View Full Version : Palette advice?

03-19-2013, 08:31 AM
I am a relative beginner to watercolor, and have been using a "student" grade palette tray made of plastic. It has 8 rectangular mixing wells, 8 small color wells, and 4 shallow, round wells. However, it has become increasingly stained, and I have been looking at a porcelain palette. The one I am looking at has 17 paint wells and 2 large mixing areas. It is 9" x 12" which is comparable in size to what I am using, but there is a larger one (11" x 16") with 30 paint wells. These also come with a plastic top with mixing wells. I find that in most cases I have paint in all 8 of the mixing wells in my current palette, and wonder about only having 2 mixing areas. Do you typically clean the mixing area when going to another color, or have more than one mix or what? It appears to be easy to clean, but I wonder about cleaning one mix before starting another. Any thoughts or guidance? I do like the thought of having a porcelain palette that doesn't stain.

virgil carter
03-19-2013, 09:03 AM
Don, your questions are good ones; thanks for posting. I suspect you will find responses which indicate that the type, size, material of palettes are highly personal. For example, size depends on whether you paint in the studio (larger size) or plein air (smaller, hand-held size), or both (2 palettes).

Size depends on the brush size you commonly use, which, in turn, depends on the size paintings you typically paint. Large paintings generally require large brushes. Large brushes require large wells. The hip bone is connected to the femur...!

Staining is an issue that bothers some and doesn't bother others. I've always painted on plastic palettes of one sort or another. The John Pike is probably my all-time, long-term favorite, since it comes in two versions with big wells and bigger wells; it's made of extremely durable plastic material and will last a life-time, given proper care and respect.

Currently, however, in my studio I'm using a Skip Lawrence palette, notable because the wells have no dams (so that one can drag out as much paint as may be desired into the mixing area with large brushes) and one open end to facilitate washing and clearning under the faucet in a large sink. Looks like this:


This is a plastic palette, and a close look will show some mild staining for the yellow and yellow-green paint areas.

As to your questions about mixing and cleaning, again, everyone does it differently. For me, clean and intense color is often an important ingredient in my work, so I always clean my palette and paint wells before starting a painting. I mix the various hues in their own area within the mixing area and try not to mingel them except for when I am trying for a tone, shade or neutralized hue. Most of my paint mixing is done on the paper, not in the palette. If my mixing area gets too full of used paint, I will clean it quickly with a sponge or paper towel before going further.

At the opposite extreme are painters like Castagnet who never, ever clean their palette either during or after painting. They love the neutralized and harmonized hues that result and only seldom use a saturated hue.

So the answer to your questions is...it depends!

Good luck with your work. Post here and share you work.

Sling paint,

PS: I remember the Chattahoochee--I went to school there. Ft. Benning School for Wayward Boys.

03-19-2013, 10:45 AM
For a porcelain palette, I'd recommend the Stephen Quiller porcelain palettehttp://www.quillergallery.com/shop/Porcelain-Palette.html

03-19-2013, 10:53 AM
In one watercolor class I took, we just used an old china plate.

03-19-2013, 11:01 AM
Thanks for the insight Virgil. I usually like to clean my palette completely before starting a new painting. I do like the looks of the Skip Lawrence palette.

I was down on Ft. Benning just last week, getting a new ID card... required because I am turning 65. My SIL spent some time there both in Infantry Officer school and Ranger school. Now he is FBI (SWAT). Go figure. But I wasn't there in the military, as I am retired Navy.

Larry, the Stephen Quiller looks nice, but is a little more than I want to spend right now. The one I am looking at (Cheap Joe's) is $29.99 for the 9x12.

Mary, the plastic palette I am using now is one that my instructor insisted upon us using, and she uses it as well in her painting. However, since I am not a rank beginner, but maybe an advanced beginner ;) I think I am ready to choose my own palette.

virgil carter
03-19-2013, 12:34 PM
D, that was my experience at Ft. Benning, plus Airborne School, too! A good friend of mine from SF (we flew back to San Francisco together after our first tour), left SF to join the FBI. He went on to be the AIC of the NYC office and led the successful arrest and prosecution of the senior Gotti I believe. Wrote a book about it before retiring or shortly after. Seems like a common transition from military to FBI.

And, yes you have earned the right to pick your own palette. Just don't let Tred become an influence--he has about a gazillion palettes plus one, I think.

Sling paint,

03-19-2013, 02:17 PM
Butcher trays rule the studio here. :)

03-19-2013, 03:17 PM
I have this one from Dick Blick: http://www.dickblick.com/products/porcelain-palettes/?clickTracking=true

It's the "U-shaped" one, but it seems they only carry the "S-shaped" one now. I got it on sale around the holidays, definitely didn't pay full price. It's larger than it looks in the picture, about 13"x13". The large mixing area is big enough for me to have several pools of color going at once and they don't merge unless I want them to (which I often do to make gradations). And the palette is so heavy, it isn't going to slide or tip anywhere. The weird shaped wells in the corners I go back and forth between using them to make large washes or just using them as wells to put colors in. It didn't come with a cover, so I put a piece of masonite board on it when I'm not using it.

Porcelain is fantastic. There is no staining. With a nice big one, I often don't need to clean my palette until a painting is finished, because there is so much room for all my mixes. Sometimes I will clean off a part of the mixing area while painting. Just a swipe with a damp paper towel and it's back to white.

However, I also use small plastic folding palettes for times when I want to be able to carry the palette, or use colors that aren't on my porcelain palette. Sometimes I also use small porcelain dishes for when I want to hold a wash mixture in my hand right above the paper, something I can't do with the big porcelain palette.

I've looked at Cheap Joe's cavalcade and sojourner palettes. They look really good too, maybe more useful than mine with the crazy shaped wells.

03-19-2013, 03:24 PM
My porcelain palette in use a couple years ago:

03-19-2013, 04:01 PM
Cathy, that is an interesting looking palette. The ones at Cheap Joe's are the ones I am considering. Can't decide on the smaller or the larger. I may very well go with the larger one...

03-19-2013, 04:04 PM
Just to put the cat among the pigeons. I have the Mjello Bulletproof palette, it's now 3 years old, It got cleaned about 3 weeks ago, just with warm water, I've never needed a scourer or the like, it cleans off perfectly and paint doesn't bead up. It;s 14 inch by 12 inch. Light enough to hold, but a tad big for plein aire; unless there's bullets whizzing around I suppose.

about $40 US?

I also have a Limoges chef's tasting plate, square with 4 sections it's just as good, but easier to break

All the best, Leslie


virgil carter
03-19-2013, 05:07 PM
Cathy, I think I like your palette. Do you think it can paint landscape and urban subjects? If so, I'll buy two!

Sling paint,

PS: Nice painting--the palette obviously knows how to paint!

03-19-2013, 09:00 PM
Ha, Virgil! You can put one by your window that overlooks a stream and a meadow for landscape paintings, and another one by your other window that looks out on an urban street for urban scenes. Cause you don't want to move one of these heavy palettes from room to room very often! Mine is in the exact same spot as it was 2 years ago, except I turned it 180 degrees. The paints are different though. I've never taken it to the sink for washing, just wipe it with a paper towel.

Leslie, that Mijello palette may be the best of both worlds - no staining, large, foldable and lightweight.

I get my basic plastic folding palettes from a local store that sells them for $1.50 each, so I have 3 of them. Sometimes I have one sitting right on top of my porcelain palette, so I can do double-decker painting.

I wouldn't call any palette a student palette really. Well, maybe the ones shaped like cartoon characters. Some are perhaps gimmicky, and some get damaged too easily for the price. But as a functional object to hold paint, a lot of different palettes work well for somebody, because people have such different methods they like to use when painting.

03-21-2013, 12:22 AM
If staining really bothers you, porcelain will be a good choice, however it's heavy and expensive. I do believe Cheap Joe's sells a porcelain version of the the palette Virgil posted.

I've been through quite a few varieties of palette, and I've finally settled on the Pike Palette. It's already stained a little, but I don't find it a problem, and apparently the surface is easy remove stains from with certain cleaners. It's lightweight, sturdy, has good sized wells, a good number of wells, plus it's got a large mixing area.

I did almost buy the palette Leslie has, since it was foldable and had decent sized wells, but ended up going with the Pike Palette instead because it was larger. The bulletproof palette does seem quite nice, though.