Closed and stacked Koi and Windsor and Newton Cotman sketch boxes

Thanks so much for all of your wonderful comments on the first supply post!  Many of you want to see a review on Daniel Smith watercolors and a review is coming.  Oh, how I love those DS paints!  My plan is to alternate between artist grade, and other more affordable paints, and paints people might want to use for sketching or journal keeping.  You will get all kinds here.  The post after this, I would like to review Mission Gold watercolors.  Has anyone heard of or experienced them?  After that, I would like to show additional travel palette set-ups.  On with today’s review….

Windsor & Newton Pocket Box set inside of a Koi Field Box, watercolors
Cotman Box Inside Koi Field Box Lid

Today’s swatches are done on Strathmore 400 Series watercolor paper. There is a black line drawn in permanent ink underneath and then one on top for comparison.  This is to give you an idea of the transparency of the paint.

Koi and Windsor and Newton Cotman watercolor swatch sample to show transparency

Sakura Koi Watercolor Field Sketch Travel Kits– 24 half pans are very popular paint sets.  They are considered student grade paint.  Half pans sets come in: 12, 18, 24, and 30.  The 24 price ranges is from about $15 to $35, more or less depending on what site you visit.  Last year I got this 24 set on Amazon for about $25.  I just checked and it’s going for about $20.  I saw one site listing a 24 set for over $40- way overpriced, unless you use their coupon.  I have not seen this brand sold at my local art store, only online.  Anyone seen this in their local shops?

The box sets come with a refillable medium tip size waterbrush that breaks down into two parts for storage.  There is a plug on the end that holds in the water when the tip end isn’t attached.  This way you don’t have to dump it out when you pack it up.  There is a removable mixing tray, and a lot of mixing area in this box.  The lid can act as an easel for postcard sized paper or for more mixing.  Little sponges are inserted along the side for dabbing your brush onto, or for blotting your painting.  There is also a ring underneath the box so you can hold it while you are painting. The box feels durable.  It’s approximately 6.2 x 4.5 x 1.3 inches.

Opened Koi Field Sketch box showing mixing tray

The paint is bright and more on the opaque side.  It does not have the luminosity that you will see from artist grade paints. There is a slight to moderate chalkiness. The half pans are small and it would be difficult to do a larger painting with them, but for journal sketching, or small paintings, they would work fine.  I found the pans to be too close together, and I had to pay more attention to where I was putting my paintbrush.  The colors are more pigmented than the Cotman Pocket Box, but chalkier. I would not trust some of the paints in this set to be lightfast or without fugitive qualities.  The Sakura site contains no info on this, but I’ve read on some blogs that there are lightfastness and/or fugitive pigment issues.  But for $20-$25, this is a great deal!

Many Doodlewashers have a fondness for this set.  Check out the great works of Louise Preimeau, Annie Parsons, and Kamisketsa

Koi Field Sketch Box watercolor paint swatches to show transparency
Chinese White, Lemon Yellow, Aureoline Hue, Permanent Yellow Deep, Permanent Orange, Jaune Brilliant, Vermillion Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Crimson Lake, Quinacridone Rose, Purple, Cobalt Blue Hue, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, Yellow Green, Viridian Hue, Permanent Green Deep, Olive Green, Yellow Ochre, Light Red, Burnt Umber, Payne’s Grey, Ivory Black

This paint also comes in sets of tubes. There are no pan refills available, you would need to refill by using the tubes.  The Sakura website has a downloadable color chart for all but the 30 set.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Sketcher’s Pocket Box– 12 half pans.  Cotman is W&N’s student grade paint. There is also the Pocket plus– 24 half pans and the Deluxe with 16 half pans, a Field Box set with 12 half pans and a few other similar types of sets.  The Pocket Box is available at local art stores and online.

Open Windsor and Newton Cotman Pocket Box set of watercolors

This Pocket Box includes a tiny brush that looks to be a size 1. No holding ring on the bottom. It’s a great small size- 5 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches. One thing about it to note- the pans and paints stay in place when the lid is closed, but they jangle around inside.  If you were walking with it in a bag or your pocket, it would make noise.  The pans and/or cubes of paint will also fall out if you bend over while holding open, or accidentally tipped it.  With use, the paint inside the pans will stick.  A tiny bit of rubber cement could be used to secure the plastic pans down in the palette, and this way they remain removable.  I don’t find these to be as opaque or chalky as the Koi set, but they aren’t as vibrant.

I see this set fluctuate anywhere from $16 to $25. It seems like people either love or dislike this set.  Most people love the box though, and sometimes buy it just to refill it with artist grade paints.  It is a nice compact and light box.  The colors inside the box may vary.

Windsor and Newton Cotman watercolor swatch sample to show transparency
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Crimson Alizarin, Ultramarine, Intense Blue, Emerald Green, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, China White

Cotman comes in tubes and pans, and refill pans are available for this set. The W&N site provides a chart of the composition and permanence of Cotman paints.

Check out the wonderful works of Doodlewashers using Cotman paints- Jennifer Stout, Adelyn Siew, and Sara Schlijper!

I would paint with either of these sets in art journals or planners.  I keep the Cotman set at work in case I need to bust out a small lunchtime painting of Kauai in my planner.  I have Kauai on the brain.

Open Koi and Windsor and Newton Cotman sketch box sets

I thought this  watercolor tutorial by Ekaterina Smirnova would work well for the sample painting because of the layered mountain effect, and stay my heavy-handed tendencies. The brushes in these sets were not used in these sample paintings.

Koi- minimal paint mixed to get these colors.

Blueridge Moutan painting with Koi watercolors, clouds, mountains
Koi- Juane Brilliant, Cerulean Blue, Prussian Blue, Payne’s Grey, Ivory Black

Cotman- Except for the Cobalt Blue Hue sky, I mixed to get these colors.

Blueridge Mountains painting with Windsor and Newton Cotman Pocket Box set, mountains, clouds
Cotman- Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue Hue, Burnt Umber.

The Cotman paints flow more freely on the paper and are more translucent than the Koi. I think that bottom cloud is trying to be a flying saucer🙂

I’ll leave you with this tip- diapers!  I bought a pack of unbleached flat cloth diapers to use as brush wipes and they are my new favorite things.  Beats paper towels for absorbency, and less waste because you can wash and reuse them. They are less likely to blow away in the wind while out sketching.

Cloth diaper used for watercolor brush wipe
Cloth Diaper



Posted by:Jessica Seacrest

Hi I'm the Doodlewash Supply Blogger and offer biweekly reviews of various types of art supplies, watercolors, and helpful tips. I approach artistic expression with a light-hearted point of view. I love to see, and support others opening up to, and embracing their creative process with any medium or creative expression.

61 replies on “DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Koi Sketch Kit and Cotman Pocket Box

    1. I’m glad you like the idea Rebecca. In the UK, do you all call them a nappy? I think any brand would work. I hope you have luck finding them.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jodi, I’m glad that you found it informative. How have you like creating and painting with the Koi paints?


  1. GREAT review Jessica! I have found everything you said about Koi (one of my new favorites for urban sketching) to be absolutely true. The size and portability are almost perfect.
    I have not tried the other set.
    The diaper tip is awesome! Didn’t even realize they still produced cloth diaper. Am I out of the loop or what!
    I am loving these posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehehe. If you only knew how I scrutinized the diapers available before picking these. I have one for you next time we get together. I’m glad you liked the review🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carmel, I’m happy you liked the post. I would like to hear how you like the Koi once you take it out for a spin. Happy painting to you!


  2. Such great, in-depth information. My first set was a 12-color Cotman travel pallette, and over time I refilled the pans with better paints. Great size for on the go. I appreciate all the time it must have taken you to gather all the info for this awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you Carol. Your comment means a lot to me. Knowing that people find these useful, is wonderful. Have palette, will travel, right?!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, will travel🙂. I consider myself still a novice and basically self-taught except for a 6-week beginner class at a local high school. Otherwise, I have learned through YouTube, blogs, books, and websites. Even though I might have heard some of the techniques, rules, etc. multiple times before, it is great to have them reiterated until they click on this brain of mine. I love this community of artists who are so supportive and generous with info, and I look forward to your next post🙂


  3. Thanks for a very informative post! I spent so much time just last week trying to decide which palette to buy and was looking for a comparison of these two but couldn’t find one! I did find this thorough review of the Koi and then I checked to see what one of my favourite sketchers was using and found this: In the end, since I am just a beginner, I went with the Koi-24 (which is available in Opus art stores here for C$43 but I got it for C$28 through I’d like to see a review of the Sennelier travel palette — and btw, Sara Schlijper’s work was done with the Koi (she writes that she wants to get the Cotman). Thanks for this great series!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad that this had some useful information for you. That’s exciting that you have the Koi set. I hope you get a lot of joy in creating with it. I have a Sennelier mini travel set, and it will eventually get it’s day on here🙂 Happy painting E!


  4. I bought the Cottman set. However the watercolor class dictated use of tube paints. Too big and bulky to travel with. Like the extra palette in yhe koibset. Nice tip on the diaper, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I used the Koi set for a good while, then when I started to use tube paints I removed some of the Koi colors for my tubes. After some time I thought it was far too big, so I got the Cotman one, removed the paints for my own, and now I use that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jessica is totally awesome!! I love these reviews after just 2 and look forward to all of them to come! I have a Cotman pan that I’ve never used yet but now I know what to expect. Thank you, Jessica and thanks, Charlie for finding a gem like her to guest post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Teresa, thank you, seriously! I had the idea to do these posts for sometime, but would talk myself out of doing them. Finally the time was right! It makes me happy to be interacting and sharing with people like this. Have fun creating out there!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the Cotman travel kit! I took it camping with me last summer and it proved to be a great option to document some of our trip! I will say though, I never thought of changing out the paints…LOVE that option! Thanks for the insight!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Annie! Another happy Koi painter! Yeah, the diaper has been great😉. Sometimes I paint really wet and the paper towel wasn’t cutting it. I know some people use a roll of toilet paper as a blotter, but I don’t have room for that on my desk. Plus, my desk is in my living room, and I don’t really want a roll of TP hanging out on it all of the time😉 Happy painting to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have both the Koi 24 set and the Cotman 10 or 12.. I found both at my local Michaels! The Koi’s are my only semi-opaque set. I like my Cotman set too because colors come in cool and warm versions. I like the portability of both sets and both have lasted a long time. What a great idea about the cloth diapers! I’m definitely getting those!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kari, I’m glad you found the diaper info helpful🙂 I still chuckle a little every time I type “diaper.”


  9. Wonderful post Jessica. My first travel set was the Cotman. I moved into Daniel Smith and made up my own travel kit and forgot about my first one. Recently I pulled it out and found, just as you mention the colors are more opaque. Daniel Smith colors seem more muted to me and the combination of both sets are really nice. I love the brilliance of the Winsor & Newton yellows.

    I look forward to more of your reviews, this is such a nice addition to Charlie’s blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have the Koi kit. I love it! I’ve not had a lot of time to use it plein aire since I got it for Christmas. Can’t wait to take it along with my new travel easel on wheels out into the wilds!🙂


  11. I have the 24 set and love it. Picked it up at one of the local art stores, $25-30 range I think. I use it mostly with my urban sketchers group, compact and good traveler. I do wish the water brush was a little better quality. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Daylene, and thanks for sharing your experience with Koi🙂. I enjoyed reading your bio on your blog. I love that you have rediscovered your creativity and that you are sharing about it! I feel like a little bit of a cheerleader for that discovery in myself and others. It’s great to meet kindred creative spirits!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This post matches my experience with Koi and Cotman. I’m happy enough with Cotman, and people keep giving me Koi so I keep using it.

    I’m wondering how you wash the cloth when used rather than paper towel for blotting. Do you throw it in the washer with a darks load? The main reason I don’t use cloth is I can’t figure out what the paint would do in a washing machine full of clothes. Or do you hand wash?

    Love this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kathy! I would hand rinse the cloth first and then put it in the washing machine. I wouldn’t wash it with clothes though. Maybe with other dust rags, utility items and things like that. I love using the diaper as a brush wipe, it’s been working out very well. Thanks for your comment and happy painting!


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