Watercolor Palette Basics

Make sure that you have a large enough palette with a large mixing surface so that you have room to mix a couple of different combinations at a time.

Select a Palette

Large, plastic-covered palettes work very well. They’re light for traveling and inexpensive enough that you can keep several palettes with a variety of colors for different subjects. I prefer medium-depth flat wells. Water tends to accumulate in the bottom of deeper wells, making the color too diluted.

Setting Up Your Palette
There are several ways to set up your palette. You can arrange your colors in groupings of lights and darks or warm and cool colors, or you can create a color wheel so that complementary colors are opposite each other or make your palette look like a rainbow. Choose whatever makes the most sense and works for you.

Filling Your Palette
Some artists like to fill the wells of their palettes with entire tubes of paint, allowing the paint to dry, then rewetting it when it’s time to paint. To keep the colors damp, place a moist cloth or sponge in the center of the covered palette or cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap. However, if you don’t paint very often and leave your color this way, some paints can grow mold.

I prefer to squeeze out the amount of paint I think I will use. If some paint is left over, I leave it in my palette. Then, the next time I work, I add more paint to it until it has the creamy consistency and texture of new color. I find this method provides me with paint that flows, moves and allows me better coverage.

Add Just a Dab
I like to add new color to the wells when painting. A large pea-sized squirt is usually enough. I prefer the texture of fresh paint for my washes and color blending.

Labeling Colors
To help you learn the names of colors and keep track of what you’re using, write the name of the color along the side with a permanent marker or on a piece of artist tape. You can remove the ink with nail polish remover, or you can just apply a new piece of tape.

Read about the various types of watercolor palettes in the June 2010 issue of Watercolor Artist




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