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 ($500+) 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.
Here are the instructions, step-by-step, to make your own palette with my favorite configuration.
- Up to 10 Holbein plastic palettes (you get about 6 wells filled from one 15ml tube of paint). You can order this empty palette from my store here.
- 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.
- 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) or hot glue
- Copy(ies) of the watercolor paint color chart
- Clear packing tape
- Using the sharp knife, scratch the bottom of each well to give the dried paint more to grip. Scrape away the shavings.
- 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 in the mixing areas when you start using the palette, but as you use your palette more, this will pass.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fold the dividers into an L shape the with the short part of the L as high as the lip of the well.
- 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.
- 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,
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Put a large salad bowl over the open palette to keep dust out while it dries.
- As the paints start to dry but are still a little pliable, push the paint down with your finger to help flatten out any bulges or bumps and to more evenly fill the pan.
- Let dry thoroughly.
- Download and print the paint color chart. Paint over each name with its color.
- Cut out the paint color chart and tape it to the flat side of the palette with two strips of clear packing tape.
- Now run outside and paint!