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Palettes for Oil Painting

A large palette is not a necessity, but certainly a pleasure when it comes to mixing paint. Any palette after all, is your 'thinking ground', a place where you mix colours, judge their properties, make decisions, it needs to be comfortable to hold and suitable for the way you work.

large wooden palette

Wooden studio palettes are traditionally made of Mahogany in a kidney shape with thumb hole and finger grip, held along the forearm between elbow and wrist. (New wooden palettes need to be oiled well with Linseed oil to prepare them for use).

If you don't want to go to the expense of a traditional wooden one, you can make your own from mdf or plywood (1/4" thick). Sand the palette to give a smooth thumb hole and edges. Apply at least two coats of varnish, rub down between each application and allow to dry thoroughly.

There are many shapes of palette on the market today and available in a variety of materials other than wood - clear and white acrylic, glass, porcelain, plastic and tear-off.
One thing they need to be is non-absorbent and preferably easy to clean.

Acrylic and plastic palettes are easy to clean, the oil paint can be scraped off using a palette knife and the surface wiped. Greaseproof paper and tear-off palettes are easy to dispose of at the end of a painting session. Glass and Porcelain are more appropriate if you are seated as they are quite heavy.

small acrylic palette

palette with paint

The type of palette is very much a personal choice, a large palette is very useful if you are standing at an easel, not so vital if you prefer to be seated. You can of course adapt any suitable surface as your palette, greaseproof paper, paper plate or butchers tray. If you are new to using a palette, try greaseproof paper first, it will give you an idea of how large a palette you need.

Laying colours on the Palette
When laying the colours out on your palette, it's a good idea to lay them out in some sort of logical order. That order can be from light to dark, in colour families, following the colour wheel or frequency of use. It's also a good idea to put them close to the outside top edge of the palette, this leaves plenty of working/mixing area in the centre.
Try and judge how much paint you will need, too little can be frustrating as you need to squeeze out more and too much can be wasteful. Notice also which colour you 'always' use and buy them in bigger tubes, it works out more economical.
Laying the colours out in the same way each time is also good practice, you don't have to stop and search for the colour and it helps to prevent those little accidents - like picking up the wrong colour!

palette colours

cleaning palette

Cleaning the Palette
Some people don't bother to clean the palette, leaving dried paint in hard ridged masses, adding new paint as required. Others clean the palette after each painting session, it's all a matter of personal choice and how you prefer to work.
If you prefer to keep your palette clean, then scrape off the remains of the unused paint with a palette knife and wipe onto newspaper or paper towel. Wipe the palette with paper towel. Then wipe over with kitchen towel dipped in one of Zest-it products given below - a little goes a long way. Wipe and dry off the palette with paper towel, it will be clean and ready for use next time!

If you have dried paint on the palette which you want to remove, scrape off what you can with a palette knife, smear a small amount of Zest-it Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner or Zest-it Solvent (Citrus Free) over the dried paint, take 5 or have a cup of tea.
During this time the Zest-it will have softened the dried paint making it much easier to remove with the knife. Wipe down between each application. Repeat as necessary, drying it off finally with paper towel.
Some artists clean the paint off the mixing area as they work, others leave the paint on until the painting is finished, again it's personal choice, whatever suits you best.

zest-it solvent

Hints and Tips

zest-it oil paint dilutant and brush cleaner

Zest-it Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner for thinning paint and for cleaning you palette, tools and brushes.
A small amount on a paper towel can be used for wiping down palettes after use as per above instructions.

Zest-it Solvent (Citrus Free) is excellent for cleaning and removing oil paint from surfaces, including your palette.
Put a small amount of liquid (a little goes a long way) onto a cloth or paper towel and wipe the surface thoroughly, wipe dry with a clean dry lint free cloth or allow to air dry.

zest-it solvent citrus free

linseed oil

A new wooden palette needs 'seasoning', apply a thin coat of Linseed Oil to the surface and allow to dry. Repeat often.
If you use the above cleaning process on a wooden palette that has not yet formed a protective patina, then it's as well to rub it over with kitchen towel dipped in Linseed oil after cleaning, this will help to protect the wood and build up the paint mixing surface.

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