The Sta-Wet Palette

Friday, March 7, 2008

So this is the Sta-Wet Palette — the "Handy Palette" to be exact, which is the smallest of the series (at 8.5" x 7"). I actually own the larger 12" x 16" model, but it's just too big for what I do. I like to hold the palette in my hand while I paint and most of my desk real estate is overwhelmed with reference. Also, in order to save time, I try to do as little color mixing as possible and the palette's size physically restricts the amount of mixtures I can produce. I often work semi-transparently and don't need to pre-mix every value since a lighter one can be achieved through the addition of water.

The palette consists of a flat box with a lid that forms a seal. It's by no means airtight, but it does the trick (most of the day the lid is off anyway). There is a sponge saturated with water that rests underneath a semi-permeable sheet of paper. I usually employ 2 sheets at a time with a third kept wet underneath the sponge for future use. The paper must be "prepared" by soaking in hot water for at least 15 minutes. It's easy to tell when it's ready because it becomes translucent. This is one of the reasons for using 2 sheets at a time. The sponge underneath is bright yellow and will alter your color perception if you can see it. The other reason for using 2 sheets is simply for durability. I spend all day scraping at it with a small, steel palette knife and it's nice to have something a little more substantial to work against.

At the beginning of each day, I attach a small container of water to the tab on the right with a bit of kneaded eraser (in this case a pump spray cap). I thoroughly soak the sponge, then pour out all the excess water. This usually provides enough moisture for a full day of painting. At the end of the day, I rinse the sponge and squeeze it dry, then seal it in the box with the paper on top. It can keep the paints fresh for days.

You may notice small triangles in the picture above. These are cut pieces of bristol board that act as a buffer for certain paints that have a tendency to absorb water too quickly, leaving you with a diluted wash that flows around your palette. I tend to have this problem with the grays, the browns, and the light colors including white. The paints that look the driest above are actually regular gouache, which will solidify on the palette, but can always be reactivated with additional water.

That pretty much covers the basic workings. I'll write more about my approach to color and its arrangement in a future post.

Monday: The Move Back to Color, Part 2


  1. cool, but I'm not clear on what the wedges of bristol are for though.....
    So do you mostly work transparently, like watercolor and then go more opaque in the highlights etc?

  2. The bristol board just keeps the paint from getting too watery. I like to keep it at a creamy consistency.

    And yes, I usually start transparently, then leave the opaque passes for the end.


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