Have you ever felt like your paintings could be so much better if only you had better control over mixing and applying paint? Learning proper technique for holding a palette can seriously take your artistry to the next level.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about choosing, griping, and using a painting palette. I’ll share tips on finding the right size and shape for you, organizing your paints efficiently, and even personalizing your palette to reflect your artistic personality.
By the end, you’ll have the knowledge to hold your palette with precision and finesse, allowing you to create smooth, vibrant works of art. So grab your brushes and let’s get started!
Choosing From Different Types of Paint Palettes
The first step is selecting the right type of palette for your needs. There are a few common options to consider:
The Traditional Wooden Palette
This classic palette has been used by artists for centuries. It’s often made from lightweight wood like birch or mahogany in rectangular or oval shapes. The wood grain provides a textured surface that allows paints to mix smoothly. Wooden palettes come in many sizes, making it easy to find one suited to your workspace.
Disposable Paper Palettes
Ideal if you want to skip the cleaning step! Paper palettes are made from coated paper designed for painting. The disposable sheets simply peel away when you’re done, revealing a fresh surface underneath. This mess-free approach saves time and hassle.
Plastic and Acrylic Palettes
These modern options provide a lightweight, non-porous surface that’s easy to wipe clean after each use. Many acrylic palettes have built-in wells, compartments, and mixing areas to keep your paints organized. The durability of plastic makes them perfect for travel and outdoor painting.
The ultra-smooth glass surface allows seamless blending and wipes clean easily with no staining. Glass palettes also provide excellent color accuracy since the pigments don’t absorb into the material. Just be careful not to drop it!
Picking the Right Size and Shape for You
Now that you’ve selected a palette material, it’s time to consider size and shape. This choice depends on a few factors:
Go for Comfort in Your Grip
The palette should feel comfortable balanced in your hand. Is it too small or large for a stable grip? Oval-shaped palettes often conform nicely to your palm.
Consider Your Available Workspace
If you have a tiny desk or easel, a more compact palette around 12 inches wide may fit best. With a spacious studio, larger 18+ inch palettes allow ample mixing room.
Match Your Painting Style and Brush Size
Detail artists using small brushes will be fine with a palette under 16 inches wide. If you love bold strokes from big brushes, go bigger to hold all the paint you need.
Opt for Portability
Painting on-the-go? Look for lightweight palettes around 1⁄2 inch thick or less. Carrying a bag? Seek a palette with a secure lid or cover to prevent spills.
Master Proper Grip and Hand Placement
Now we get to the meat of the matter – how do you physically hold a palette while painting? Proper technique prevents hand strain while giving you optimal control.
Support With Your Non-Dominant Hand
Rest the palette lightly on your non-dominant hand, allowing your forearm to support the weight. Then curl your fingers around the edges in a relaxed grip.
Keep Your Dominant Hand Loose
Hold your brush between the thumb and forefinger above the palette. Avoid a tight fist which will limit flexibility.
Adjust Your Grip As Needed
As you’re mixing colors, slide your supporting hand gently along the bottom edge of the palette to access all areas without uncomfortable twisting.
Transition Smoothly Between Mixing and Applying
Practice moving smoothly between blending colors on your palette to picking up paint and applying brushstrokes onto your canvas. The palette should feel like an extension of your arm.
Prevent Fatigue by Avoiding Over-Gripping
Gripping the palette extra tight seems like it would provide more control, but it actually strains your hand faster. Keep a light but secure grip for best comfort.
Mastering the Art of Mixing Paints on the Palette
Once you’ve nailed down proper hand placement, it’s time for the fun part – mixing paint! Blending those vibrant pigments is where the real magic happens.
Keep Your Original Paints Pure
Always squeeze fresh paint from the tube into a clean area of your palette, rather than directly contaminating your original colors.
Blend Thoroughly for an Even Consistency
Use your palette knife or brush to mix the paints in small circular motions or back-and-forth sweeps until thoroughly incorporated with no streaks.
Consider Differences in Pigment Properties
Some paints have stronger tinting strength than others, so you’ll need less of that color when mixing. Fast-drying paints may also shift tone as they dry.
Discover New Color Combinations
Don’t limit yourself to basic mixes like red + yellow = orange. Explore unconventional blends and see what you discover – that’s where the joy is!
Keeping Your Palette Squeaky Clean
While a messy, paint-splattered palette may look artistically appealing, keeping it clean saves headaches in the long run. Here are some tips:
Scrape Off Excess Paint After Each Session
Use a palette knife or spatula to remove lingering blobs of dried paint after each use. This prevents buildup.
Gently Scrub With a Damp Sponge or Cloth
Wipe down the palette surface with a moistened sponge, using warm water and gentle friction to remove remaining paint residue without damaging the palette.
Dry Thoroughly Before Storing
Make sure no moisture remains on the surface before putting it away, or mold and paint deterioration can occur. Set out in sunlight or carefully wipe dry.
Wielding Palette Knives for Creative Effects
That handy tool you use for mixing paints can also be used for some neat artistic techniques. Grab your trusty palette knife to:
Create Textural Effects Like Scumbling and Scraping
Scumble by layering thin veils of color over another. Scrape to reveal underlying paint in interesting ways.
Apply Thick Layers of Paint for Dramatic Texture (Impasto)
Using the palette knife, lay on the paint in thick, almost 3D strokes. The texture adds depth and dimension.
Scratch Through Paint to Reveal Colors (Sgraffito)
When a layer of paint dries, use the knife tip to scratch designs through to the underlying hues.
Blend and Soften Edges Seamlessly
Gently sweep two colors together with feathered strokes to create soft, gradient transitions.
Clean Frequently When Switching Colors
Quickly wipe the knife when moving between color mixes to prevent cross-contamination.
Strategic Ways to Organize Your Paints on the Palette
Placing your paints randomly around the palette may seem like no big deal, but strategic organization can actually optimize your painting process.
Arrange by Color Family
Group similar shades together in sections, with primaries on one side, secondaries like orange and green in another area, etc.
Order Light to Dark Within Each Color
Gradient your paints from lightest to darkest moving outward from the center of each color group. This helps easily visualize tones.
Leave Blank Spaces Between Wells
Keep areas of blank palette space between each color section to avoid smearing two paints together as you’re working.
Label Your Paints
Use a permanent marker on the lip or bottom of each paint tube or pan to identify the color at a glance without opening to check inside.
Regularly Remove Old Paint
Wipe away dried remnants completely between sessions for accurate new mixes instead of muddy blends of old overlapping paint.
Personalize Your Palette to Make It Your Own
Beyond practicality, the palette also serves as an extension of your artistic style. Customize your palette to reflect your personality with these ideas:
Paint On Colors or Patterns in Acrylic
Add swirls of color, fun patterns or icons using acrylic paints on the outer edges and sides of a wooden palette.
Stencil On Lettering or Labels
Use vinyl stick-on letters, stencils or pre-cut labels to add your name or inspirational sayings. Get creative with the font and color!
Affix Decorative Embellishments
Look for removable or peel-and-stick items like washi tape, rhinestones, enamel pins, decals or charms to make your palette uniquely YOU!
Arrange Wells in an Intuitive Layout
Beyond color, organize your paints in the wells in an order that makes sense intuitively for how YOU use them. Frequently-used colors up front? Why not!
Discovering Your Ideal Palette Handling Technique
How you hold your palette comes down to personal preference. Be open to trying different approaches to discover what works best for you.
Learn Traditional Techniques First
Start by becoming familiar with standard methods like supporting from underneath or resting your wrist on the edge. This builds foundational skills.
Explore New School Methods
Once you’ve got the basics down, feel empowered to experiment with unexpected, inventive techniques. Try resting it on your hip or placing it on an adjacent chair for easy access.
Consider Supporting Devices
Use palette attachments as needed like a mahl stick that screws into the bottom to provide a handle, or small tabletop easels to bear the weight.
Prioritize Comfort + Control
At the end of the day, the “right” technique is whatever lets you wield those brushes in comfort, reduces hand strain, and gives you control over the paint.
Mastering how to properly hold and handle a painting palette may take practice, but has a huge payoff when it comes to control and enjoyment of the artistic process. Take the time to explore and refine your approach. Don’t underestimate how much a comfortable, organized, and personalized palette can elevate your creation of gorgeous works of art!