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  • Yufen Zha

Art Talk: Palette Setup and Paint Storage

Paint palette and storage options for watercolor paints seem to be a forever quest for a lot of painters and I'm no exception. Over the years I've tried out many different paint palettes as well as experimented with a variety of different storage options. I haven't found the perfect solution yet nor sure if that even exists but I'm quite happy with my current arrangements.

Below is the list of supplies I will be mentioning in this post. I’ve included a few affiliate links so you can find the products I love.


Supply List

This Martin Mijello watercolor palette stayed with me for quite some years and I still take it with me on travel from time to time. I tried out a number of paint palettes in this style but with a variety of sizes and shapes before landing on this particular model. I love the shape and compact size of this palette as it fits perfectly flat at the bottom of my backpack when I have to pick up and go. I created the reference color chart and conveniently stuck it underneath the mixing tray which is not shown in the picture so you can see the color chart. It also comes with 33 generously sized wells that is more than enough for the paints I generally use.

There are a couple of drawbacks for this type of palette however and I found myself constantly wishing I could find an alternative.

  • One of the limitations are the fixed wells. Since the wells are not movable, I can not rearrange the paints once I squeeze paint into a well. This means that when I get a new paint, I can not group it with similar shades on the palette without scraping out the existing paints and rearranging the whole palette.

  • The other issue I have is that I constantly go to the tube for fresh and more potent pigments since the paints eventually dry up on the palette. Even though I have many M. Graham watercolor paints and they generally stay moist much longer than other brands (they contain honey to help them stay wet), they do eventually dry out. Reactivated pigments in general are not as potent as fresh ones. Since I paint with a lot of water, I have to constantly resort to squeeze paints fresh from their tubes.

After some time, I discovered these solvent cups from Masterson. They are clear, airtight, and just the right size for a sizable mop or hake brush to dip in. I usually squeeze in 1/3 of a paint tube (about 5ml) at a time and the paints stay moist in them for a very long time. Some of my less-used paints have stayed wet in these containers for almost a year. The best part of using these to make up my palette is that they are movable; I am now free to add or remove paints from my palette any time I desire.

To identify each pigment, I used a circle puncher and watercolor paper to cut out small circles that fit on top of the lid for color swatches. Gluing these circles to the lids is a bit tricky as the flexing of the lids during opening and closing pops off the circle every now and then. I've tried many different types of glue and E6000 seems to work the best but it's still not perfect. If you have any suggestions on what glue would work better for this application, I'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment below.

I then found this 3-tier Artbin storage box that has the perfectly-sized compartments for my little paint cups to fit snugly within. I use the top 3 tiers for the paint cups and the bottom for brushes, mixing palette, tape, etc. I can easily bring this box back and forth for road trips.

Since switching to using these storage cups for my paints, I've also had to experiment with different mixing palette options. In the end I decided a simple butcher tray still works the best for me.

What do I then do with the paint tubes? I used to just throw them into a big box and call it a day. When I needed to find a particular pigment, I would have to dig through the whole box.

I then discovered Watercolor Paint Tube Organizer somewhere online (can't remember where though), and it's been a lifesaver.

Watercolor Paint Tube Organizers are semi-transparent plastic sleeves made specifically to store 15ml watercolor paint tubes.

These sleeves are designed by a watercolor artist looking for a better way to organize and store paint tubes. They come in 34-pocket strips. You can cut them up into smaller strips to store each color family, or you can arrange your paints to reflect the color wheel in a longer strip, making it easy to find the color you want when you need it.

Once I have my tubes in these organizers, I roll them up and stand the tubes upside down. I learned this tip a long time ago that storing the paints upside down prevents the pigment separate from the binder. I know a lot of us dread seeing the brown gel-ish goo coming out of a paint tube separate from the pigment itself. Even though you can still use the pigment, this is still a huge pet peeve for a lot of people, myself included. To me, this is a significant added bonus for using these organizers.

I then store my rolled-up paints in these Sterilite storage containers that fit two full size sleeves of rolled-up paint tubes perfectly (68 tubes in total).

There you have it, folks! As I said previously, my palette and paint storage solution is by no means perfect but it works for me for my current situation and I'm quite happy with it.

I'd love to hear your palette and paint storage ideas & solutions and perhaps improve mine based on your suggestions. Please leave a comment below if you would like to share.

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Until next time... happy creating!


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