5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Picking a Watercolor Palette

What type of watercolor palette works well for you? With so many shapes, sizes and styles, it can be hard to know which one is best. The good news is that there’s not one type that is “better” than the others, however that also means that it can be tricky to find which one fits your style!

Deciding on a watercolor palette that’s well suited to you has a lot to do with your personal style, where you like to paint and what type of paint consistency you prefer. By asking yourself these five questions, you’ll gain clarity on which type is perfect for you!

1. How Organized Do I Need To Be?

When it comes to watercoloring, are you very neat and tidy? Or are you a painter who can’t seem to create without making a mess?

If you’re the type of person who likes to keep things very clean and compartmentalized, then a palette with small, defined separate vessels arranged in a circle for paint might be right for you (sometimes called a “flower palette”). If you keep things more free-form, you may prefer an open expanse of a palette without little walls. If you’re somewhere in the middle, palettes do exist which have some smaller vessels and some larger spaces too.

2. Where Will I Be Painting?

Where, physically, will you be painting? Will it be in a studio space, where your palette can lie flat? Or will it be out in nature, where you may be working with uneven surfaces and will need to pack up and transport your palette? Location can affect this decision!

If you’re painting in the same spot every time (say a home studio) you won’t have to worry about leaks or paint dripping in transit. However, if you’re going out into nature to paint in the field, you may want to consider a disposable palette (available in pads, so that you can simply tear off the sheet and have a fresh mixing surface for next time). Alternatively, you may prefer an airtight palette which has a lid that forms a seal to avoid leaking paint.

Some travel watercolor kits have a palette incorporated right into the packaging. Just be careful to either let the paint dry or wipe it off before closing the palette and packing up — otherwise the mixed colors can drip onto the little cakes of paint.

3. How Do I Like To Mix My Paint?

When you mix colors on your watercolor, are you working with tiny dots of paint in controlled amounts? Or do you need more room to add a dab of this, a dab of that, and mix until it all together until it feels right?

A palette with individual vessels for separate colors might be an ideal choice for you if you work in a more precise way or if you’re mixing colors for very small areas. If working on mixing paint for larger areas, or if you tend to be enthusiastic in your mixing, you’ll want something larger that is a little heavier (so you don’t fling paint while mixing).

4. Do I Want To Save The Colors For Later?

Do you tend to wash out your palette at the end of each painting session? Or do you like to let the colors dry so that you can re-wet them later and continue painting?

If you prefer the former, you’ll want to choose an easy-to-clean (and not too large) palette. However, if you like to hold on to the mixed colors, be sure to use a palette where they can rest in place (a folding palette where colors  become inverted is a no-go). Bonus points if you can cover the palette to keep dust bits from getting in your paint.

5. What Appeals To Me?

When you browse watercolor palettes in art supply stores or online, what looks interesting or cool to you? What looks like it would suit you best?

Listen to your instincts and be willing to take the time to find what works for you. I have found after years of painting that I prefer to mix my paint on top of old porcelain plates, which leave me plenty of room to spread out and mix colors without constraint. My mother, who is also an illustrator, uses a large, white kitchen tile to mix her paint. Experiment with different options, and see what works for you!