Create Your Own Wet Palette
By Meg Maples
I've been noticing a number of posts lately about wet palettes and figured it was time to write up a definitive guide to buying, making, maintaining and using a wet palette. I'll go over the items I recommend as well as the ones I strongly advise avoiding.
As a quick note, I will label terms used widely in the US with (US) and ones used in Australia as (AU). There are some terminology and brand differences that I've clarified before in random threads. I figure I should include them here.
Why Use a Wet Palette?
For my readers who've taken classes with me, you know that I don't often recommend the use of a wet palette since I teach Two Brush Blending (2BB) and that requires control over paint consistency. But there are times when a wet palette is necessary or the better option.
I've lived in three different climates since I got into miniature painting. I started in Arizona where it was dry and hot all the time (much like Australia in the summer). I started with dry well palettes there because that's what I was taught to do but between heat from outside, lack of moisture in the air, the hot bulbs in my lamps my paint was baking in minutes! It became very frustrating. After about a year of beating my head against a brick wall I heard about wet palettes and went to find one. Michael's Art and Craft as well as Hobby Lobby in the US carry pre-made wet palettes from Masterson's (see below). I picked one up and figured out how to use it on my own with some input from miniatures forums since I didn't have any other painter's nearby. I quickly picked up the art of layering and glazing my miniatures and the wet palette was very handy for this. My paint would stay wet for entire sessions, not drying out at all. It was heaven!
Then I moved to Texas where it's hot in the summer but cold and wet in the winter. I still used my wet palette all year round though. It was the best tool I had in my arsenal for applying thin layers of paint.
When I moved to Seattle, WA I was retrained in techniques by Privateer Press. That's where I picked up 2BB which is a wet on dry blending technique and it requires speed and precision. The paint has to be a very specific consistency. The wet palette went by the wayside for me because I wasn't able to control the amount of moisture that would end up in my paint after about 30 minutes. It would become too thin and not lay down properly. I still had my wet palette for glazing and freehand when I was in my home studio and not at work in the P3 Studio. Seattle is also much colder and wet year round. I could leave my paint in my dry well palette covered overnight and come back to wet paint in the morning. In Arizona, Texas and Australia you can't do that.
TL;DR - depending on where you live, what techniques you favor and how you are comfortable painting a wet palette may be your best friend or you may never use it. I find myself using my wet palette more and more now that I am back to living in a dry hot climate. But in the winter in Australia I was able to use my dry palette for 2BB a lot more often.
You can buy a wet palette easily in the US and Europe. For whatever weird reason, they are soooooooo hard to find in Australia ready made at art stores which is why I will explain how to make a really good quality one.
Make Your Own Palette
Everything listed can be found at grocery stores, hardware stores or bargain department stores like Target, Walmart or Kmart.
Supplies you will need:
- Tupperware (US)/Systema (AU)
- Sheet Sponge
- Baking Parchment (US)/Baking Paper (AU)
- Water-from the tap is fine
- Windex or other detergent
Systema Container, Baking Parchment and Sheet Sponges
What To Do
You will want to find a container that feels suitable for your needs. Mark and I both strongly recommend finding a container that has a rubber ring seal around a clip lid such as the one photographed which is my husband's. He prefers the long narrow style of his Systema container over the size of my pre-made wet palette and it works for his style of painting and how he keeps his paint in between sessions.
Remove the lid from the container.
Sheet sponge you can find in places like Aldi (the ones pictured above) or Bunnings (AU). Open your packet of sponges and get one of them wet. Not sopping but just so it's fully expanded. Cut the sponge to the shape of your palette. Lay it in the lid.
Either spray the sponge with a little bit of Windex* or mix some dish soap into your water before adding it to your palette. You don't need much. Just a drop. By adding some detergent to the sponge you will be protecting your palette against mildew and mold. You are creating a warm and wet environment which is a bastion for bacteria and mold colonies. In order to keep your palette clean and smelling fresh a little detergent goes a long way.
Add water to your palette. This is up to you and your comfort as well as the type of palette you have. Mark has a very shallow lid for his palette and only uses a little bit of water. Because my container is an inch deep I fill my palette so there is water right up to the sponge line. Then I add my parchment. If my parchment is floating over the sponge, that's when it's time to drain a little water off. I still keep my palette very wet so my sponge doesn't start to dry out.
Cut your parchment paper to the size of your palette and smooth it over your sponge so it feels cool to the touch but you shouldn't be getting water through the paper. Baking Parchment is recommended over any other type of paper because it acts as a barrier between the water and the paint but allows the cool damp environment of the palette to keep the paint wet longer than if you were using a flat dry palette or well dry palette. Baking Parchment (US) or Baking Paper (AU) can be easily found at the grocery store. In Australia I recommend Multix and in the US I recommend Reynold's. Buy two rolls-one for the kitchen and one for the studio.
Mark's Wet Palette he's had for ages and ages!
******NOTE******Before anyone raises concerns about Windex let me cover a few things for you. Firstly, in Australia it's ammonia free. You are literally just using a mix of diluted detergent. In the US, the amount of ammonia in Windex is so small it's insignificant if you ingest a little bit by way of adding to your water and licking your brush. Essentially, you'd have to drink the Windex bottle to get sick from the ammonia and you'd be more likely to get sick off the soap in the mix if you did that. In the US formula of classic Windex it is 0.05% ammonia in the entire bottle. By adding a drop of it to your water in your palette, you won't keel over. If you are still concerned over ingesting Windex by way of licking your paint brush, find an ammonia free version. They have more ammonia free versions in the US than they do with ammonia.**********
What Not to Do
You will probably see someone post something about using a plate, folded paper towel and wax paper at some point. Don't listen to them. They are giving you bad advice. Why do I say that? Well first, you want a container that will hold water and not dry out while you are using it. A plate is far too flat and doesn't hold enough water to keep your palette wet. Second, paper towel, while absorbent, doesn't compare to using a sheet sponge. You'll notice whatever paper you put on it will start to curl and dry almost immediately. Third, never use wax paper. The reason being once it gets wet the wax will start to peel off the paper and end up in your paint and cause a mess and a headache.
It's okay to want to save money, but spend a little bit more and get something that will last you a long time and work far better than this super cheap way of doing it. I am speaking from experience on the plate palette.
Ready Made Palettes
Masterson's Sta-Wet Handy Palette
This is a palette that is the perfect size as far as my preferences go. Some people might want a bigger one but this one is the right size for me: 8.5" x 7" x 1". It doesn't take up too much room on my desk and it travels very easily by tucking into my P3 Travel Case. It's made out of a plastic that has held up very well to the numbers of time it's been checked in my luggage as well as tossed in a backpack.
The only brand of ready made palette I recommend! You can see the minimal damage that's happened after being checked in airport luggage about 50 times (at least). The corners on the lid are just a little busted but otherwise this works with no problems!
The palette comes with a sponge sheet and some paper. The sponge sheet will be dry but just add some water to it and it comes to life. The paper you will want to toss out unless you also use heavy body acrylics and want to apply the acrylic thicker than you would on a mini. The paper is designed to be pourous in order for the water in the palette to keep thick acrylic tube paint wet and to help thin it out a bit. If you try to use this paper with miniature acrylic paints they will just seep right through the paper and become unusable. So, toss the paper that comes with it. You want to use the baking parchment on the sponge just like it's discussed in the Make Your Own section above.
I know a lot of people who've gone out and bought themselves the P3 Wet Palette because it's pre-made and from a reliable gaming company that produces solid product. This is the one product in their line, in my opinion, that is lacking.
If you already have this one, at least replace the foam with sheet sponge and use baking parchment instead of the supplied paper.
The P3 Wet Palette is a plastic shell that doesn't seal properly. It just has a quick snap latch on one side of it and otherwise it opens like a book. The fact that it doesn't seal up better is the first cause for concern. You want your wet palette to stay wet while you aren't using it. If the lid on it won't secure and seal then the palette will dry out faster.
Second, it doesn't come with sponge. It comes with the same stuff that is used in packing miniatures in blister packs. It's not absorbent and it won't keep your paper wet for very long. The paper it comes with is a whole other kettle of fish. Just trust me on this one and toss it out. It's essentially like tissue paper. It just doesn't work.
The P3 Wet Palette is really expensive in Australia for what it is. I love Privateer Press and have a lot of gratitude towards them for the years of work experience and training they provided me. I just can't endorse the Wet Palette. You can easily make yourself a wet palette that is far cheaper and will last you years and years before you ever have to consider replacing parts of it. If you ever have to consider it. And if you really want a pre-made wet palette try to hunt down the Masterson's Sta-Wet Handy Palette.
Maintenance and Care
Wet palettes can stay wet for long periods of time and with proper care you won't have to throw out sponges all that frequently. I'm using the same one after a year and prior to moving to Australia I had the same sponge for about 6 years. There are a few things to keep in mind.
If you know you won't be painting for a few days and you won't need the left over paint still in your palette clean it. No reason to keep it wet if it doesn't need to be. Throw out the parchment. Ring out the sponge and let it dry. Then wipe down your container with dish soap and warm water. Let it dry on the counter. When you need it again, just wet the sponge and put new parchment in. Easy peasy!
Now, what do you do if you notice the palette is starting to smell moldy/mildewy or is starting to turn grey? Well, you can throw out the sponge and get a new one if you don't have to worry about your stock. If it's super grey (assuming it didn't start out that color) and slimy just throw it out anyway. There is a point of no return.
If it's still the color it started out as (yellow in my case) but I start to notice a little mildew smell then I will either run it through the laundry with my delicates or you can soak it in the sink with some bleach or detergent and rinse it out really well. Then let it dry out in the sun if you can. However, the sponges are cheap and if you find them buy a couple packets at a time. That way you always have a stock just in case. Paint will get in your sponge over time as well. It's normal and will end up making the sponge look dirty and gross. But as long as it doesn't smell and doesn't become slimy you are aces.