Tutorial – The Wet Palette

I would like to share with you my painting palette arrangement that I utilise. It has been something that I have developed through a little bit of trial and a lot through research. As with most techniques these days, it is not original in any way. However I would like to contribute additional insight through my experiences. It would be best to start going through my iterations of my painting palette and how I arrived at what I use today.

The History:

When I first started painting, many years ago in my youth, I used to dip my brush straight into the pot. I was using citadel paints and brushes to paint my Imperial Guard miniatures. The idea of a palette was foreign to me and I only thought about it’s application in the use of canvas painting. It wasn’t until I began expanding my painting techniques into highlighting and shadow that the necessity of a palette for mixing paints became apparent. This, combined with my propensity for knocking over paint pots, lead me to seeking out a medium for my palette. A porcelain saucer served this purpose well. I continued using this until my painting hiatus, which lasted well over a decade. Towards the end of my initial foray into miniature painting I had just started collecting flames of war and Vallero acrylic paints. Yes it’s true, I still have the first edition rulebook and some green box sets; i’m sure that there are those who can relate.

Upon my return to miniature painting I began where I left off. With an affinity for having a mountain of unpainted metal and with me repurposing another porcelain saucer or two. The notion of a wet palette was raised with me during a discussion with a fellow painter at a local hobby store. I thought about it later and then dismissed it as been too specialised a tool and difficult to make. After a time, while reading through the various flames of war forums, I stumbled upon the following, extremely resourceful, tutorial that I highly recommend (NB:- you must have an account on the flames of war site):-

http://www.flamesofwar.com/Default.aspx?tabid=126&aff=10&aft=184284&afv=topic

After following his instructions I had made my first wet palette. I will repeat it here

The Wet Palette:

  • Select a small shallow plastic/glass container (I use tupperware) that has a lid that forms a tight seal, preferably airtight.
  • To this add two layers of white paper serviettes. They have to be white with no colour at all. Otherwise when you use the palette any colour in the serviettes will show through.
  • Thoroughly wet the serviettes with water until you have about a 1-2mm layer of water above the serviettes.
  • Cut/rip enough baking paper to cover the bottom of the container plus an additional 1cm around all of the sides. (If you don’t leave the extra then if you later move your palette or bump it the water will flow over the top of the baking paper and into your paint mix)
  • Add paint and enjoy.

A Full Palette

 

The main reason that I took the plunge was that I was finding that the paint on the porcelain plate was drying quickly. This had two consequences, firstly I was wasting paint, and secondly I had problems mixing paint to exactly match the same colour consistency as a previous batch of mixed paint. This was a serious problem as the differing colour tones could plainly be seen on the miniatures I was painting.

My Palette Experiences:

It was easy to make and the materials were cheap and easy to obtain. After making and using it I have never looked back. There are a few things about it’s usage that I will delve into to assist those who are interested in utilising this wet palette. Before I start though I will say that I am using Vallero acrylic paints, so all of my observations and comments will be based upon these. Also I will mention that some of the Vallero paints that I am using were purchased over a decade ago and as such my experiences may differ to yours.

An airtight container with a good seal is a must. I have been able to keep paints wet for weeks. When I say ‘wet’ I mean that they still maintain most of their original evaporative mediums along with the pigments. After a prolonged period the evaporative medium will go, leaving just the pigment on the wet palette. This means that you need to add water to the pigments so that the paint can still be used. There is a caveat to this however; the paint may not retain it’s original properties. These properties include flow, drying time, consistency, coverage and in some cases the finish. In one extreme case the matt black that I was using started having a gloss black finish once the original medium had gone. There are a few solutions to this however I must first mention that you have saved a small portion of paint for a couple of weeks and it may be time to just replace the baking pape or use a fresh batch of paint. There are occasions when I have mixed the paint to the perfect colour consistency that I was seeking and wanted to extend it’s usable lifespan. The first solution is to over saturate the paint with water and apply double to triple the number of coats than normal. The second solution is to purchase ‘retarder medium’ and apply it on the paint in question. I have used this with mixed results, it sometimes changes the flow of the paint too much. I could not get it to apply to the miniature in a smooth consistent manner after the retarder treatment. The third solution is to apply a brushful of water on the remaining pigments and add more of the original paint then mix thoroughly. All of these solutions are viable however I must add that you have to watch out for pigment clumps. These can be small and initally unperceived until they hit the miniature and dry as an unsightly lump. The way to watch out for these is if, when you are trying to recover the paint, you see small flakes lift off the baking paper and don’t break up then it is probably better that you forget about this batch and start afresh.

Another thing to note when using the palette is that when you first add the paint you will find that the paint ‘draws up’ more water than necessary. I like this behaviour because I prefer using very thin paint and apply extra coats, however for those that consider this a problem I suggest that you reduce the amount of water in the wet palette. Only use enough water to completely soak the serviettes through. If it does draw up too much water initially you will find that later the properties of the baking paper changes. Where the paint has been the surface of the baking paper will change so that less water passes through it. So when you ‘top up’ a certain colour you should add a brush full of water practically everytime you use that colour. I am a real advocate for thin paint so I have a dedicated water container to continually add water as I paint.

An issue I have found with the wet palette is that the paints and paint mixes can seperate out into their constituent components. See below:-

Colour separation on the Wet Palette

So from left to right I have the following paints:-

  • German Cam. Bright Green mixed with Black
  • German Cam. Bright Green
  • German Cam. Bright Green mixed with White
  • German Field Grey
  • German Field Grey mixed with White
  • German Field Grey mixed with Black

As can clearly been seen the pigments and in some cases the medium has seperated out. Once again this normally occurs when the first batch of paint is applied. The extra water drawns through tends to seperate out the colours and/or colour components. This is does not occur immediately, I have left this paint on the wet palette overnight. The solution is simply to mix the seperated portions of paint back into itself thoroughly. Make sure that you take care to mix back in all of the seperated portions otherwise the colour consistency will change from that of the original. If you look at the German Field Grey you will note that the colour has changed completely to brown and turquoise. The turquoise that you can see is actually mostly the medium plus some pigments. When mixing make sure that you ‘capture’ all of this back into the paint, otherwise the colour tone and flow will change dramatically.

Lastly I will go over some basic steps that will ensure that you get the best results from the wet palette.

  • Seperate your cleaning water from your mixing water. As you will be using a fair amount of water to rejuvenate your paint you do not want cross contamination from dirty water. You may not think that a little bit of paint in the water mixing into the paint on the palette will change the colour, I assure you over time that it will. I have learned first hand the hard way and I want to save you some anguish.
  • Have tissue nearby when painting. After every brush clean dry off the brush on the tissue. It will help negate the issue mentioned above.
  • Use a mixing brush rather than your painting brush to stir/remix the paint on the wet palette. This mixing brush can be an old brush however I use very small brushes to paint so an old brush is not practical. A larger brush is more efficient for stirring/remixing. This will extend the life of your good painting brush.
  • Before every painting session change the water in the cleaning container and the mixing water container. In addition to changing the water, clean the containers as well. The paint pigments will settle and accumulate and stick to the bottom of your containers.
  • Invest in some paintbrush ‘shampoo’ and clean your brushes regularly following the cleaning product’s instructions. I found an excellent product to use is “Jo Sonja’s Brush Soap & Conditioner”. It is a bit of extra effort but it will extend the life of your brush. It will also ensure that no old pigments hit your paint next painting session.
  • Don’t store your wet palette near sunlight or near a heat source, such as a desk lamp.
  • Always keep the water level topped up in the palette, especially when you finish a paint session. This will ensure that you keep the original consistency of the paint for as long as possible.
  • After every paint session close the lid of the wet palette container. The water will evaporate much slower and the paint will last longer. Also no stray dust or other particulates will fall into your paint.

As you can tell I am fastidious when it comes to painting. So I have conveniently arranged the points so that if you are more relaxed with your painting then you can take note of just the final three points.

In closing I hope that I have helped you in making the decision to move to a wet palette in addition to how to make one. That I have forewarned you about the potential issues and their solutions in order to save you troubles when using the wet palette. Also how to look after your wet palette in order to get the most out of it. I will end this tutorial with a snapshot of my painting setup. Please feel free to comment and add your experiences with using a wet palette.

 

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7 Responses to Tutorial – The Wet Palette

  1. Why have I never heard of this before! Its a great idea, gonna try it out ASAP.

    • minutiaeofwar says:

      I found this gem buried in a flames of war gallery forum post. I have been using it ever since and it has saved me so much paint as well as made me better at thinning and controlling the consistency of the paint. Let me know how you go and whether it works for your painting style. I highly recommend putting it within an airtight/tightly sealed container.

  2. C says:

    So THAT’S why my paints are separating! Thanks for the tips!

  3. minutiaeofwar says:

    Not a problem, I hope that this helps you out. I can’t paint without one anymore and I have saved so much in paints. Enjoy.

  4. Cameron says:

    I just made one like this (based on your great post). I’ve only used it for an hour so far but it already has made a huge difference. My paint stays the same consistency for much longer. Much easier to thin and control.

  5. C says:

    Add a penny or few to keep the mold out. Also, two rinse jars are good. Thanks for the tutorial!

    • minutiaeofwar says:

      I will have to try the penny tip, do you know which metal is helping with mold retardant? In my country we don’t use pennies.

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