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Thread: Palettes! How to finish a wood palette for oils

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    Palettes! How to finish a wood palette for oils

    Back in my youth, when it was against the law to paint in a classical manner, anyone using a hand-held wooden palette would be banished from the studio. As decades passed and I became frustrated with the usual table tops, pieces of glass, old dinnerware and metal trays, I turned in desperation to an old-fashioned wood palette, my first being the palette that came with my French portable easel. I soon found it to be superior in almost every way. Since the early 1980ís, Iíve used a great many wood palettes, some purchased and some I made myself.

    Iíve carried a grudge against my junior high school shop teacher ever since I was banned from the drill press due to incompetence. Iíve been attempting to prove myself ever since by making or finishing the occasional wood palette. I suggest serious painters make their own. If I can do it, anybody can. It doesnít have to be large and should be as light as possible.

    Iím posting a few step-by-step pictures (with occasional misspellings) to show how simple it is. The first seven pictures show me finishing a small commercially made palette purchased at my local art supply store. The last two shots show palettes Iíve designed and made from scratch using thin sheets of Baltic birch plywood and a little help from a friend with a jigsaw.

    If you design and make your own, I suggest you make a dummy out of cardboard first. Once you feel you have it right, then trace it onto the wood and go at it!

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    haha thanks so much! i was holding mine wrong the whole time.

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    hey thanks a lot for this...
    I'm going to make my own soon...

    ▄▀▄▀▄▀■ - GORILLA ARTFARE - ■▀▄▀▄▀▄
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    Lol! I guess I am an idiot...I've been holding my palette wrong my whole life XD

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    Thank you for this information. I have a few palettes that I love that are no longer on the market, and haven't been able to find any good ones to replace them with when they wear out. I figured making my own was the best, and it's nice to have some concrete instructions.

    Also, the weights is a great idea. I have a large palette that I love, but it does hurt my hand fighting against the weight...

    Tim

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    Another excellent thread, Mr Whitaker.
    I'm tempted to make one myself now, even though i'm not currently painting.

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    Wow, fantastic to get this much useful information - thank you!


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    I still use the one that came with my easel.....;P

    maybe my son can be inspired to make me new one for xmas!

    chaos

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    building a palette

    This is excellent information, especially the choice of baltic birch. When most of the palettes you see in art stores are so thin and flimsy, it's good to know how easy it is to make a nice solid, sturdy, thick one that will just get better with age. I use glass for studio purposes (easy to clean with a paint scraper, and a neutral gray backing to help judge values). In the field, though, there's nothing like a wooden palette, hopefully burnished with a patina finish from years of use and wear. I've also been looking for a good pochade box and don't really like what I've seen, or the prices either. On both counts (the palette and the pochade box), I'll think I'll go the build-my-own route, and customize if for the kind of painting I do and supplies I need, and to be comfortable using it. Thanks for the useful info. --cba

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    Thanks so much for posting this! They still don't allow this sort of activity in the university- if you hold one of these things you are automatically a traditionalist (not such a bad thing I guess).

    What do you do about palette storage? I tend to keep mine in a paint box to mitigate air exposure but I would like to find a better way.

    I need to invest in some of those lead weights as you suggest- right now I am clipping some clamps on my palette to balance the sucker- not so elegant!

    Thanks again- I will definitely reference this tutorial when its time to upgrade.

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    This is a slightly novel and very effective rectangular palette I made to fit in my Soltek easel. I brought it along when I attended the Dallas workshop earlier this year. I got it out today so I could share it with you. I havenít used it much so far, but I think Iíll be working with it for the next several weeks to continue to break it in.

    Itís made from a 1/8Ē thick 1x2 foot plank of high grade Baltic birch plywood I bought at our local craft store. I cut it down to fit the Soltek, then rounded the corners with sandpaper and my rotary palm sander and my Dremel tool.

    Itís important to make a comfortable thumb hole. This one is generous.

    The novel feature is the position of the thumb hole, which is usually located on the bottom right corner in a rectangular palette. By placing the hole in the upper right corner, the palette rests in perfect balance on my left arm. I shaped the cutout on the left lower corner so it would fit my arm better. The deep cutout by the thumb hole is there for brushes when I hold them in my left hand.

    Iím right handed. If you are a lefty, simply reverse the image to see how your palette should be.

    I finished the Baltic birch with a stain made of burnt sienna, raw sienna, and a generous dollop of Liquin. I rubbed the mix on both sides with a rag. After it dried, I sanded it very lightly, and them gave it two or three coats of spray shellac I bought at my local Loweís home center store.

    Over time, this palette will take on a wonderful patina like all my others.

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    I just did mine, and you only need to sand it and apply lots of linseed oil on it, let it soak ( if not, it will soak up linseed oil from your paint) and wipe off, after few days apply a second coat of linseed oil. The reason that I did this way because I think, if you apply any other weird liquids or vanish on it, when you paint and use paint solvent e.g. turp, it may dissolve some of the unwanted mediums and blend them into your painting and you may be sorry. So I only use linseed oil because your paints also have linseed oil and if turp picks up some linseed oil from the palette, you are still OK.

    BTW, Thanks Whitaker, I have alway wonder why the palette got heavy weight on my thumb, and now I see that I was holding the palette the wrong way.

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    Mishkin275, I assume you're referring to storing your palette with wet paint on it. I am fortunate to have a freezer in my art storeage room. I can keep most paints from setting for several days by simply stashing my palette in my freezer at the end of the painting day.

    Of course some colors dry faster than others. I can only keep Raw Umber fresh for two days at the most. It's a fast dryer!

    Zorro21c, Linseed oil is excellent, and I've used it before for finishing a palette, but you must give it time to dry (oxidize). Otherwise, your palette finish might come off when you go to clean the palette with turpentine.

    Shellac is not soluable in turpentine and there is no danger that it will get mixed in with turpentine-laden wet paint. Shellac is soluable in alcohol.

    Finally, I don't use turpentine in my paint, only linseed oil.

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    Excellent post..I cant wait to make one...Can someone tell me where I can get the <<1/8” thick 1x2 foot plank of high grade Baltic birch plywood>>...I tried stores like AC-Moore and Homedepot to No Luck !..

    Appreciate your replies...

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    Hinthma,
    Try a hobby shop. 1/8" plywood is used in flying model airplane construction. I also can get it a Michael's - a U.S. craft store chain. My local Home Depot store doesn't carry it.

    William Whitaker
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    Thanks..Yes I found it..I don't have a drumel or a jigsaw..but I managed to make something out of it with my own limited tools ...I like the large area...

    How soon after the Shellac application can I start using ?

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    Hinthma,
    As soon as it feels dry.
    If you're a timid soul, let it dry overnight.

    I used to paint on illustration board by toning and sealing the surface with a mix of shellac and powdered pigment. The mixture was applied with a rag and would dry immediately. I would be painting oils over it in minutes. All the oil sketches I did that way have held up very well.

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    Hey William,

    This is a really great handy little materials tutorial. I am going to link to it in the Tutorials Tips and Tricks forum in a general useful information thread archive I'm putting together there.

    Thanks for continuing to help the community!

    Best regards,

    Nick

    P.S.

    Which part of Utah are you from? My hometown is Price in Carbon County

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    I am using it and love it ....

    I have a feeling that the thickness can be a bit more than 1/8 to give a solid feel..The one I have has some flex and has a minor warp....I put it under some weight to try and correct it ...

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    William, Thanks for posting this. So awesome. I have almost finished making my first palette, and should be painting with it by weeks end. I'm stoked! Appreciate you taking the time to post this up, it's awesome!

    On an unrelated note, I was there when you were painting away like a champ in the warehouse in Austin 5 years ago or so. Was that the hottest weekend of your life too? Whew!

    I self-published a book on the fundamentals of drawing from life.

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    Sepulverture,

    I know the Price area. I used to go south and west up onto the Wasatch Plateau and collect dinosaur bones with Jim Jensen. I live on the other side of the mountains, up on the side of Cascade Mountain in Utah Valley.

    Hinthma,
    I've never been bothered by a little warping, although I don't actually have any palettes that are warped. I've seen them in old paintings though.

    jetpack42,
    You survived Austin? Yes, that warehouse was the hottest place on earth. Only the young and hardy survived. I died there.

    William Whitaker
    www.williamwhitaker.com
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    Bill Whitaker! Thanks for the demo! I dont like those silly old methods of rolling glass tables for palettes and using garbage for palettes either!

    Regularly updated blog of my studies at teh Florence Academy of Art www.nigelrobertson.com
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    Thanks again, William.

    I agree about Austin.. haha!

    Just made my second palette. Loved the first but there was a few design flaws. Call me Sorolla..

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/...00000029388232

    I self-published a book on the fundamentals of drawing from life.

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    Hi, thanks for the article - Can I finish with wood stain (ronseal wood stain - UK)? Without the shellac or will it come off with solvents? My other option is Boiled linseed oil.

    Sincerely
    Stu

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    Thumbs up Thank you!

    Hi, I am new here and found your site on how to make a paint palette! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this!! I am definitely going to try it. I just recently started oil painting classes....I had done watercolor and pastels many years ago. Thank you again!!


    Quote Originally Posted by William Whitaker View Post
    Back in my youth, when it was against the law to paint in a classical manner, anyone using a hand-held wooden palette would be banished from the studio. As decades passed and I became frustrated with the usual table tops, pieces of glass, old dinnerware and metal trays, I turned in desperation to an old-fashioned wood palette, my first being the palette that came with my French portable easel. I soon found it to be superior in almost every way. Since the early 1980ís, Iíve used a great many wood palettes, some purchased and some I made myself.

    Iíve carried a grudge against my junior high school shop teacher ever since I was banned from the drill press due to incompetence. Iíve been attempting to prove myself ever since by making or finishing the occasional wood palette. I suggest serious painters make their own. If I can do it, anybody can. It doesnít have to be large and should be as light as possible.

    Iím posting a few step-by-step pictures (with occasional misspellings) to show how simple it is. The first seven pictures show me finishing a small commercially made palette purchased at my local art supply store. The last two shots show palettes Iíve designed and made from scratch using thin sheets of Baltic birch plywood and a little help from a friend with a jigsaw.

    If you design and make your own, I suggest you make a dummy out of cardboard first. Once you feel you have it right, then trace it onto the wood and go at it!


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    Thanks for making this guide! Here are two pallets I just made.
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    My Sketchbook

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    WoW thanks O____O!! Been holding the palette wrong for years! Never had it rest on my arms. Its always been supported by my hand or on the french easel drawer pullout. Thank you.

    I'm out to conquer the world equipped with a pencil, digital paint and a Sketchbook
    and when I do achieve that goal...I'll conquer the moon too


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    I'm looking for a dark wooden palette, similar to what Sargent used. I don't know if Sargent's was a dark mahogany or Ebony (rare and endangered wood)! Any ideas about this concept?

    ~ Greg

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