In about the early 90's he became interested in watercolour painting and decided to enrol on a course with the famous British watercolourist, the late James Fletcher-Watson. When on the course he noticed JFW's paintbox, a venerable antique, which had been repaired many times and went back fifty years! James told him he had asked both Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney to make some of these old style paintboxes but both refused. I should add that at one time there were several distinctive old designs, made by, amongst others, Winsor & Newton, but they have been unavailable for many years. When they occasionally turn up at antique sales they command high prices.
This got Craig thinking and he thought he would have a shot at making one. He decided to use brass instead of tin as it was easier to solder and did not corrode. For the first one he encountered all sorts of problems, tried different soldering tecniques and also paints, overcoming the difficulties by seeking specialist advice. The paint he uses is one from the garage trade which includes a hardener. This all took several months before success was achieved and that was with the first box! The initial boxes were all in black but other colours have since been introduced and proved more popular. At this time he was still working for ICI and made the boxes at weekends in his garage. First years production was 12 units.
Naturally James Fletcher-Watson was the first customer and the Fletcher-Watson palette was the first box. After several years, at 57, he was offered early retirement, and jumped at the chance although he afterwards did consultancy work for Manchester University.
With James Fletcher-Watson promoting his palette orders began to come in. One day he received a call from a lady wanting to order a box, purporting to represent the Duchess of York. He thought it was a hoax but later received a call from JFW saying had he received any contact about this. It turned out she was having private painting lessons with JFW and he had recommended Craig.
.Craig is a keen artist and he believes this has helped considerably as he understands and is interested in talking to other artists. Following his experience with Fletcher-Watson he heard about John Yardley and duly went on one of his annual courses. Once again he noticed that John was using an old battered paintbox of a distinctive design.This relic was an old famous box known as a Roberson. He decided to try and make a replica which proved much more difficult than his first, due mainly to the oval recessed wells of the old design. However this man is nothing if not persistent and after much trial and error the problems were overcome. Craig became friendly with John Yardley and has been attending his courses for 17 years. He says they are more of a social occasion these days with several other friends, like professional artists Judi Whitton, Steve Hall and Don Glynn, regular attendees.
Then came Charles Reid. Craig heard about Charles and booked one of his courses in America! During the course Charles came to look at his work and noticed his paintbox. He picked it up and proclaimed to the class he had been looking for something like this for years. Craig also became friendly with Charles and Judi Reid and for a few years organized his UK courses, although this has now been taken over by Jane Duke. Charles has four of these hand-made beauties!
Once again word of mouth recommendations, and other artists seeing the palettes, has led to repeat orders from all over the World, especially the USA which accounts for 50% of the total. Many famous people who paint have them including the singer Tony Bennett, the actor Gene Wilder, both friends of the Reid's, and some important corporate figures. Steven Spielbergs wife has one. Each box incidentally has an engraved plaque with name or initials on it. This is the only bit of the box that Craig doesn't make personally.
The Small Paintbox
The Large Paintbox 6 oval wells instead of 4, and 20 paint wells instead of sixteen
The Sketcher's Box Judi Whitton has a `special' with 20 paint wells.
My three treasured boxes, The Paintbox, Palette and Sketcher's Box,
two in British Racing Green the other brass.
As above but open.
I contacted Craig this week and asked a number of questions which he kindly answered. In making the palettes he uses a cold curing modified epoxy paint, together with a hardener. It is sprayed on and cures in around 30 mins at 60 Deg C. Despite being urged over the years to buy specialized equipment and get a small workshop, he has resisted this for various reasons. He still does all the work in his garage and uses minimal tools, vice, tin snips and hammer! He does have steel blocks to form boxes around, but dished wells are all hand shaped likewise hinges etc.
Craig produces around 15 boxes a month and prefers to mix the types, rather than do a long run of one particular sort. He has made over 2500 to date and the most popular is the Small Paintbox (Roberson type) with sales approaching 1000. He did make two very small boxes, the Pocket Box and the Sketcher's Box, but now only one, which takes either half pans or tube paint. The Palette Box is a replica of another old type called the Binning Munro. This was used by Trevor Chamberlain who now has the Palette box without the flap as does David Curtis. When I was on a Charles Reid course in 2008 I noticed he was using a similar box to the Palette one but rather lighter. I'm not sure what the differences are but Craig tells me has sold a number, although not advertised it due to the large number of orders he has for the others. He is open to `special' orders but naturally at a price. I have met quite a few artists with his boxes, and not all are professionals by any means, many amateurs like me. One point that needs to be made is that these boxes are heavy duty, in other words quite heavy compared to the cheap metal ones on the market. This doesn't refer to those made by Holbein and Fome, and the Spanish Viera, which will be covered in another post.
There has been a great deal of comment on Wetcanvas and also Painters-Online about Craig Young palettes. They do create much interest and some controversy. Those who have them treasure them, while others, for different reasons perhaps, question the need to spend such large sums of money on a painting palette. Other artists would dearly love one but feel unable to make such a large financial commitment. Unfortunately as I have shown niche products, hand-made not an inferior replica mass produced in China, don't come cheap. Does possession make you a better artist? Of course not but those of us with them can still dream of becoming one. Craig's website with full details of his product range, prices, delivery times etc is www.watercolorpaintboxcompany.com/