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5 Questions You MUST Ask When Buying a Watercolor Painting Palette

Ah, the perfect palette. There isn’t one! I’ve tried them all, so I know! It really comes down to what works best for your uses, so today I’d like to give you some tips to help you choose the one that’s right for you.

watercolor-palette

1. Where will you be painting?

First, will you be painting in your home or will you be taking it to classes or onsite? Ease of portability may be important for you if you need to travel with it. Unless you clean it off each time and throw out any unused paint (never!) you will want one that seals and won’t leak wet paint all over the place!

For this I like two palettes: the Masters Touch Sealable Palette from Hobby Lobby and Mijello Fusion Airtight/Leakproof Palettes as seen above in the image, which is carried by Dick Blick.

The Masters Touch palette features 23 deep wells, but the middle mixing area is small. It does have a removable tray that may be used to mix as well. This palette is nice to take to a class or workshop.

While much smaller, the Mijello palette has 18 small wells and a smaller area to mix paint. Its smaller size makes travel and packing easier, and this is what I use when I am in the field doing plein air sketching or on vacation. It does not have the amount of mixing space I would suggest for working in the classroom.

If you don’t plan to travel with your paints then your options are endless. Here are some other things to consider. . .

2. How deep are the wells?

The “wells” are the indents that holds the wet paint. I once had a student who brought two full size palettes with paint in every well to my class!

For reasons I will explain in the future, however, too many options can be a confusing. If you are just starting out the temptation is to have every imaginable tube of paint ever made and a huge palette to hold them all. But for beginners I suggest a limited color palette of around 8 to 10 watercolors, so choose a palette with at least 10 paint wells.

In addition, the wells should be large (and deep) enough to hold a quarter size dollop of paint. You don’t want to keep stopping and squeezing more out every few minutes!

3. Is there enough room to mix colors?

Besides picking a palette with enough paint wells (but not too many), you want to consider a palette’s mixing space. It’s important in watercolor to have enough paint already mixed when painting larger areas.

If you run out of a mixture and have to mix additional paint you run the risk of not getting it right and having uneven color, so having enough space to mix an ample amount at the start is important.

Choosing a palette with large areas to mix paint also helps to keep a painting from becoming muddy. A small palette’s mixing area must be cleaned frequently to keep colors clean. While you must still clean a larger area if it becomes full of paint, you don’t have to do it quite as often. Having clean clear color is important with transparent watercolor.

4. What is your palette made of?

Most palettes are plastic because it is practical and durable. However, new plastic palettes sometimes cause the paint to bead up instead of pool together. A light scrub with soft scrub cleanser will fix this issue.

A plastic palette will always stain; that just goes with the territory. I try to keep my palette clean by wiping out the mixing areas after each use and occasionally rinsing out all the paint and scrubbing it up.

Other types of palettes are porcelain, which are heavy and breakable, but do not stain. I don’t find these a practical option. A few smaller travel palettes are metal. These are durable and usually have a thumb hole for holding while painting.

Metal types like these are most often used when traveling to paint. I prefer a sealable palette as I’ve said, but many artists use and love their metal palettes.

5. Would you like a bag for that?

If indeed you plan to travel with your palette you will want to consider what you will be carrying it in. I highly recommend considering one of the many bags made specifically for this purpose.

Palette bags are made with a pocket on the bottom that your palette slips into and remains flat to keep paint from running all over the place.

The Pitman Palette and Field Bag can be purchased at Jerrysartarama.com while Cheapjoes.com carries the American Journey Palette Porter. Both are great options and will carry most large palettes with lids.

Final thoughts:

I’ve had many palettes through the years, and seen more palettes than I can count. My pet peeves are students who try to work with tiny brushes and not enough room on the palette to mix enough paint! This leads to wimpy paintings and frustration.

While it need not be expensive or of the highest quality, your palette does need to meet the needs you will have while painting. Deep wells allow you to squeeze out enough paint to finish a painting while a large mixing space gives us enough room to mix ample color and keep the colors separated and clean.

Follow those two guidelines, and at the very least, your frustration levels while painting will be lowered. Over time, your preferences may lead you to metal palettes versus plastic, or one with 36 wells rather than 18, but of course that’s up to you. Whatever you choose, just make sure to keep on painting!

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

In previous tutorials I have talked about how important light sources are in painting, but on the other end of the spectrum, shadows can play a big role in many ways as well. A good contrast of light and dark will always grab the viewer’s eye and make them take a closer. . . read more

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