Best Watercolor Palette

A good watercolor palette is one of the best art investments you can make so I am going to show you my favorite palette and four reasons why it is the best!

When you are nature journaling or even urban sketching you can produce more compelling sketches faster if you have watercolor. As it turns out there are tons of watercolor and palette options out there. However, finding a good portable palette and choosing watercolors that work well is a daunting task. You could spend all your time looking for the right supplies and not have any time left over for making art! Therefore, I’m gonna help you avoid that problem by showing you the best watercolor palette I have found. Let’s get into it. Cue the drum roll!

The best watercolor palette for nature sketching and journaling is the customized palette by John Muir Laws!

You can buy one of these palettes on his website here. But be warned, these palettes are hand made and often run out of stuck so be sure to get yours first. Or you can even make your own from John Muir Laws’ instructions because he is such an amazing and generous guys (more details on how to make your own palette below).

Using the JML watercolor palette in the field
Me using the John Muir Laws watercolor palette for nature journaling.

4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette

  1. You are going to save so much money! Because this one art tool can eliminate the need for hundreds and hundreds of dollars of other art supplies. You can make so many combinations with the 32 watercolors included in this palette. Also, watercolors are so concentrated they will last a long time.
  2. Excellent Color Choices! Because a professional illustrator and naturalist has carefully chosen all 32 colors you can avoid the guesswork. Therefore you can focus on making the art and learning how to use the colors in your paintings. Most of the colors come from Daniel Smith Fine Watercolors, a small company based in the US that still cares about quality art supplies.
  3. So Organized and Compact! From the arrangement of the colors to the clear labeling on the outside this watercolor kit is dialed in! There are also mixing areas in all the right places. You don’t have to experiment over and over again to find a system because John Muir Laws has done it for you. The kit is also compact enough to fit in your purse or back pocket. That’s a lot of art power in your pocket!
  4.  Field-Tested and Child Approved! Finally, this watercolor palette has been tested by many artists in some of the most challenging field painting conditions! John Muir Laws and myself have both used this palette in places such as British Columbia, the Amazon Jungle, the Serengeti, Rwanda, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Ecuadorean Cloud Forest. This palette is tough and has stood the test of time.

Ok, One More Reason To get this Watercolor Kit

Last but certainly not least. This watercolor palette is the best because John Muir Laws shares the entire process of how to make it for FREE on his website! Just follow this link. That proves that he believes in this palette so much he would rather share how to make it than just try to make money. What a great guy!

Look at all the colors you can make with this kit! Here is a chart that I made showing all the combinations.

What about a watercolor palette for the studio?

If you want to get some more ideas about what would work good for the studio check out this video

But what paper should I use?

Now that you know the best palette for nature journaling you might want help choosing the best sketchbook. Check out this post where I share all the criteria you need to know to choose the best sketchbook for you!

Best Brush Pens: Follow Up Review

Have you experimented with brush pens? Do you have time to sort through all the different types as well as their confusing names? In this video I review several types of brush pen that I have been using for nature sketches and nature journaling.

When I first started nature journaling I had a limited number of drawing tools that I used. However, I went through a stage where I experimented with a lot of different art supplies. Have you ever gone through stages like that? It can be fun to experiment with different media and it can help us grow as artists. Experimenting with different art materials can also be an excuse to buy a lot of stuff and get the pleasure release from shopping instead of the pleasure of actually making art.

After several years of experimentation I have narrowed down my “quiver” of brush pens. Having a limited number of tools is empowering for me, it builds confidence, familiarity and skill. It also makes it easier for me in the field when I reach for an art tool and I don’t have to think twice.

Here are the ones that I have found most useful…(this is not an exhaustive list but if you are just starting out or just need a good pen it covers the bases)

Best Brush Pens For Nature Sketching

Pens With Actual Brush Bristles:

    1. Pentel Color Brush Pen Black: while the name is a little confusing this pen is just like a brush that you would use for calligraphy but it has a cartridge full of black ink. It comes in fine point and medium point and the ink is supposed to be waterproof. Even though it is more waterproof than the one mentioned below, I would not do watercolor on top of it and sometimes it smudges on your hand or the opposite page in a journal. Pentel Brush PenDespite being a fun art tool I rarely carry this in my field kit but use it in the studio for gestural drawings, titles, dramatic silhouettes and the like. It puts down a rich heavy black. “Pigment based ink” is keyword for it is more water proof.
    2. Pentel Fude Brush Pen: this one looks just like the one above but the ink Pentel Fude Brush Penis less water soluble. If you want to experiment with washes or wet on wet techniques in ink this could be fun. Otherwise, I see no benefit to this one and once I tried it I have never gotten it again. I do not recommend this one for nature journaling or watercolor.
    3. Pentel Color Brush Pen Gray: this is a newer version of one that I have used in the past. I like gray ink for a lot of purposes however it seems like the Pentel gray inks are usually less waterproof. Gray ink can be really useful for under-drawings.

      Brush Pens with Felt Tip Type Points:

      1. Tombow Dual Brush Pens: I have used these pens a lot in my journal Tombow Dual Brush Penfor creating frames, borders, titles, and under-drawings. They come in a wide variety of colors including some very pale ones which I really like. However, they are not waterproof and I have had whole pages ruined when I was exposed to a little mist in the field. For nature journaling this is unacceptable. I rarely use these tombow pens anymore.
      2. Zebra Brush Pens: These come in 3 tip widths and a gray ink version. zebra brushpens come in 3 size tipsThey are waterproof and John Muir Laws has been recommending them and selling them for several years on his website. I have tried them and they are pretty good. You can get a lot of line variation and once they dry they are pretty resistant to watercolor washes on top.
      3. Last but not least, the Pilot Futayaku Brush Pen: this pen is currently my favorite drawing tool, especially the one that has a gray tip and a black tip on the same pen! The ink is waterproof but the gray might fade a little bit. You can also get a lot of line variation. I love the gray ink. If you want to see how I use this pen in my landscape painting process check out this post here.Pilot Brush Pen with a Heart on it

Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

People always ask me what nature journaling supplies they should have in their nature journaling kit. Right now, I show you the most important and least important things that I carry into the field. These tools have been with me to the Amazon, the Serengeti, Ecuadorean Cloud Forests, through every rapid in the Grand Canyon and many more adventures.

I will give you a list of the supplies that I use and why I like them. However, even more importantly I will give you a rationale for choosing the supplies that work best for you.

The Main Principle Behind Choosing Your Kit

First and foremost. I believe in an underlying criteria behind everything in your nature journal kit. I subject everything to this test. Ask this simple question:

Does this help me nature journal more?

If the answer to this question is “no” then throw it away. If the answer is “yes” then keep it. For example. Let’s say you buy a new sketchbook on amazon and it has really nice thick watercolor paper. After a month of using this as your main nature journal you notice that you have only filled a few tentative pages. Since the paper is so nice you feel an obligation to do more detailed watercolor paintings. Meanwhile, you look at your old sketchbook, the one with the really cheap paper and see more filled pages. Way more pages.  That watercolor sketchbook might be good for someone’s nature journal kit but not you, not right now at least. It doesn’t matter who recommended it or how much you like it because it failed the principal test.

Sticking to this simple criteria will help you when you have to make the difficult decisions of what to bring in your kit. If you stick to this criteria I promise you will find more joy in your nature journaling and your pages will get better and you will learn more. You will spend less time shopping for art supplies, less time worrying about which paintbrush to take with you, and less time in analysis paralysis. You will also spend less money buying unnecessary art supplies.

My Top 6 Nature Journaling Supplies

  1. Nature Journal Shoulder Bag. I use a Patagonia Mini Mass messenger bag. This is no longer being made but I do a review of the essential aspects in this video: I also describe another shoulder bag that I have tested in this video: The Quest for the Ultimate Nature Journaling Bag Continues!
  2. Sketchbook. This is the most essential part of your kit and has a big impact on how successful you are. I love the Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardcover, wire bound, 9X12 inches. For help choosing the best journal for you check out: How to Choose a Sketchbook for Nature Journaling
  3. Pencil. After your sketchbook a pencil can be the most dependable and basic nature journaling tool. I like mechanical pencils and my favorite one is the Pentel Twist-Erase Click Mechanical Pencil.
  4. Pens. Recently, I switched from pencils to pens in an effort to get finished images more quickly in the field and develop a “fault tolerant” style. I am in love with this Pilot Futayaku Gray and Black Brush pen. It is my favorite drawing tool now.

5. Watercolor Palette. Shortly after I bought a good watercolor palette I gave away all my colored pencils and markers. I believe that watercolor is the best, fastest, easiest way to get color in your nature journal. I review the John Muir Laws palette I use in this post. It was worth every penny.

6. Waterbrushes. I am a firm believer in waterbrushes over traditional watercolor brushes. They make it possible for me to paint in the field with out carrying a water container and are much more convenient for nature journaling. Now, I use mine for most of my studio painting as well. I only use the Pentel Aquash brand in the large size.

 More Nature Journaling Tools

  1.  Binoculars: I have tried a variety of binoculars and by far the best all around binos for nature journaling are the Pentax Papilio Close Focus Binoculars. These are lightweight, inexpensive, good for birds in the distance, and good for flowers and bugs closeup! Since I got mine I never use my more expensive pair for nature journaling. It takes a while to learn how to draw while looking through them and many people struggle with this therefore I made a video showing you how to draw with binoculars.
  2. Opaque Drawing Tools. Despite being the best color option for nature journaling watercolor does have a weakness. Specifically its weakness is its transparency. Basically, if you have to draw highlights on top of a dark color you are screwed. There are a few options that you can use in nature journaling. None are ideal. However, after testing many and throwing many of them away I have chosen two that work. For fine work (water and reflections in animal eyes for example) I use the Uni-ball Signo White Gel Pen. For broader work (such as pale tree trunks and ocean foam) I use the Presto Jumbo Correction Pen.
  3. Binder Clips. Despite their small size these clips are essential for my nature journaling. They keep my paper flat when using watercolor and prevent the wind from flapping the pages all over the place. Medium Binder Clips Box of 12: https://amzn.to/2RrKDVn

Other Tools to Consider

  1. Earplugs. I always have earplugs in my kit. When traveling and when nature journaling at zoos and natural history museums they help me focus.
  2. Paper towel, sock or rag. When you are using watercolor you need to have something to clean your brush on. Many nature journalers use an old white cotton sock and cut a strip off of it so they can wear it on their wrist. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work with how I hold my sketchbook so I just bring a bit of paper towel.
  3. Measuring tools. In order to add quantification to your nature journal page it helps to have measuring tools. I have a goniometer for measuring angles and a slim measuring tape that is meant for sewing. You can find these at John Muir Law’s website store.
  4. Ink Brush. Do you like bold silhouettes and borders? If so you might like the Pentel Pigment Brush Pen. I don’t recommend this one if you will be flying or nature journaling at high altitudes because it can leak in those conditions.

If you are brand new to nature journaling and need help getting started check out How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps