Maintaining Your Palette

In painting, the word “palette” may mean two different things. A palette is a surface used to mix paint. It could also mean the collection of colors used for painting.

Watercolor palettes do not really entail a lot of maintenance – most of the time you simply rinse them and then wipe them down ready for another use. If you utilize a great deal of palettes, you may clean them thoroughly by using a dishwasher (no need for commercial dishwashers, a regular one will do). I don’t recommend washing palettes with your regular dishes as pigments may be toxic when consumed.

Some artists would use a thick glass palette positioned atop a sheet of gray paper. A glass palette however is confined to both studio use and working from a taboret, which is a small table that holds painting tools or equipment. Most artists though would rather use a wood palette.

Wooden palettes are available in an assortment of designs and sizes; the most widely used is the oval shape intended to easily fit from the crook of the elbow and gripped with the thumb through a hole. The wood palette could be as small as a dinner plate or a large platter. The smaller palette is usually recommended for beginners.

Before using the wooden palette, it should be prepared with a sealant to preserve the luster of the oil paint. You can find three different methods for preparing a palette for painting. One is to lightly apply a few coats of shellac permitting each coat to dry completely prior to the next. Some artists who have invested in an expensive, counter-weighted palette may painstakingly seal it using a French polish which gives it a nice antique look. However, there are disadvantages to these two preparations: the warm hues of the varnish make mixing colors accurately a challenge.

A good method is this: invest in a liter of linseed oil. Linseed oil is available in hardware stores. Pour a tablespoon of linseed oil onto your palette with a sterile cloth rag to evenly disperse the oil over the palette. Let the oil sit in for an hour then repeat six or eight times. To keep the palette from warping, work on both sides evenly.

The purpose is always to saturate the wood together with acrylic. Once completely soaked, place your palette aside and let it air dry. After a week, the palette may still feel a bit oily, which is good. This means that your palette is ready to use.

Make sure to clean your palette after every use. Never, ever use turpentine to mop your paints up. Turpentine is actually a solvent and it will strip off your palette.

Alternatively, scrape off your paint using a painting knife and rub the remainder into your palette with a piece of cloth. After a short time, a wax like coating will develop. This waxy surface will acquire a neutral gray color that allows one to correctly blend and assess your paint’s color, hue, tone, and temperature.

Like your brushes, your painting palette is an essential tool for painting that should be well taken care of.

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