The Quest for the Perfect Palette

If you’re a figure painter, the one essential bit of equipment you need is something to mix your paints on. You’d think that was simple but actually finding something that fits every requirement isn’t that easy.

For example  –

I often want something with lots of ‘compartments‘ so that I can mix up concoctions without them running into each other.

Sometimes I need space so that I can spread out different shades of the same colour.

Sometimes I need depth so that I can make up runny mixtures for an airbrush in sufficient quantities.

Sometimes I want to keep a colour for touching up – so I need it to stay liquid. Wet palettes are great for this but not so great for achieving subtle mixtures because of the excess moisture.

And the one thing I always need is a palette that’s easy to clean.

Palette Survey

Commercial Palettes

These are some of the Commercial Palettes I’ve bought: two ceramic and two plastic. They’re not bad but not easy to clean at all.

You can get dried paint off the ceramic ones more easily than the plastic ones but they, of course, cost more. The cheap plastic ones are almost impossible to get clean once the paint has dried on them.

All of them require quite a bit of elbow grease and a pan scrubber to really restore to something like a useable condition. I tried covering one with cling-film but you can never get it to sit properly in the hollows and there’s the risk of breaking through it if you mix too vigorously.

#Useful Tip No.1
I have found that Airbrush Cleaner, dripped onto a palette a short while before you clean it, really helps to loosen up dried paint.

Wet Palettes

Wet palettes are a great invention for keeping a special mix wet and useable over a number of days or even weeks. Their drawback is they can make the paint too runny.

(Lately I’ve started mixing a basic colour on my wet palette and then transferring it as I need it to a ‘dry’ palette for painting).

Here’s an picture of a commercial palette and my home-made wet palette. To make your own wet palette:

1 Get a container with a lid. Ideal shape is shallow and wide and I’ve found that lids with a snap-clasp are much better than any other kind for stopping your paints from drying.

2 Buy a cheap washing up foam sponge and line the bottom of it.

3 Put in a layer of folded tissue paper or kitchen towel.

4 Get a roll of baking parchment  or greaseproof paper from a supermarket and cut a piece for a ‘membrane’. There are many kinds so you may need to experiment.

5  Thoroughly damp the layers with water; enough to make it wet but not swimming in water.

You can buy all of these quite cheaply in a 99p or Pound shop including wet-wipes – see below


UPDATE: The plastic box for storing baby wet-wipes currently in the 99p store makes a fantastic wet-palette


Alfonzo does it large!

After attending a masterclass by Alfonzo Giraldes, I became converted to the idea of using the largest wet palette you can find. Alfonzo likes to spread himself and there is a logic to it too – the more room you have, the more variations of colour you can explore.

Mastersons does the largest wet palette available at this time and I bought one but it does take up a lot of my limited bench space and I sometimes go back to the smaller ones if I know that I’m working on a limited range of colours.


#Useful Tip No.2
Stagnant water can get a bit nasty over time. For a more pleasant painting experience use purified or distilled water to discourage bacteria. You can also use an antiseptic wet-wipe instead of tissues.

Current favourite palettes

The first of these is a piece of perspex with a couple of layers of cling-film wrapped around it. Never any reason to worry about cleaning this one – just pull off the layer. I also use it for mixing glue.

Second choice is a metal palette. I got the idea from watching the Scale75 videos. Metal palettes are really cheap and, so far have proved relatively easy to clean.



#Useful Tip No.3
With the metal palette, I’ve found occasionally spraying it with a silicone wax spray  makes cleaning it much easier.

Glass oil painting palette

Since I started taking an interest in oil painting, I’ve been looking for the best options there. The perspex sheet is definitely one but the best kind I believe are glass because you can scrape them.

I looked at a glass commercial artist’s palette but it was expensive and far too big. Finally found a set of glass placemats on Amazon for less than £9. I’ve spray painted the underneath of two of them with grey primer and they work brilliantly. Picture shows a painted and unpainted mat.