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Creating an adjustable master swatch

I created a master swatch to compare paints from different watercolour makers! Most master swatches are made on one piece of card, or multiple pieces held in some kind of folder. My master swatch is adjustable, read below how to create one!

What You’ll Need

  • White watercolour paper of your choice
  • Black paper (optional)
  • Circle craft hole punch (the one I use here is the XCut circle)
  • Glue
  • Velcro dots (I used a hundred pack of small sticky-backed velcro dots)
  • Pen, paint, paintbrush and water
  • Backing paper of your choice

Step 1: Cut out your paper

First, you’ll need to cut out the watercolour paper of choice. I used the XCut circle hole punch that’s 2.5cm in diameter. Cut out one circle of white paper for each paint in your master swatch.

I use black paper in this swatch as well, in order to see how my shimmers look on a dark background! This is optional for matte paints. If you are doing this part, use the same hole punch for black paper of your choice. You will need a half circle for each swatch (I just cut them into circles and then cut them approximately in half).

Step 2: Glue your paper pieces together and stick on the velcro!

  • You can use any kind of glue for this part, but I used a glue pen (see picture). Glue each half circle of black paper on to a piece of watercolour paper.
  • Next, attach a piece of velcro to each swatch circle. I stuck the hooked bits to the swatch, and laid the other half in rows on my backing paper. My backing paper is A4,, and I made mine landscape so I could fit 10 swatches in each row.

It doesn’t really matter which side of the velcro you put on the circles, but make sure you are consistent for the whole paper.

Step 4: Swatch your paints!

For this tutorial, I am swatching Cinnamon, a shimmer from Keiko , who runs @alohawatercolors (Instagram and Etsy).

Step 5: Arrange your paints!

I arranged my mattes separately to my shimmers, and then by hue! This is, of course, a matter of preference, AND, the whole point of this project is that it’s adjustable! If you change your mind or get new paints, you can just move them around!

For storage, you can keep these however you want, just be careful of movements that will dislodge the velcro! I have mine pinned to a notice board.

Using watercolours for pointed pen calligraphy

Calligraphy had many faces: sign painting, watercolours, brushpens, digital, dip pens- the list goes on! My first love and personal favourite is pointed pen calligraphy (featuring in this post’s cover photo). There are so many questions I asked when I started pointed pen, and I haven’t stopped asking them! What nibs should I use? Which nib holder is best? Which brand of paper? Which ink???

A lot of these decisions are up to personal preference, especially the ink! I tried using watercolours for pointed pen a few years ago, and failed spectacularly. However, having gained more separate pointed pen and watercolour experience, I tried combining them again and it was a success! This post will hopefully save you those few years, and get you using your watercolours for dip pens in no time!

TIP: Prepare your nibs before using them with ink or watercolours. Most nibs come with a protective coat to prevent rusting. This is great for longevity, but prevents ink or paint from sticking to the nib (see photo below for comparison).

Preparing Your Nib

I use Tachikawa G nibs for pointed pen. This method works great with these nibs. To remove the factory coating: place your nib in the nib holder (it will get hot so be careful!) Using a lighter, pass the nib through the flame twice on each side of the nib. Clean off the black residue with a clean tissue. Wait for the nib to cool and its good to use! As always, use caution with lighters and only use them in safe, ventilated places.

I use Tachikawa G nibs for pointed pen. This method works great with these nibs. To remove the factory coating: place your nib in the nib holder (it will get hot so be careful!) Using a lighter, pass the nib through the flame twice on each side of the nib. Clean off the black residue with a clean tissue. Wait for the nib to cool and its good to use! As always, use caution with lighters and only use them in safe, ventilated places.

HOWEVER. I do not have any experience using this method with other nibs. If you are using a vintage or expensive nib, please do extensive research into possible coatings and the best ways of approaching them before carrying out any cleaning processes.

Load the Paint

Pre-wet your watercolours using water on a brush or a dropper filled with water to activate them. The key with pointed pen watercolour is thickness of the paint. It needs to be thick enough that it doesn’t blob off of the nib on to you paper; but thin enough that it travels down the tines on to your paper in a controlled fashion. This part is very difficult to instruct in writing, and is largely up to experience. The advantage of using watercolours is that changing the consistency is very easy! A little bit more water will thin your paint, and a little less with thicken it.

To load your nib, get the consistency you think is right on a brush, and simply brush it on to the underside of the nib, from the vent all the way down the tines, and on to the tip. To test the consistency, flex the nib on some spare paper a few times, and alter the amount of water accordingly!

REMEMBER: If your ink is falling off the nib on to the paper, your ink is too thin. If it refuses to budge from the nib, it’s too thick!

Making adjustable swatches

I am always updating the palettes I have from independent paint makers, as they come out with new paints! Up until now, I have been remaking a swatch for the lid of my palette with every update, but that is about to change! If you have the same problem, or just like to move around your paints every now and then, this is the swatch method for you!

What You’ll Need

  • Metal tin for your paint palette.
  • Pre-cut magnet tape (2 x 2 cm squares) Alternatively, you can use rolls of magnetic tape and cut to your preferred size.
  • Your watercolour pans of choice- the ones I use in this tutorial are from Keiko at The Aloha Studios! Keiko attaches magnets to the base of each pan, but paints from some artists or store-bought paints may not have magnets. If this is the case with your paints, simply cut some extra magnetic tape to size and attach to the base!
  • Waterproof fine liner- I use the WH Smith waterproof drawing pens in this tutorial.
  • Ruler, pencil, eraser, and scissors.
  • Paintbrushes and water.
  • Watercolour paper- I recommend you use the paper you use most frequently, as you want your swatches to look like they will when you use them, and watercolours tend to look and behave different depending on the paper you’re using!

Step 1: Arrange your paints

Your first step is to arrange your paints in the palette according to your preference. I arrange them all by hue. Alternatively, you can separate shimmers and nonshimmers, or just by most-used colours. This whole point of this tutorial is to allow adjustment, so don’t worry too much if you’re not sure of what order you would like them in.

If you need to attach magnets to your paints, do it now. Magnets keep your paints in place in your metal tin!

Step 2: Make your layout

I always worry about the size of my swatch paper, wanting to make sure it will fit in my palette lid. The easiest way to ensure it will fit is to make it smaller than the pans inside the palette!

  • Draw rows of rectangles on your watercolour paper – with each rectangle 2 cm tall and 1 cm across. There is no need to leave spaces. My palette is ten half-pans across, so each row of rectangles was 2 cm x 10 cm.
  • Make sure you have enough rectangles to have one for each half pan.
  • Write in all of your paint’s names in the order you have them in your palette.

TIP: If you want the swatch card to make sense visually, make full pan paints the size of two half pans in your swatch to match how it looks in person!

Step 3: Paint your swatch card!

TIP: Use a paintbrush or pipette to place a drop of clean water on each paint before using them. This allows the watercolour to activate, and makes them easier to use!

If you’ve never done a swatch before, this is my method:

Use your paintbrush and clean water to pick up your first paint, making sure the colour is concentrated on the brush. Paint the top half of the swatch rectangle. Wash your brush and wipe off most of the water. Wet the bottom half of the swatch rectangle and let the paint from the top half run into it. This gives you a sharp gradient, letting you see how the paint looks when concentrated, and when diluted. Repeat for all colours!

Now for the “adjustable” part. Up until this point, this is pretty much a normal swatch card tutorial. You could stop right now, attach some magnetic or washi tape to your swatch card, place it in your watercolour colour tin, and it would be a complete project! BUT, if you want your card to be dynamic, allowing you to change the order of your paints, stick around!

Step 4: Make it adjustable

The way this project makes your swatches adjustable is by using the magnetic tape squares. The extent to which you decide to make it adjustable is completely up to you! You can:

  • Attach magnets to the corners for now, and apply the rest of this tutorial when you decide to shift around your paints.
  • Cut the swatch card into rows and attach magnets to the ends, letting you swap whole rows at once.
  • Attach magnets to each pair of half pan paints or each single full pan and make almost all paint interchangeable.
  • Cut each magnet in half and make your swatch pan completely interchangeable!

The reason I chose 2 cm squares of magnets; and measured the swatch into 2 cm rectangles is so that they can match up perfectly. Each magnetic square can be attached to a portion of your swatch and make that piece moveable! The possibilities are endless!

I hope this tutorial has helped you make a new adjustable swatch card. I’d love to see what you make. Tag me on Instagram if you try this out! Happy swatching!

Hey There!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my blog! I’m Reem. I started lettering around 5 years ago, and developed an interest in watercolour recently.

As I learned how to navigate my mediums, I have gained valuable experiences and hope that I can use this platform to share them with you. This is all very new to me, so please stick around while I get my bearings! Hopefully, we can make each-other more confident artists!

I’m always willing to answer questions, so please contact me if you have any! I’ll be sharing mostly how-to’s and reviews, but anything is possible so stay tuned!