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How to Choose the Right Palette

How to Choose the Right Palette


The palette, the surface for holding and mixing colors, is one of the recognizable symbols of the artist, and as a design element evokes concepts such as creativity, expressiveness and tradition in art. In fact, the familiar calligraphic oval with thumbhole upon which the Utrecht logo is based is just one of a myriad designs for the practical need to hold and mix paint.

Oil painters have the choice of wooden, hardboard, plastic or glass palettes, each bringing different advantages and limitations. Due to their absorbency, wooden palettes must be seasoned before use with oils. Some painters prefer to apply plain linseed oil with a rag, and use the warm color of the natural wood as a counterpoint for color mixing; others mix a specific color of oil paint to coat the palette, ranging from white to gray to some other nondescript warm neutral. Titanium white mixed with raw umber is a good choice. (Hardboard palettes are pre-coated, and need no seasoning, though they may be toned if the artist prefers not to mix on a white surface.) The main advantage to using a wooden palette is its light weight, especially for painters who hold the paint close to the painting to see both in similar light.

Other painters who prefer a palette flat on a taboret can use glass or plastic. These materials allow for easy cleaning, especially of acrylics (wooden palettes work very poorly for acrylic paint). Ideally, a glass palette should be tempered safety glass, to avoid easy shatter and dangerous shards. A great feature of glass palettes is the ability to place a sheet of paper beneath to change the color of the mixing environment.

Plastic palettes are durable, and work with both oils and acrylics. Usually these are white plastic, and do not easily allow tinting.

Watercolorists require specific features in a palette, and Utrecht offers a wealth of selection. The basic requirements for watercolor palettes are: mixing area, paint wells, and a neutral white color. For the permanent studio, large palettes are perfect, allowing colors to be mixed in quantity. Some sacrifice separate wells for more mixing space, and opt for enameled metal butcher trays.

For the traveling watercolorist, small palettes are necessary. Most travel kits come with a tiny basic palette, but many painters choose a folding model that offers more mixing area and easy storage. Several models are available with lids to keep paint fresh and dust-free, as well as to allow easy transportation.

Disposable palettes are perfect for the classroom, or wherever unused paint can’t be saved or transported. These are usually in pad form, with or without a thumbhole, and are gummed on two sides to prevent the sheets of plastic coated paper from shifting. Covered palettes with tight-fitting lids have been designed to hold disposable liners, but allow colors to be preserved from session to session, even keeping acrylics moist with the aid of a damp sponge insert. Oil painters enjoy the dust-free surface this product provides.

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