Hey Paint Pal!

This post is going to cover two topics:

  • Tips on setting up a brand-new palette
  • Why I’ve recently adopted a 24-colour palette

The whole premise of Palettiquette is to focus on the 3 primary colours and learn how to mix and build colours from there, however I also want to share with you what you can do once you’ve got a solid understanding of colour theory, as well as explaining just why a bigger palette can work for you. You might now know your favourite colours, or you happened to buy yourself a set before Palettiquette and want to dust them off now that you better understand colour.

First things first: here are some tips on setting up a new palette:

  • Find a palette that has more wells than you have tubes of paint. This will allow you to grow your selection.
  • Decide what type of palette will be best for your needs. Do you travel and need one you can close? Do you need brush storage inside it? Do you need lots of room for mixing colours? Do you need a heavy palette or a light plastic one?
  • Be sure to clean your palette before putting paints in it. Use a mild soap or detergent and gentle scrub the palette in warm water to remove any coating. If not removed, your paints will bead up and not mix or dry nicely. Ensure all soap is washed off so as not to contaminate your paints. Dry thoroughly.
  • Before squeezing out any paint, think about the layout. Do you want the colours in ROYGBIV order (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet)? Do you want them sorted by warms (reds, oranges, yellows) and cools (greens, blues, purples)? Do you want your favourite colours together? Do you need to separate black and white (if you choose to use them) away from the other colours?
  • So that you know which colour to use to refill the wells in future, be sure to label the wells before squeezing paint in. This can usually be done on the underside of the palette in permanent marker, or on the side of individual pans.
  • Squeeze a generous amount of paint into the wells.
  • Allow the paint to dry for 24-48 hours. Using watercolour straight from the tube can result in wastage of pigment. Let it dry before applying water and painting.
  • Some artists like to stick their thumb down into the almost-dry and hardened paint wells to create an indentation. This makes a little well in the paint colour for water.
  • When your paint is ready to use, it is a great habit to create swatches of each colour. This will save time guessing the hue of each paint. It is also handy to paint a swatch that not only has the pure colour, but a gradation of dark to light (by adding water). Some artists like to replicate the layout of their palette when creating swatches, and others like to paint them on individual pieces of watercolour paper. Be sure to label them!
  • If you have an open palette, cover the wells with something when you’re finished. This will prevent dust and particles from landing in the wet wells and contaminating your paints.
  • If you have a folding palette, make sure the wells are all dried up before you close it (unless the lid is empty, then go for it whenever).

So, on to part 2: why I’ve chosen a 24-colour palette.

There are a couple of reasons for this, but the main one is… travel! When I went to Singapore in January I was really struggling with how to take my watercolour supplies – likewise whenever I travel interstate. I would take my 6-well primary and secondary open palette, put it in a plastic bag, put that in a plastic container with my other stuff, and hope for the best.

I kept running into the same problems though. I often didn’t have time to sit there and mix my colours. I also didn’t have the space to do it. At home I use old dinner plates to make all of my mixes and I love them, but they’re not something I can travel with. I also find I’m then left with REALLY watery wells in my 6-well palette that I either need to clean off or hope it doesn’t spill in the container. Because the wells aren’t choc-full of colour either, I was finding bits were just flaking off when it was bumped around.

I’ve also been having trouble travelling with brushes. I try to keep my art supplies to a minimum and because of this, they go in a container with the rest of my pens. The bristles kept getting squished into the side during transit no matter how I positioned them. In hindsight, I could have taped or blu-tacked them down.

I started thinking more and more about a travel tin though. Something I could fill with half-pans (so I could choose the colours that go into it), comes with its own mixing space, and with an area to store my brushes. Luckily, I found the perfect one in Singapore!

I bought a Sennelier tin from Overjoyed in Singapore for about $40. It’s long which means I can fit brushes in there, has two fold out areas for mixing (which I would NOT have to wash off!), and came with a strip of watercolour paper so you can swatch the colours you put in it.

Mind you, I already had a bunch of spare half-pans at home. I ordered them somewhere online last year, maybe eBay. It did not come with them.

So the only REAL reason why I chose a 24-colour palette, was just because it was long and happened to have the space! I really just wanted something to safely store my brushes in and came with mixing space – I wasn’t really fussed over how many colours.

I definitely didn’t have to fill them all, but me being me just had to. So here are the 24 colours I chose. These are all Winsor and Newton professional series watercolours:

  • Winsor Lemon
  • New Gamboge
  • Winsor Orange
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Scarlet Lake
  • Cadmium Red Deep
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Permanent Rose
  • Opera Rose
  • Winsor Violet (Dioxazine)
  • Winsor Blue (Red Shade)
  • Prussian Blue
  • Phthalo Turquoise
  • Cobalt Turquoise
  • Hooker’s Green
  • Permanent Sap Green
  • Green Gold
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Raw Umber
  • Indigo
  • Davy’s Gray
  • Payne’s Gray
  • Ivory Black

Some of you may have read that W & N formulate their tube paint to be used fresh, not dried and reactivated – and you’d be correct. But from my experience I haven’t found any difference. Some colours can be more stubborn to reactivate, and some will crack which may cause flakes of paint in your mix – that’s about it. Travelling with 24 x tubes of paint would be impossible, but travelling with 24-half pans is not. Travelling with dried paint is also a lot less stressful than with tubes which I always panic will leak from cabin pressure.

The reasons behind my paint choices? Personal preference really! I still HIGHLY recommend starting with a limited palette, and even sticking to one most of the time if you can. Since I started learning how to mix my own colours, I became drawn to certain ones. I love indigos and grays, and of course turquoises. I chose colours that were nice and vibrant. I chose some that were more staining and some that were more transparent. What I thought was ‘a good mix’! The 3 recommended primary colours are still in there though, as are lots of neutral colours for more realistic paintings.

What really helped me choose colours was my Winsor and Newton 96-colour dot card. These sample cards allow you to try and to swatch all colours in their range. This was WAY more helpful than looking at a digital colour chart. You can actually see how the paint dries and how hard or easy it is to activate. From time to time I will stock these in my online store, please visit www.blackchalkco.shop to check current availability.

You can watch a video of me filling my half-pans and swatching my new colours on Instagram.

So… why did I only partially fill them? Well, I don’t need that much paint! It will take me a long time to use up the amount of paint in this palette, and I didn’t see the point in filling to the brim for this purpose. Also, the more weight I can shed for travel, the better.

What about the routine with the kebab sticks, what’s that about? Two things really! Ever squeezed out paint from a tube only for a gross clear liquid to come out? That’s the binding agent! I used the sticks to give that a mix around, but also to try and force the paint to dry on an angle. Again, why? Ok so most people fill their pans FULL. To the brim! You might have bought some handmade paint and been stoked that they came so full, but I don’t like using them this way. Most people end up digging a hole in the middle of the pan with their brush and destroying their brush bristles in the meantime. By getting the paint to dry on an angle, I don’t have to dig the brush in, I can swish it around on the angled surface without bending the bristles. You can face the pans whichever way suits your handedness!

Got any questions about palettes and set ups? Leave a comment below!