Making a Wet Pallete

I recently wrote a small "how to" piece on Making and How To Use a Wet Palette which I would like to share with you. Okay your thinking I get the "make a wet palette" bit but "how to use it" seems a little like teaching Nana how to suck eggs. Fair cop too, but let me suggest that all is not what it seems once you have a wet palette at your disposal some quite interesting new techniques for mixing paint and applying it can be employed, but first we need to get cracking on making the wet palette.

So a few of the basics first, lets be clear what we mean when using the term palette, I suspect you already have come to the conclusion I'm not referring to the type that is useful when handling 50 20kg sacks of fertilizer... please say yes. The palette I'm talking about, well it is usually defined as a small surface used by an artist to mix and dilute paints seems a simple enough description and should suit us fine as figure painters.

Palettes can come in all manner of shapes and sizes, depending on your creativity, spending habit and the way you like to paint, they can range from a simple flat surface, say for instance, a plate or a tile to purpose made commercially available palettes with recesses of varying sizes and sometimes depth to store your paints and keep them separated while you work.

a cheap pencil box makes do for my wet palette

So why use a palette? What’s wrong with getting your paint straight out of the pot? A palette provides you with a space to dilute your paints to the right consistency, mix shades and protect your paint pots from drying out.  I suspect most of us use a palette of some description rather than paint straight from the pot, good grief I've been known to use my thumb nail when doing a little touch up *uh hum* I actually have a spot of dark brown on mine right now from a little job last night.........

Now that we have got a rough description of what a palette is and why we should use one I want to move on to the subject of "wet palette’s" and why you might try using them. I’m not going to get involved in why other people use or not use wet palettes I’m going to approach it from a personal view point and you may find some of my reasoning may apply to you.

three grey tones taken from their pots placed on the palette and the first mixed and diluted shade to the front of them

Some background first, I live in Queensland Australia and during our summers things can get pretty hot, in fact the winter’s although cold can be very short and your quickly back into warm day time temps. I found I was constantly have to re-dilute my paint or mixing up new batches. At that time I was using a white ceramic plate as my palette, still do when weather permits. The situation was getting out of hand and I was on the verge of throwing a 'tanty' when I decided to give the wet palette a try.

I like to keep a dry pallet handy for making up glazes from my wet palette

I first became aware of ‘wet palette’ from a blog article around 2009 and although interesting I didn’t pay it much heed, indeed I wasn’t sure if it really worked, the principle of a wet palette is fairly simple so instead of tanty throwing put it to the test. All we need to do is provide an environment that prevents our paints from drying out too quickly while we are using them and the solution is simplicity itself, what’s more it is dead easy to make one at home.

So what is needed?
1. A shallow tray, I use a pencil box from K-mart (cost me all of one fiddy) but any shallow container will do, the pencil box is great because it has a lid but if you have cling film at home you have a lid.
2. Some thin sponge as our water reservoir, paper towel will do as a stand in.
3. Baking paper, that’s the type that has a shiny surface on both sides, grease proof (shiny on one side) will do as a standby but it isn’t as durable so next time your in the supermarket get baking paper
4. Some water, you should be able to get that!

24 hours later, you can see the pooled paint is still usable, however I'm now done with these colours so time to change the baking paper

OK, take your sponge cut it to slightly smaller than the size of your tray, sponges grow a bit when wet. Wet the sponge and then ring most of the water out of the sponge and place it into the tray. With paper towel cut it to size place a 1-2mm of water in the tray and place the paper towel on top, about 5 layers of paper towel will do but you can adjust this as needed.

Cut your baking paper to size and place this on top of the sponge/towel, if your using grease proof make sure the shiny side is up (very important) and close the lid or cover with cling film and leave it for about an hour, that’s it done, it is ready to go. You can now place your paint on the baking paper, the paper absorbs a small amount of water from the reservoir (sponge) keeping the paint moist and usable.

time to change the paper, you can clearly see the thin sponge

If you keep the thing sealed when not in use your paint will stay usable for the best part of a couple of days during summer and up to three or more days if your in cooler climes. The paper will allow you to blend your colours as normal but be careful, the paper will eventually start to fray if you work the paint too much with your brush, but it’s easily replaced and you will probably be changing the paper before that happens anyway.

placing some new baking paper, close the lid and wait for about an hour to let things settle and then start painting

I went to use a nice big "Tupper Ware" container (about 30mm deep) at first, warning, if your other half has quality brand plastics in her kitchen leave it be, get your arse down to the dollar shop!

I'll follow up with a practical demonstration of colour blending using the wet palette in coming weeks.

thanks for looking

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