How to set out an acrylic paint palette (video)

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting, colour theory

Acrylic painting techniques – How to set out a basic palette

In this video I show the basic layout of 3 primary colours (plus brown and white) for a stay-wet palette.

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Bare minerals store September 29, 2011

Happen to be trying to find this and learned much more than anticipated in this article. Thanks.

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Will Kemp October 2, 2011

Your welcome, glad it was of interest to you

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Jay Shah January 24, 2012

Mr. Kemp,

I use ARA Artists Acrylic and while it is slower than some other brands to dry, I mix small amounts frequently as opposed to just mixing what I will require during the session. The only drawback is that I have to mix frequently and therefore have to be precise in ensuring i mix the exact colour each time and occasionally minute variations do occur. I thought of using ‘Sta-Wet’ palettes but before I buy what is a fairly expensive option, I would be grateful for your suggestion.

Jay

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Will Kemp January 24, 2012

Hi Jay,

You can make a homemade stay wet palette.
Just use a resealable plastic tub, soak some kitchen roll and lay it in the bottom then place greaseproof paper over the top of this.

Have a look at my video on setting up a shop bought one. They are really inexpensive for the time they will save you having to make small mixes throughout your painting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-YC92y-vkM

Will

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Jay Shah February 9, 2012

Mr. Kemp,

I came across a range of paints called Turner Acryl Gouache as well as a similar but extra fine range of Acrylic Gouache from AV Vallejo. I am not sure whether these ranges can be used like Acrylics or even with other Acrylics. In fact, the only reason I even noticed the Turner range was because there were some nice colours I liked and would like to use. Any suggestions?

Jay

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Will Kemp February 9, 2012

Hi Jay,
Essentially a gouache is half-way between a watercolour and acrylic. And is often used with watercolours to add more opaque whites to a painting for highlights if you have painted out the white of the paper by mistake. Depending on the effect you are after you could use them together, however, when first learning it is always advisable to stick with one type of paint first. Get to know it, then introduce mixed medium effects if that is the style of painting that you like,
Will

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Tom December 3, 2012

Superb website and outstanding content, Will.
Your choice of musical accompaniment is very interesting as well – almost as much fun as your tutorials (grin). Would you mind saying who the female artist/vocalist is in the Acrylic Colour Bias video (the 2-blues tinted example, viewed as the secondary embedded video on this Setting Out a Palette page …)
Thanks

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Will Kemp December 7, 2012

Hey Tom,

Great your enjoying the site and the music!

The track is called Sea Song by Lisa Hannigan, enjoy!

Cheers,

Will

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Tom December 8, 2012

Sorry to be off-topic once more, Will, but I want to thank you for the Lisa Hannigan information. As a result, I found her on YouTube and think she is to Music what you are to Painting – an immensely talented and much-appreciated ‘breath of fresh air’ and (if I’m in a position to say) an ‘Artist’ in the true sense of the word.

I learned to paint long ago–or thought I had–but wandered away from it when “Life’s Rich Pageant” began to take things over (a common tale). Your site is OVERFLOWING with useful, practical insights that have helped re-invigorate my desire to paint. I try to visit your site every couple of days, and always come away with fresh ideas and very good feelings. I will eventually work my way up to purchasing one or more of your online tutorials.

I applaud and appreciate what you’re doing, and HOW you’re doing it. Your willingness to share these insights is truly a SERVICE to others. Bravo.

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Will Kemp December 8, 2012

Hi Tom, you’re too kind! Really pleased you liked Lisa’s songs, they’re epic! And fantastic to hear the site has helped to re-invigorate those paintings!!

Thanks again,

Will

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Tom December 9, 2012

Will, I understand you work on multiple paintings at once. Do you find it necessary to employ MULTIPLE stay-wet palettes when working on MULTIPLE acrylic paintings?

Yesterday I purchased an excellent aluminum cookie sheet with plastic snap-on lid, and might purchase more depending on your reply.

For your information, and everyone’s, the item is available in the U.S. as the Nordic Ware ‘Naturals’ Baker’s Half Sheet with Storage Lid (item 43103). The pan measures approximately 13″ x 18″ and is only about 1″ deep. Looks PERFECT for use as a stay-wet palette…AND…you can bake COOKIES!!! in it (‘biscuits’ there in the UK).

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Will Kemp December 12, 2012

Hi Tom, I usually just work with the one large (A3) stay wet palette, even if I’m working on different paintings the core colours I use are the same. The cookie tray sounds perfect for a homemade staywet palette, nice find!

Will

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Tom December 12, 2012

Thanks, Will. I’m glad to have found your LIMITED-PALETTE approach. Thanks for stressing the benefits and for explaining the WHY. With that in mind, your using only ONE stay-wet palette makes perfect sense.

I’ll GLADLY follow your example, and will likely save a small fortune along the way (haha). Uncertainty about ‘which colors and how many colors’ had stalled my momentum. Eureka! Powerful insights, Will.

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Will Kemp December 12, 2012

Pleased to hear it Tom!

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Mat December 13, 2012

Hi, Will just found your page and I’m amazed. Great work and tons of usefull information. I’m just starting to paint with acrylics, before I was drawing a lot. Have a question about a palatte. I saw you are using waxed paper palette a lot, so I bought one (A4), but when I mix colours on, begins to wrinkle. Do I have to spray it with water before or not, maybe stay – wet palette would be better?
Tnx for everything
mat

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Will Kemp December 13, 2012

Hi Mat, pleased to hear you’re finding the site helpful. Tear-off palettes shouldn’t wrinkle, I apply the paint to the palette when it is still in a stack ( all the sheets stuck together) this shouldn’t wrinkle. A stay-wet palette is more prone to wrinkling due to the moisture level in the palette. You don’t nave to spray with water before use.

Hope this helps,
Will

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Mat December 13, 2012

Thanks a lot Will! Guess I bought the wrong palette.

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Tom January 10, 2013

Thanks to you, I’ve put together a satisfactory DIY stay-wet palette. Interesting tip: Gardeners often place a copper penny (US one-cent coin, 1/100 of a dollar) near the bottom of a potted plant to avoid the growth of mold, mildew and/or fungus.

Mold wants to grow inside a well-sealed stay-wet palette, so I’ve put two pennies inside (opposite corners) to see what happens. Hopefully you have a similar copper coin to try there in the UK. For Americans, pennies minted after 1981 contain almost no copper, so scrounge for old ones. In any case, it’s the COPPER that fights the mold.

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Will Kemp January 11, 2013

Hey Tom,

Great tip! Thanks for this.

Let me know if it works,

Cheers,

Will

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June April 14, 2014

I am thrilled to hear this idea for mold. I have a very good Masterson palette using their recomended pad and paper on top. I live at a dry climate of 5000 ft. altitude but still struggle with this. My husband is looking for the copper right now. So I will be trying it immediately. Thank you for the tip.

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Will Kemp April 14, 2014

Good one June,
Will

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kathryn August 18, 2013

Hi Will, I am really a newbie, and even though I have watched this video and read your articles on setting up a wet palette, I am still confused. I understand laying out the colors from cool to warm. It’s the “wet” part that I am still having trouble understanding. I have an enamel coated tray (29 cm X 39 cm). Am I right that I lay paper towels down in there, wet them, drain the excess, and then top it with waxed paper? Since the waxed paper is coated, I having trouble understanding how this helps keep the palette “wet”. Thanks for your patience with newbies, and thanks for your help! Kathryn p.s. I just finished “the cherry” still life… it was a great success even without a wet palette!

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Will Kemp August 18, 2013

Hi Kathryn, pleased you had good results with the Cherry tutorial, if you use baking parchment it will keep wet enough to keep moisture in the paint, but won’t let too much mositure through.

Cheers,
Will

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cherie lowe October 18, 2013

hi will, just watch your quick video on laying out an acrylic palette. it’s the best advice I’ve ever seen on this subject. thanks for making things so easy to understand in all of your instruction. it’s a big help.

cherie

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Will Kemp October 18, 2013

Hey Cherie,
Really pleased the video helped!

Cheers,

Will

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Sue Skelton February 8, 2014

Hi just wondering which stay wet palette for acrylics you would recommend

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Will Kemp February 9, 2014

Hi Sue,

I’m currently using the A3 stay-wet palette from Daler Rowney, (20 inch x 11 inch) The Masterson stay-wet palette. also gets good results and works on a sponge system rather than paper.(16 inch x 12 inch)

Cheers,

Will

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heena July 12, 2014

Sir i am from india…

what is wet palette ??? Pls explain…

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Will Kemp July 14, 2014

Hi Henna, a stay-wet palette is a palette that helps to keep the acrylic paints wetter for longer.

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Terry Langton July 14, 2014

Good morning Will Kemp: I am a veteran of world war 2 and Korea. While with the first Marine Division I banged up a leg. 2 months ago because I could no longer walk the desert or the firing range I took up painting in acrylics. Have spent hours reading your writings and watching your videos. My cherry my look like a glob from space but I am having fun trying. Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge to folks like me.

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Will Kemp July 14, 2014

Hi Terry, great to hear from you, and so pleased you’ve been finding the lessons helpful and you’ve been having fun trying! I’m sure with a couple of tweaks your cherry would be transformed!

Cheers,
Will

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Rita Murtagh July 20, 2014

I am so happy I ran into this website. I am a true newbie and need all the help I can get. This is really great information. Thanks for being there.

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Will Kemp July 21, 2014

You’re welcome Rita, hope you find the lessons helpful,
Will

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DJ Coop July 21, 2014

I have a hearing problem, Love that your speech is not too fast (my biggest hearing problem), accent-just a little. Does your program also have those reading captions that go along with your demos and such?
I wanna get started in painting acrylics, so thanks for all you give.

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Will Kemp July 21, 2014

Hi DJ, pleased you’re enjoying the lessons, unfortunately I don’t currently have captions on the video courses.

Cheers,
Will

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Pavani February 24, 2015

Hi Will
I am happy that I came across this website,while searching for acrylics painting tutorials. I like your way of demonstration. I am beginner to acrylics painting and your tutorials are very informative and helpful for me. Thank you so much will.

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Will Kemp February 24, 2015

Hi Pavani, thanks for your kind comments, really pleased you’re finding the tutorials helpful in your paintings.
Cheers,
Will

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Filly Stan March 30, 2015

Thanks so much for the tips. Really appreciate.

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Nitika June 23, 2015

Hi Will,

Fantastic site for people like us………. your wet-tray video made my work so easy…….. acrylic paints wont dry even for hours…… Thanx a lot…….. Wish I could take your classes too….. will wait for some time to save some money for your tutorials……..

Thanx again……..

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Will Kemp June 24, 2015

Thanks Nitika, glad you found the lessons helpful for keeping the acrylics wet for longer.
Cheers,
Will

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Nancy July 12, 2015

Dear Will: I am so so happy I found you! I am an artist and an art teacher. I have been teaching for over 8 years,and myself am an award winning artist. No matter! We all NEED new and refreshing ways of teaching and learning! SO I thank you for your straight forward way of teaching and I am going to bring some of your mad skills into my adult acrylic painting class! I am so blessed to have found you! Thanks so very much and all the best too you!

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Will Kemp July 13, 2015

Hi Nancy, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons and hope you enjoy introducing some of the techniques to your painting classes.
Cheers,
Will

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Sam July 29, 2015

How do I clean my palette? By the time I’m done painting, some of my acrylics have dried and even with soapy hot water I can’t get them off. Am I supposed to have a disposable palette?

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Will Kemp July 30, 2015

Hi Sam, if you’re working on a hard palette you would wait for the paint to dry and then scrape off with a palette knife, I usually work on a disposable palette with acrylics.
Cheers,
Will

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Sam July 30, 2015

Will,
Thank you so much!! I just found your videos on YouTube last week and am dying to do more! You do a great job going step by step. I have a tricky time with some of the technique am shocked at the results. Wish I was close enough to take an actual course with you!

All the Best,
Sam

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Will Kemp August 1, 2015

You’re welcome Sam, pleased you’re finding the lessons helpful in developing your acrylic painting skills.
Cheers,
Will

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Mardi Miller August 23, 2015

Hi, Will,
I have purchased one of your classes so far and it was a great experience!
My question, I will be traveling abroad for about 14 days and need to travel light–yet want to bring my paints! I tried to talk myself into just doing watercolor on the trip, but I just love thick paint too much :). I have extra heavy texture gel, a sealed palette (not stay wet), and a home made light pochade box of sorts to protect what I have painted until it makes it back to the hotel room. My question: using these materials, how quickly should my panels be expected to dry if I open them up to air at the end of a travel day? If it’s going to be several days drying, I either need more pochade boxes…or else give up and settle for watercolor. Thank you for everything! Mardi

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Will Kemp August 23, 2015

Hi Mardi, if you’re working in acrylics the paintings will dry very quickly, but this can vary depending on how thick you apply the paint, what I would do is grab a test piece of paper and then put down a few strokes of thick paint mixed with the gel onto the paper and then time it. As the timings can vary depending on thickness, with acrylics it will be a case of minutes and hours rather than days. Hope you have a great trip.
Cheers,
Will

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Eben du Plessis September 3, 2015

So knowledgeable . Fantastic help to beginners like me.

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Brian D February 22, 2016

Awesome site Will! You are very easy to understand and presents things in a straightforward manner. I’m a newcomer to canvas painting and I’ve got a question about your wet palette that I don’t think I’ve heard you discuss. Do you take your paints from your wet palette and then transfer them to the palette paper that you are painting from? If so, do you then transfer them back to your wet palette container? Or do you just use the same paper? I’ve seen videos on other websites where they store paint in a wet palette with parchment paper. Is that something you use in your wet palette container? Not sure if this makes sense but thanks for your help. Great to read your comments to our questions! Brian from Calgary, Canada

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Will Kemp February 22, 2016

Hi Brian, pleased you’ve been enjoying the site.

You can either use:
1. Tear-off Palette
2. Stay-wet Palette
3. Tear-off Palette & Stay-wet palette.

Do you take your paints from your wet palette and then transfer them to the palette paper that you are painting from?

It varies depending on the size of the canvas and/or the working time you need for the colours. For a simple still life I would just use the tear-off palette, but for a more complicated portrait, I’d use the stay-wet palette and the tear-off palette.

Do you then transfer them back to your wet palette container?

Not usually, unless I’ve mixed a large amount of a specific colour that I want to use the next day.

They store paint in a wet palette with parchment paper. Is that something you use in your wet palette container?

Yes, that’s exactly the same concept as a stay-wet palette, the parchment paper is part of the stay-wet palette.

For most of the demos I use a tear-off palette so it’s easier to see the colours I’m mixing directly next to the painting

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Brian D February 26, 2016

Thank you for such a quick and detailed response Will! I just purchased A Masterson Sta-wet premier palette at a local art store and will give it a try. An interesting thing the owner mentioned was that freezer paper (it might be called grease proof paper in the UK), is constructed the same way as tear off Palette paper and can be purchased inexpensively in large rolls at a grocery store.

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Will Kemp February 27, 2016

Good one Brian, yes, that’s right you can make a homemade stay wet palette using blotting paper and greaseproof paper.
Cheers,
Will

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francesca February 15, 2017

Wow so many people thanking you will! And i daresay I do too! I have found your site a week ago and i started painting again. I am currently – no job / stay at home / just got out of “med school” and in a very difficult situation as I am currently “finding myself” awful phase of life having been brain washed by my asian parents to pursue medicine even though I was very much into arts/music back then.

Well in summary, I do wish to take your classes. I have very little confidence in me but I was pretty glad to follow and learn from you! True about the little brushes! haha so much to learn and – paint of course! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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Will Kemp February 16, 2017

Hey Francesa, really pleased you’ve been enjoying exploring the site and feeling inspired with your artworks. Thanks for the kind comments.
Cheers,
Will

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Yann February 15, 2017

Hi Will,
Your web site is great. Also, I’ve purchased several of your acrylics courses and they are all very good. Thank you Will. May I ask you a question about the Staywet palette for acrylic painting please? It seems to work fine, keeping the paint wet. However, I wonder if this accessory is just keeping the paint as wet as it if out of the pot/tube, or if it is also thinning the paint by adding more water… I need to control the ratio paint:water and I would not get paint too much thinned. As a Staywet palette user, what do you think? Many thanks in advance,
Cheers,
Yann

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Will Kemp February 16, 2017

Hi Yann, nice to hear from you. I don’t tend to use the stay wet palette as a method of thinning the paint, but this will happen due to the water soaking up through the membrane layer. The longer the paint is in the palette the more diluted it will become. Personally, for smaller paintings I lay out the colours and work within the mixing are of the (larger) palette and then for larger scale works I tend to use a ‘two-palette system’ using the stay-wet palette as a ‘loading bay’ for premixed colours and then use a tear-off palette for mixing onto.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Yann February 16, 2017

Thanks for your swift answer Will.
I would work with the stay-wet and keep in mind that it can add some water into the paint. This thinning of the paint is not easy to notice with the fluid acrylics that I mainly use. It may be more noticeable with heavy body paint… Your two-palettes solution is a very good idea.
Have a very nice day,
Cheers,
Yann

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Will Kemp February 16, 2017

Hi Yann, with the fluid acrylic it will be more tricky with a stay wet palette as they tend to spread into a wider surface area, thus soaking up more water and then becoming even thinner. I tend to use heavy body paint in the stay-wet palette if I’m working on a painting for a longer amount of time to counteract any water absorption so the paint doesn’t become too thin for the consistency I’m after.
Will

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Yann February 17, 2017

Hi Will. You are right, I have tried with the fluid acrylic and it is more tricky. I would better use the stay wet when I need heavy body paint. Many thanks for your advices.
Cheers,
Yann

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