trouble, although if larger washes are needed, it’s possible to remove the tray that holds the paint pans and mix washes in the large space below. The box was very comfortable to hold using the thumb hole located in one of the mixing pans. It should also be suitable for the left-handed artist, with all the paint trays still in an accessible position from which to work.

I felt comfortable working with the Frazer Price Palette Box and had an enjoyable morning producing this view of Hoby village, which is located in a picturesque part of the Leicestershire countryside. 

The Frazer Price Palette Box is available online at Jackson’s Art Supplies.

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