Customizing the Holbein Palette

watercolor palette
Click picture for more detailed view.

My favorite palette is the Holbein Folding Plastic Palette. It has 24 wells with good adjacencies to mixing areas. You get a mixing area for warm colors, cools, greens, grays, browns and a separate section to mix tints with gouache so that your other mixing areas do not become chalky. It is a great lightweight solution for field sketching. It also is my go to palette for my studio. I actually have two identical palettes (field and studio) so my field kit is always ready to go without any scavenging around the house.

You can buy a prepared palette from my store or you can make your own. Buying all the paints, will be expensive and you will have a lot more paint than you need to fill this first palette. If you know you will use up all that paint, there is no problem, you have refills ready. If not, get some friends to pitch in together and have a palette making party. You can share the cost and it is a lot of fun. Warning, it is easy to get mixed up when putting in the paint. Best to serve drinks only after the palettes are full.

Here are the instructions, step-by-step, to make your own palette with my favorite configuration.

Supplies

  • Up to 10 Holbein 10243000 plastic palettes (you get about 10 wells filled from one 15ml tube of paint). You can order them through Vermont Art Supply 800-790-2552.  Ask for item number 10243000, the “3-3/4″ x 10-1/4″ quality folding plastic palette”- cost is $7.17 plus shipping.
  • Daniel Smith Watercolor 15ml: Neutral Tint, Payne’s Gray, Black Tourmaline, Shadow Violet, Bloodstone Genuine, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Italian Burnt Sienna, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Buff Titanium, Phthalo Yellow Green, Rich Green Gold, Serpentine Genuine, Hooker’s Green, Undersea Green, Chromium Oxide, Perylene Green, Indanthrone Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Manganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Blue, Napthamide Maroon, Quinacridone Pink, Pyrrol Red, Permanent Orange, Quinacridone Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, New Gamboge, Hansa yellow Medium, Hansa yellow Light
  • Winsor and Newton Paint 15ml: Winsor Violet (watercolor), Permanent White Gouache.
  • scissors
  • Sharp knife
  • Sharpie marker
  • Thin foldable plastic sheet such as a plastic report cover. I use plastic filing tabs.
  • Duco Cement (glue that works plastic to plastic)
  • Copy(ies) of the watercolor paint color chart
  • Clear packing tape

Instructions

  1. Using the sharp knife, scratch the bottom of each well to give the dried paint more to grip. Scrape away the shavings.
  2. Wash the palette with hot water and soap to remove some of the film that causes paint to bead up in the mixing area. The paint will still bead up for a little while when you start using the palette but work your way through it, this will pass.
  3. Mark the wells that will have half pans with a little dot with the Sharpie marker. Turn the palette so that the side with fewer wells is to the left. In this short side, mark wells # 7 and 8 counting from the top, (the two bottom ones on the short side next to the flip out panel). On the side with wells all the way down, mark cells # 1, 4, 11, 13, 14, and 15.
  4. Cut 8 plastic dividers per palette from the report cover material. These should be as wide as the well or a little shorter (too short is better than too wide) and about a quarter of an inch long.
  5. Fold the dividers into an L shape the with the short part of the L as high as the lip of the well.
  6. Glue the dividers to the bottom of the half pan wells (already marked) so that the short part of the L cuts the well in half making two half pans. Let dry.
  7. Squeeze paint into the wells, holding the tip of the tube close to the bottom to help get a smooth, even layer of paint across the well. Fill the wells to the top. On the short side, fill paints in this order: Neutral Tint, Payne’s Gray, Black Tourmaline, Shadow Violet, Bloodstone Genuine, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Italian Burnt Sienna, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Buff Titanium,
  8. On the long side, fill paints in this order: Phthalo Yellow Green, Rich Green Gold, Serpentine Genuine, Hooker’s Green, Undersea Green, Chromium Oxide, Perylene Green, Indanthrone Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Manganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Blue, Winsor Violet, Napthamide Maroon, Quinacridone Pink, Pyrrol Red, Permanent Orange, Quinacridone Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, New Gamboge, Hansa Yellow Medium, Hansa Yellow Light
  9. Flip open the hinged mixing area above the thumb hole and add a line of Permanent White Gouache at the top of the square hole.
  10. Add a dab of Hansa Yellow Light in one corner of both the warm mixing area and the green mixing area. You will dip into these when your brush is dirty to keep that lemon yellow pan clean.
  11. Put a large salad bowl over the open palette to keep dust out while it dries.
  12. As the paints start to dry but are still a little plastic, push the paint down with your finger to help flatten out any bulges or bumps and to more evenly fill the pan.
  13. Let dry thoroughly.
  14. Download and print the paint color chart. Paint over each name with its color.
  15. Cut out the paint color chart and tape it to the flat side of the palette with two strips of clear packing tape.
  16. Now run outside and paint!

9 thoughts on “Customizing the Holbein Palette

  1. Star says:

    Hi John! I’d like to make a paint set, but only use a 18 piece tray. Which Colors would you omit if doing so, while still having a decent range of colors to work with-or rather, which would you retain?
    Thanks
    Star

    • Hi Star,
      I would use Daniel Smith: Neutral Tint, Shadow Violet, Black Tourlamine Genuine, Bloodstone Genuine, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Buff Titanium, Perylene Green, Serpentine Genuine, Hooker’s Green, Phthalo Blue (green shade), Indatherone Blue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxazine Violet, Quinacridone Pink, Pyroll Red, Permanent Orange, and Hansa Yellow Light. Sorry for the delayed reply.

  2. Jeannie Denney says:

    John, do you plan to sell filled palettes again, soon? If not, do you have recommendations for 6-8 different colors to start with to avoid shelling out all the $$ upfront? Just received my Sketch Bag from your shop this week and am getting my supplies moved in and situated in their new home. I also found a copy of your bird drawing book and am excited to start practicing so that I can teach my children and our honeschool friends!
    Thanks!
    Jeannie

    • Hi there Jeannie,
      I will sell the palettes once again but need to wait until I can get the paints in a sale from Daniel Smith. Are you in the Bay Area? We are going to have another palette party this year where a bunch of journalers will get together and create these, everyone goes home with a new palette at cost (a big part of the price is the hassle of making them). A good, low cost way of starting is http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/art-and-drawing/pimp-my-palette. You can get a good system for about $20.

      • Jeannie says:

        As much fun as the Palette party sounds, I am in Ohio! I will check out the link you suggested! Thanks, and I will keep a look out for the return of your prepared palettes!

  3. Pamela Mason says:

    Another way to rough up the surface of the plastic palette so the mixing areas don’t bead up and the paint stays better in the wells is to scrub the palette with an abrasive cleanser, like Comet then rinse so there is no residue cleanser left and let dry. As suggested, scratching with a knife in the well areas would also help to keep the paint from popping out.

    • I will give it a try in the paint areas. I find that the problem with paint beading up goes away on its own pretty fast. I tried scrubbing the paint mixing areas once and found that it enabled the paint to stain the palette so I do not do that any more. Thank you for the tip.

  4. Stephen Kingsbury says:

    I am not finding on your website where I can download the paint color chart to print it off. Can you tell me where it is or email it to me. I have acquired all of the paints and two of the Holbein Palettes which I ordered from Black Horse Art Supply. Their service was very fast. I have John’s book on drawing birds and am looking forward to working with all of the materials.

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