We often think of palettes as just a storage unit for our paints and their importance is sometimes ignored or disregarded. However, a palette is, actually, an important piece of art equipment. One that stores, protects, preserves, and contains the most important ingredient of painting, the pigment. Without the palette, we would have extreme difficulty in preparing, mixing, and using our pigments.
Palettes come in many styles, designs, costs, and are usually one of the first purchases you make when setting up your painting area. You can find the most basic and inexpensive up to the most advanced and expensive, and everything in between. With the vast variety of art palettes available, much thought must go into selecting the perfect palette. Whether you are using Oils, Acrylics, or Watercolor, the palette you choose should fit your every need.
Let us just consider what we need in a palette for these three basic mediums, watercolor, acrylic and oils.
Ample number of wells, plastic or porcelain, waterproof, sturdy construction, lots of mixing space, non-staining, air tight, lid included, and disposable or reusable.
The Good- The Quiller Palette- with its round design it mimics a color wheel to help you better understand the different color schemes and is great for learning to mix colors from the three primaries. The wells provide space for primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, however, the mixing space is rather limited. This is a good palette for a beginner.
The Ideal- The Piggyback Palette with Extra Color Palette- This is one of the most popular watercolor palettes available. It is a favorite of Janet Rogers, as well as, the porcelain version that Cheap Joe prefers. This palette offers lots of wells, lots of mixing areas, as well as, an additional storage palette for less used, but essential pigments that conveniently piggybacks on the lid of the larger palette.
The Unlikely- Several versions of the unlikely watercolor palette would include the basic white dinner plate, the foam meat tray, a mirror, a discarded glass frame, among many others. These are adequate for putting out enough paint for one use, however, with out wells to contain and protect your pigment, you end up wasting a lot of paint. Joe recommends in his book “Old Watercolorists Never Die, They Just Wet Their Sheets” to fill up your paint wells no matter which palette you choose. This preserves the moisture longer and keeps the paint from popping out of the well when it eventually dries out. It takes a lot of courage to do this because you can use about half of a 15 ml tube which can seem expensive and wasteful. But like Joe says, “You can’t paint with the paint in the tube.” So get your money’s worth and use it! (By the way, this is a wonderful book for beginners. Joe Miller has included all of his tips and tricks and very funny stories in this delightful book. He even asked me to include a paragraph on the back of the book! I was honored! Be sure to check it out!)
Travel Palettes- compact, practical, convenient, plastic or aluminum, air tight, waterproof, lightweight, sturdy, lid included, brush storage a plus.
The Good- Any of the mini travel sets are great for travel, including the Winsor and Newton Field Plus Kit, the American Journey Voyager palette, and the The Joe Miller Signature Watercolor Travel kit. They meet the majority of the traveling needs. However, most of these are not air tight or water tight, which is usually desired when traveling with watercolors.
The Ideal- The Heritage 18 Well Folding Palette with extra mixing tray has a gasket that keeps the paints moist longer, as well as, keeping the re moisten paint inside without leaking when transporting to another location. The 24 well version has more storage for many colors and also a lift out tray to mix. With the water tight seal his makes a perfect palette for Don Getz. His chosen palette, in fact, for his “Odyssey” US Journaling Tour.
The Unlikely- There are many clever ways to re-purpose items to be used as a traveling watercolor palette. Artists are very innovative, inventive, and resourceful and when it comes to palettes. You never know what will end up as one. Among the best conversions are Altoid tins, small mint tins, day of the week pill cases or stacking containers, and empty make up or eye shadow cases. The possibilities to re-use items are endless! All of these ideas make taking along your watercolor paints a breeze and artists just love recycling!
Palettes are especially important for acrylic artists, as most acrylics will dry out in a matter of hours, wasting any unused paint. There is very little you can do to keep this from happening beyond a day of painting. So the specifications for acrylic palettes are a little different than for watercolor. Acrylic artists usually would like an airtight lid, disposable palette sheets, large areas to prepare the paint and no wells. They will put out only the paint they will need for just one sitting. They expect that the paint will dry overnight without the use of extenders or thinning agents.
The Good- Disposable Paper Palette Pads are great for the acrylic artist. An ample size for larger projects is the 12×16 pad. If you would like smaller sheets, just cut them to size. These are very inexpensive to allow you to throw them away daily. The paper palettes are normally white in color, however, Richeson offers the Grey Matters palette to help in correctly mixing colors on your palette.
The Ideal- The Masterson’s Premier palette includes a sturdy, air tight tray with lid, and comes with palette paper, and a sponge to create the ideal atmosphere inside to keep the acrylic paints moistened longer than ever. The palette paper and sponges are available as refills.
The Unlikely- I found three distinctly unique examples of unlikely acrylic palettes.
Upcycle Artist Moni Hill uses the lids of large paint jars as an acrylic palette. She mixes and adds paint directly to the top, then allows it to dry over night, and then peels the dried paint off to clean!
Elliot Coatney offered a wonderful tip for using an unwrapped stretched canvas as a palette. Elliott uses a Joe’s Prime
Standard depth 20×20 sized canvas for lots of mixing area for his large and loose acrylic paintings. Then, when the paint has dried overnight, he also peels it off of the plastic and uses the acrylic skins for starts to future paintings!
Last, but not least, is Bob Burridge, who covers his entire work table with plastic to protect the workspace and to use as a palette! He squeezes out the paints and mixes right on the table! In no time, Bob has an original work of art created by all of the left over acrylic paint. Ingenious!
Here is an excerpt from Bob’s Artsy Fartsy Newsletter from Feb/Mar 2011-
I do not use plastic palettes or mixing trays that harbor small dollops of separate colors, snuggled in the little cul-de-sacs. Those trays tend to tighten me up. I prefer either wide mouth jars of paint or scoops of paint ladled right on the table top.
Wide Mouth Jars
My mixing is quick, loose, juicy and gives me the freedom of mixing the color I want BEFORE applying it to my canvas or paper. This helps keep my colors clear and bright, avoiding scrumbling on the surface and making mud.
I have more tips for loosening up! Check out my Loosen Up Studio Workbook for more techniques to help you stay loose, relaxed and creative!
Oil Palettes- Oils are the least likely to dry out quickly. They usually take about2-3 weeks to begin to skin over. This means that the paint is always subjected to attracting anything airborne, like dust and insects. It is a good idea to have a palette that can be covered but not necessarily sealed.
The Good- For hundreds of years, the master artists have been using typical wooden palettes. The design we most associate with painting. Richeson has many sizes and styles available that need to be conditioned with linseed oil to seal the raw surface and prepare it for use. This palette can be scraped clean and used over and over once prepared.
The Ideal- I would have to choose a combination of two palettes for the ideal situation for oil paint storage. First, the Grey Matters 12×16 Disposable paper Palette and second, the Masterson’s Premier Palette empty box. This set up will enable you to mix color correctly, and keep anything from contaminating your paint when you are not at work. The box is 12×16 and the paper palette fits nicely inside. This will also reduce the amount of solvent smell that lingers in your studio when you are not painting.
The Unlikely- Some unlikely oil palettes would include re- purposed glass table tops, mirrors, glass frames, or even discarded window frames.
The Guerilla Painter line of products is a truly great way to take your oil paints outside. They have many designs to suit any situation or style. And they offer tons of accessories to make your plein air experience more about the painting and less about lugging your stuff around! This Cigar Set includes everything you need to take your artwork for a hike. Just load up all of your paints and brushes and get going! It even includes a plein air wet canvas carrier, so you can return to your studio with a completed painting without leaving half of it in your car! A great activity for these warm summer days!
The important thing to remember is that we need to get the most out of the paints we use. Good paints are too expensive to waste and allow to dry out. The first defense is a good quality palette.
As artists, we tend to use just about anything in a pinch for a palette. However, for some, palettes are sacred and should never be disturbed by anyone except the artist! We like to find things just the way we left them. So Beware! All of you neaties out there, if you happen to have an artist living under your roof, Please, Do Not Clean The Palette! You would Not be doing them a favor. Just back away from the palette and leave it, no matter how painful! The paint is usually left there for a reason. As a side note, on average, most professional artists hardly ever completely clean their palette. Because you waste paint.
Take the time to think about what you need in a palette before splurging. Make good choices and your palette will serve you well and for a long time, even those creatively discovered unlikely palettes!
Clean your palette or Don’t Clean your palette, but more importantly, don’t clean anyone else’s palette either. Just fill them up with lots of juicy color! And recycle whenever you can!
And with that, I will declare this Colored Palette Day!
Happy Colored Palette Day!
Keep your Brushes Wet and your Palettes filled with Color!