Last week I talked a bit about palettes in general, plus the best ones for oils.  This week we are going to take a look at what’s the best type for water based media.  You might think that acrylics, gouache and water colours would all have the same requirements, however due to the nature of the different mediums, this is not the case. Let’s take a look at water colours and gouache first.  These mediums both have similar properties, in that they can both be reused after having dried out.

The main difference between them is that water colour is a more transparent medium than gouache. Gouache paint is  modified to make it an opaque painting medium (non-transparent). A binding agent, usually gum arabic, is present, just as in watercolor. Gouache differs from watercolor in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and an additional, inert, white pigment such as chalk is also present. This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities.(1)


Below is a picture showing a traditional type of water colour palette, which is generally used for either water colours or gouache paint. This one however is a little small for the more serious painter and doesn’t have a lid to contain mess during transport.

Gouache or Water Colour Palette



A better type of palette is like the one shown below which has a separate lid, side wells for paint and then a central area for paint mixing. The beauty of this is that there are several wells to keep a large range of colours on the go at once.  Also you can just re-wet them in the next session and you are good to go.

Water Colour, Acrylic or Gouache Palette


Water Colour, Acrylic or Gouache Palette


Now you can use the above type of palette for acrylics however I came across a much better one recently. Below is a video of how it works.


If you have come across any other whizz bang palette ideas I would love to hear them if you want to share.

This Week’s Question: What is currently your favourite palette  and might you up grade to something more user friendly?








1. Marjorie B. Cohn, Wash and Gouache, Fogg Museum, 1977.


A word all visual artists will come across at some point is the word palette.This can be a little confusing in the beginning as it has two very distinct meanings, which are:
Palette: A board, typically with a hole for the thumb, which an artist can hold while painting and on which colors are mixed.

Palette: The range of colors used in a particular painting or by a particular artist: a limited palette. (definitions from Free online dictionary )

This post takes a look at the first definition and analyzes the best type of Palette for paint mixing. The answer to this question will of course vary depending on which medium you are currently using. There are however some common characteristics that you will need to look for regardless of your medium, so lets begin with those.

a. you need a place to put the paints

b. a firm surface to mix the paint on

c. a means to access the palette

d. an easy way to clean the palette.

So let’s have a look at these things and how different mediums have different requirements and what solutions there are.

One of the first questions a beginner will always ask is what size palette should I get and left to their own devices they will invariably come back with the cheapest, smallest one the person in the art shop could find to sell them. My answer to this question is always get the biggest you can find or afford as even though you may begin painting with few colours and not need much space, you will very quickly outgrow a small palette.

So lets look at how we solve these problems medium by medium. This week we will take a look at what is needed for oil painting.


  • The best palette traditionally was a wooden one, with a hole in one end for the thumb. It was seasoned with linseed oil to protect the wood and if you kept it well oiled and cleaned it after each use, it was easy to clean.It also had the advantage of being a mid tone in terms of the colour you were mixing, which helps with the accuracy of your tonal colour mixing.
  • Now there are a variety of palettes available on the market. Some have a white laminated top, which arguably matches the white tone of your canvas and therefore makes tonal matching easier when you are miking paint. This however is not very helpful if you under-paint your works. I find the white actually makes it some what more difficult and these type of palettes don’t seem to be much easier to clean than the traditional wooden ones.
  • Another option that some artists use is a sheet of heavy glass. Obviously this won’t have a hole for holding it in the traditional manner, which means you then need something to rest the palette on. I find a bar stool is good for this, being just the right height.  However because the glass is transparent, it means you can put a sheet of paper of any colour underneath it and this gives you a much greater flexibility for ease of getting your tones right.
  • Also available today are disposable paper palettes, which come in a couple of sizes and are great if you are travelling or just really want a no mess cleanup. The other thing you can do with them is keep the tear offs and once dry put them in a loose leaf binder and slowly compile your own colour mixing record book.  This can come in really handy later on, particularly if you put notes on the page reminding yourself which colours you used.

Artists Palette


Next week: I look at water colour and acrylic palettes.

This Week’s Question: What type of palette are you using and is it the best one for your current medium of choice?

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