Art Supply Resources
Palettes: Old and New
Hand-held palettes have been used since the 15th century, though since then they have evolved in both shape and composition. Originally, they were rather small, square or paddle-shaped objects with a thumbhole. By the 19th century, large oval or kidney-shaped palettes were fashionable. Made of wood, they were soaked in linseed oil and allowed to dry hard before use, to prevent oil from the paint being absorbed into the wood. Nowadays, wood palettes are sealed with polyurethane varnishes or lacquer.
When large wooden palettes were most popular, people often painted on canvases prepared with a red or brown ground. A mahogany or mahogany-stained palette showed how colors would look against this color ground. Most artists prefer a white palette when painting against a white ground.
Palettes are available in different shapes and sizes and are made from a wide range of materials including: wood, Plexiglas, acrylic, plastic, glass, aluminum and disposable paper. There are also paint mixing trays and cups for watercolors. Choosing a palette that’s best for you is a matter of personal preference. Considerations include the paints you use and how large a mixing area you need. Consider also whether or not you want to hold your palette while you work, as in the case of the classic kidney shaped palette with a thumbhole. Some artists prefer to keep their hands free and work with a flat lying palette stationed at the proper height on a table. One advantage of a hand-held palette is it allows you to move about the studio and view your artwork from different angles while continuing to mix paint. An enameled butcher’stray also makes a good palette as it has a hard smooth surface that is easily cleaned.
Paints on Palettes
Oil and acrylic paint can be used successfully on any palette surface. If covered with plastic wrap, oil paints can keep for a few days. When out of their tubes, acrylic paints have a relatively short life span. They can be covered in wrap as well, and sprayed with a water bottle for a not-so-long, but longer life. Sta-Wet palettes are an alternative type palette that help acrylic (or other paints) last longer. This palette includes the use of a sponge-like material. When wet and covered by a palette film, where the paints are placed, can substantially increase the longevity of your paints. You can make a cheaper version of a Sta-Wet palette with wax paper. Traditionally, watercolors work best on palettes that have slanted wells, shallow dishes and/or mixing areas. Some watercolor artists prefer a palette with one large mixing area surrounded by little compartments. Others prefer to have several small wells for each pure color, and adjacent to each well, a larger one for mixing a fluid version of that color.
Many artists find it beneficial to arrange their colors consistently in a certain order. This is advised for anyone, especially beginners, because consistent color layout is the first step in familiarizing yourself with the use and blending of colors. Arrangements from light to dark can help form an understanding of where colors fall in context to each other, possibly tackling future color issues during the painting. Also, if you have more than one hue of the same color it is best to arrange them next to each other by a warm/cool breakdown and continue that layout with other colors.
Cleaning Your Palette
Another large factor in determining which type of palette you buy depends on its ease of cleaning. The joy of disposable palettes is obvious. The soiled paper can be thrown away while a fresh palette awaits underneath. Although many artists prefer it, it is not always necessary to have a spanking clean surface each time you paint. In fact, some oil painters keep their pigments on the palette and clean only the middle mixing area, adding pigment from the tube onto the palette only when necessary and not each time one paints. Oil paint can be cleaned off the palette with turpentine or scraped off with a blade. The same holds true for acrylics and watercolors, although water should be used instead of turpentine. It is much easier to clean palettes when the paint is wet.