Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box is the only watercolor set I have that begins to approach the convenience of the Winsor & Newton Field Box. It's even more convenient. It's available in 12, 18 and 24 color sets, the 24 color and 18 color boxes can hold a 4" x 6" watercolor card or block in the lid for easel use. But the tiny 12 color pocket box is so small it'd fit in a normal shirt pocket -- and you don't need to find or carry around a cup of water. The two part waterbrush holds water in its barrel, so once that's assembled, you can just paint directly.

That makes this set a great choice for quick watercolor sketching. If you know you could be interrupted at any moment, this one doesn't take a minute or two to clean out, dump the water and fold it up. You can flip it shut, put the cap on the brush and toss both in your pocket while you're heading for the door. It's only 3 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 3/4" and you don't need to find a source of water if you're in a waiting room or a break room at work.

I think of this as the perfect watercolor set for those who get five or ten minute breaks at their jobs, wherever that job is. Rubber band it to a pocket size Moleskine watercolor journal and you can use it anywhere with faster setup and put-away time than anything else. If you like pen and wash, stick a Sakura Pigma Micron pen and a pencil in the same pocket -- or keep a 3" pencil stub in the box squishing the little sponge to the side.

Many sources rate the Sakura Koi watercolors, tube or pan, as student grade -- but if so, it is at least a very good student grade comparable to Cotman watercolors rather than anything that would give a beginner problems with color strength or pigment load. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the colors are all non toxic hues. In discussion with one of Sakura's executives, I came to understand the company has an unusual attitude toward children's products -- they make them good enough for adults to use so that children will come to love the product and continue to enjoy doing art all their lives.

That policy also means I don't need to hide away my adult art supplies from my grandchildren when they come from Sakura. The kids can't wreck them, but will get better results than they do from other child safe supplies and get more encouraged to continue painting and drawing. I know some artists in New Orleans who preferred the strong colors and nontoxic hues of student and children's paints to adults' watercolors, being less thrilled with genuine Cadmiums and Cobalts because their style of painting needed strong color and the qualities that made some artists swear by those mineral pigments interfered with their styles.

This is one brand I wouldn't hesitate to sell a painting I did with it, though I would tell my buyer what brands and colors of paint I used in any case for conservation reasons. I haven't tested lightfastness. They're priced in the student range at $17.46 for the 12 color set and $26.99 for the 24 color set, which is 4 1/2" x 6 1/4" and 1" deep with a bigger water brush, two sponges and a separate hook-on palette tray for more mixing possibilities.

The 12 color set of Sakura Koi tube watercolors is $19.83 and they aren't available in open stock at Blick. I don't know if they are in art stores. The tube colors are similar but you get Burnt Sienna instead of Light Red. So if you recharge your pans in the 12 color set, use up all your Light Red before refilling the pan. Burnt Sienna is useful in most of the same ways, the difference is that Light Red is a bit redder and a bit more opaque with a texture more like the Yellow Ochre.

I like the 12 color palette, even though it hasn't got Burnt Umber. I can mix a good dark brown with Viridian Hue and Light Red, or mix a good black with Crimson Hue and Ultramarine, one or the other would have to be left out. The colors in the 12 color set are well chosen with warm and cold yellows, reds, blues and greens plus Yellow Ochre, Light Red for an earth red, Ivory Black and Chinese White. The lid has five separate mixing areas for those times you don't want to use the pure color.

However, the inclusion of black has left me doing a lot of mixing on the paper rather than on the palette. This set really lent itself to doing Asian style paintings in black or blue monochrome, because of the good point and easy responsiveness of the small water brush. I've done dozens of small Asian style paintings with it, though my example today is more a Western sketch done as if I was working plein air on the site. Mingling color on the paper with this is a snap.

The price is quite a bit less than the Winsor & Newton Artist's Field Box and a bit less than the Winsor & Newton Cotman Field Box. The half pans are molded into one piece of plastic, so they can't be replaced individually when you use up the non toxic paint -- non toxic hues are some of why this gets labeled student grade. The up side is that you don't need to worry if you got blue on your fingers and then picked up your sandwich getting in a quick painting during your lunch.

Once I've used up all the paint in this set, I could refill the half pans with any brand of watercolor I chose. If you do this before running out completely, I'd suggest getting the Sakura Koi tube set of watercolors, they're probably exactly the same pigments and colors available.

I have the 24 color set as well, which has some great favorites of mine including Payne's Grey, Burnt Umber, a strong Purple and Quinacridone Rose. Because of the waterbrush, I use that set frequently too. Though it isn't small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, it's convenient to rubber band a 4" x 6" watercolor block to it and take it outside or go somewhere with it in a coat pocket. It will fit in most coat pockets.

So if your budget is a bit tight or you often paint in situations where you might have to stop very fast and get moving, the Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box is a good choice, especially the small 12 color set for being able to shove it in a pants or shirt pocket, use in short breaks at work or lightly add washes to a pen drawing. Put a Sakura Pigma Micron pen in your pocket with it and you're good to go with any pocket sized watercolor journal.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, photo reference by M. Ginsberg, painted by Robert A. Sloan.


  1. Good through review with plenty of practical information. I am now more inclined to give it a try. Though I already got plenty of watercolor pan sets,it seems like it would be a nice choice to have for when I paint with my nieces or use in one of my cartooning classes. You have a very informative and useful blog.

  2. Hey, I just found you had an art supplies blog! That's great, because I myself am a supply addict and these reviews are really, REALLY useful.

    An idea that came to me while I was reading this post:
    Some folks use alcohol with watercolor for plein air painting because it dries much faster. Perhaps you could fill the waterbrush with alcohol, then take advantage of the faster drying time to do watercolor backgrounds with pastel on top, all while outside. You might even prime the paper with Colourfix primer ahead of time so it works better.

    Provided that worked, I can see a little set like this, coupled with a watercolor book or block, and a handful of pastel pencils or conte crayons as being quite handy for creating mixed-media art on-the-go.

  3. Wonderful portability, I got my 24 set when I took a 3 week trip back east without any art supplies. Hobby Lobby had a selection of field boxes but this stood out because of the waterbrush.

  4. I just stumbled onto your blog as I was researching the lightfastness of the Koi field set. I bought one about three years ago and decided to refresh it. I have good tube watercolors (W&N, Daniel Smith, M. Graham) and I keep going back to the Koi because I just enjoy using it! I love the colors, and it seems to last forever! I just wish I knew more about the lightfastness. But, then, I mostly just use them on small, personal projects and in journals.

  5. Thanks for this review. I've been meaning to order the 24 color set but I want to know first if it's really worth it. The product got good customer reviews over at Amazon, but your review here made me seal the deal. Placing my order soon!