Setting Up A Watercolor (or Gouache) Palette

 Hey my peeps, just a quick spotlight on your palette today. How do you know what colors to buy, how do you save money trying new kinds of paints, how can you store the paints you have so they’re accessible? I’m combining tips for watercolor and gouache palettes here because they go so swimmingly well together they’re often used in conjunction.

 

TIP #1 - YOU ONLY NEED A FEW COLORS

If you’re new to painting, or just trying a new medium like gouache instead of your usual acrylic, buy the highest quality paint you can afford but only the primary colors and an opaque white (if not using watercolor). If you want a dark you don’t have to mix from scratch every time I’d recommend a Paynes Gray rather than a black.  Paynes Gray leans towards the cool side but maintains a lot more vibrancy than any regular black will when used straight or in mixes. Alternately you can skip the dark, and mix the three primary colors together to make your own dark and save some money. The color wheel is your best friend and you can mix literally everything you need from the three primaries.

 

TIP #2 - SINGLE PIGMENT PAINTS V.S. MULTI-PIGMENT PAINTS

When you decide to expand your color range with new paints, try to avoid buying paints that are made from more than 1 pigment unless you know you are madly in love with the color and will use it all the freaking time. Paints can be made with 1 pigment or more, and multi-pigment paints can be really beautiful. The problem is that they tend not to mix as well and get muddy when combined with other colors much more easily than a single pigment paint would. If you combine two multi-pigment paints it’s the same as having combined four or more single pigment paints, so you can imagine that could get wonky looking real quickly when mixing stuff together.   On artist quality paint tubes, the pigments used will be listed so you can tell what it’s made from. They’ll usually also tell you how lightfast (fade-proof) and opaque or transparent they are. With watercolors they’ll also say if they granulate or not which is something you should keep in mind if you don’t like texture in your paintings.

 

TIP #3 - MIX HONEY INTO GOUACHE

This one is specifically for my gouache squad out there. I adore painting with gouache, but having to keep tubes of it out to use can be really limiting if you want to paint outside or are just lazy like me. If you’re lazy like me you may have already tried leaving gouache out to dry on a palette and tried to re-wet it, and may have already discovered that most gouache brands don’t take to this well. Gouache cracks and crumbles as it dries and can be hard to impossible to re-wet to its former glorious consistency and opacity. Here’s a hack for that if you want to have it all, like I do.  Mix a tiny amount of honey into your gouache thoroughly before putting it in a pan to dry (you can also use liquid glycerin for this though I haven’t gotten to try that personally yet). This little bit of honey will stop the cracking and drying out that usually happens, and leave your gouache incredibly smooth and re-wetable on your palette.

*Note: Some brands of gouache like M. Graham already have honey in them because they use it as the binder for the pigment. I personally really dislike the sheen and sticky texture this leaves behind. So I use non-honey based brands of gouache and put WAY less honey in mine to get the best of both worlds - my colors still dry matte and aren’t sticky but are super palette friendly. 

 

TIP #4 - MIX WATERCOLORS WITH GOUACHE

Another gouachey tip is for those of you who already have some watercolors but want to try gouache out too. To start only buy a white tube of gouache and mix your watercolor pigments into the white paint. It pretty much instantly transforms your watercolors into gouache and you can get a feel for the qualities gouache has, like the opacity, fairly intense shift in color as it dries, layering capacity, and the consistency of the paint you need to mix to get the coverage that you want in any given situation. 

 

TIP #5 - PAINT FROM TUBES OR PANS

For watercolorists, I suggest you experiment to see whether you prefer working from tubes or from dried pans. I know some people are tubers for life and feel they get the most vibrant colors that way. For me personally I NEED my pans - they save so much money in wasted paint over time and are incredibly convenient. I wouldn’t trade them for all the tubes in the world.  So I buy my paint in tubes, but squeeze it out to dry in pans and I’ve never felt like I’ve lost any color vibrancy doing things this way.

 

TIP #6  - PRE-MADE WATERCOLOR PALETTES V.S. BUYING YOUR OWN COLORS

It’s up to you whether you buy a pre-made palette or buy individual colors and make your own, but my personal recommendation would be to get your own colors. If you stick with the primaries and a white you should be able to afford higher quality paints for the same amount as a pre-made palette with other colors you may not want in the long run, or the crappy paint brush with hairs sticking out everywhere that every pre-made palette inevitably comes with. And as for the actual palette you start with, seriously to this day I use a plate to mix my paints on - you just really don’t need to buy a palette if you don’t want to. And if you do want a palette to store many colors in but don’t want to spend much money on one you can make your own palette really easily. A great video for this is from the YouTube channel In Liquid Color and you can find it here - I HIGHLY recommend this channel for learning more about pigments, binders, color mixing, palettes, brands of paint, etc...especially for watercolor artists, but not exclusively as much of the information crosses over to other mediums.

 

IN SUMMARY

I hope these tips help give you some direction to start a new palette or start with a new medium without breaking the bank. These are all things I had to learn the hard way (I’m talking to you, huge collection of expensive Arcyla-Gouache I have and hate to paint with), so hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes.