by John Jude Palencar

With all of the excitement over the Art Order, Art Challenge Competition, I thought I’d post something equaling exciting. Yes folks, a discussion about palettes. This may seem dumber than a bag of hammers but someone out there in the electronic ether may have invented a better mousetrap! There are numerous commercially available palettes on the market. I’ve always found them to be a bit gimmicky and frankly, quite useless for my needs. They are never big enough and usually, fragile.
I like to keep things simple…

I have seen artists use old frying pans for palettes. They use the handle so they can easily move from one part of the painting to another section. Although I think I still use our fry pans for food prep. The surface is on the small side, unless you want to hold one of those heavy cast iron monstrosities. So I guess this would be better for touch-ups rather than full-out painting. Additionally who wants there painting to smell like bacon and eggs!

My personal criteria is quite simple. I’ve been using the same enameled butcher tray for the last twenty five years. I also use ceramic white plates and bowls for other mixing surfaces and when I need a large amount of a certain color. Since I work primarily in aqueous mediums (watercolor, acrylic, egg tempera) this suits my needs just fine. One problem I do have is keeping my paint (acrylic) wet and workable on the palette. This is easily solved by the use of a convention water atomizer. To keep the paint wet for longer periods I use a sheet of plexiglas or conventional glass to cover the palette when not in use. Some folks also put a dampened sponge in there as well. Please note: use distilled water in your sprayer for these water based paints. This will delay any mold from forming on your paint. Certain pigments are more likely to mold (bloom) than others. Typically yellows and blacks tend to mold faster than other pigments. Never use moldy paint… unless your doing a Lovecraft cover.

As far as working in oil. I use to have a bunch of fancy french style palettes. You know the type with the thumb hole. After I neglected to clean them… they became clogged with paint. Another horrid case of poor palette hygiene. So I had to throw them out. Currently when I paint in oil I just make a new palette out of a decent piece of plywood coated with a neutral colored gesso. I also use a piece of heavy glass, ground on one side. Instead of painting the underside white, I place large sheets of white paper so that I can see the pigment color. Another trick is to use different shades or colors of paper under the glass palette. If you can match the color of the ground you have applied on your painting’s surface, it may make for easy color matching.
In other instances and moments of pure laziness, I’ve used art supply paint boxes and my haloed drawing table’s surface to mix paint or sharpen a brush’s tip before applying the paint to panel.

I’d like to hear of your palette suggestions, experiences and tips. Who knows maybe someone has the next big thing in palette tech. Happy painting.