We all know what the traditional artist palette looks like: Large kidney shape with a hole for your thumb. But as an oil painter, what are your other options?
- Michiels Guillame
Wooden – The most traditional. Manufactured wooden palettes are sealed with varnish or lacquer, but I prefer to season them also. If you make your own you will need to “season” it. To do so you rub linseed oil into the wood with a rag and allow it to dry. I do this a few times before I use it and then at the end of my painting session 2-3 more times, minimum.
Small palette made from one side of a wooden cigar box. The right hand side was seasoned with linseed oil.
Plastic – Durable and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are usually made of a white plastic that will not stain.
Inexpensive plastic palette
Disposable – Convenient for plein-air painting, and are easy to clean up, made from layers of a wax paper. The top layer is pulled away and thrown out after use.
Disposable palette with used layer torn away.
Re-purpose fast food containers – With the one shown below I use the lid as the palette and the bottom to seal it. I then place it in the freezer to help the paint stay fresh.
McDonald’s salad container as a palette
Glass – Can be placed on a work surface and any color of paper can be placed beneath to aid in mixing colors correctly. The surface can be scraped clean at the end of the session. Edges of the glass can be heavily taped to prevent sharp edges or a glass cutter can grind them down smooth. A glass thicker than 1/4″ works best.
Reference photos can also be placed under the glass, so that you can mix paints on top and match realistic colors.
Color & Tone – If you mix your paint on a dark brown, then go to place the same paint onto a white canvas it will not appear the same. It helps to have a palette close to the color and tone of your working surface. Of course one option is to paint your canvas a closer value to the color of your palette. But this is not always an option.
Shape & Size – Rectangle or kidney shape are the most common. A rectangle fits well in a paint box, while a kidney shape can fit more comfortable on the hand. Either way, in the end it is a personal preference.
Organizing Your Palette – How you place your paints on your palette is up to you. Some prefer light to dark, while others favor cool to warm. Or even a random fashion, it is your call. It is only important that it makes sense to YOU.
- Place your colors along the outer edge so you have an open area in the center for mixing.
- Start with fewer colors and add as you go, particularly if you are a beginner, so as to not waste paint.
- Consider placing the colors the same location each time to build a reliable routine.
Note: There is a new vertical palette on the market that intrigues me. I haven’t tried it yet, but would like to soon. It is a vertical glass surface placed next to the painting, side-by-side.
These are designed by artist David Kassan and I believe they are available only online. If anyone has tried this I would love to hear your thoughts!
Painting In Oil – Part Two – Mediums