Category Archives: palette

How to Make My Free-Standing Palette

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Demonstrating an alla prima portrait at Flemish Classical Atelier in Bruges, Belgium
Hi Gang,

Today I’ll show you how to make my palette (pictured above). I first made it out of necessity and I’ve had a lot of people ask about it. With a little know-how and some tools you can make this palette very inexpensively. I made mine for about $10. Granted, I have some necessary tools, but the materials themselves are quite inexpensive.

I had always been a hand-held-palette-man. Of course, right? I mean how are you going to look like a cool artist with a table top glass palette? I’ve always loved this painting of William Merritt Chase by John Singer Sargent. I mean, without the palette in this picture, you just have a stuffy member of the bourgeoisie.  THIS is the classic artist look I wanted. Minus the swanky suit, of course.

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Alas, it was not to be. About a year ago I started to experience some neuropathy in my neck. This injury was caused by the repeated motion of looking down at my palette, looking up again, looking down at my palette, looking up again, looking down–  you get the picture. So I had to look for a solution.

Actually the solution was already in my mind BEFORE my injury. I had been thinking of making a free standing adjustable palette for a year or two. Well, now I HAD to make one. So I did. The free standing palette did two things for me to relieve my injury and allow me to heal while still working.

  1. The repetitive down-up-down-up motion of my head and neck stopped.
  2.  I could now change the location of my palette so as to prevent any other similar injuries. Some days I put the palette on my left. Other days on my right.

The materials you will need:

-1/4 inch medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panel size 12×16 (or desired size. But don’t make it too much bigger)

-4×4 inch piece of 1/2 inch hardwood plywood

-one 1/4-20 x 5/16 T-nut

-A camera tripod on which to mount your palette. My wife found an older but very serviceable tripod at a garage sale for $1. Score!

Tools I used:

-Jig saw

-hand held electric sander with 150 grit sand paper

-hammer

-wood glue

-taupe colored spray paint

-2 inch wide varnish brush

-polyurethane

-320 grit fine sand paper

Here’s how I made my palette:

1. With a jigsaw I cut a 12×16 inch panel from a larger 1/4 inch MDF sheet . I rounded the top edge to give it a more pleasing look. I also beveled the corners with a hand held electric sander.

2. From a larger piece of half inch 5-ply hardwood plywood, I cut a 4×4 inch square for the tripod mount base. I beveled the corners on one side of this with a sander. I drilled a hole in the center of this to fit a 1/4-20 x 5/18 T-nut, which is to screw into a tripod mount. The size of the T-nut is very important as it must fit the tripod mount screw exactly. I recommend testing it first (as shown in the photo).

3. On the unbeveled side of my 4×4 inch plywood square, I inserted and embedded the T-nut by pounding it in with a hammer. Make sure the top flange surface of the T-nut is flush with the surface of the plywood.

4. I then glued the 4×4 plywood piece to one side of the main palette panel with wood glue. Make sure you glue the plywood FLANGE SIDE DOWN. When glued you should only see a round hole looking at you from the plywood. I set this aside for a day with a weight to make sure the bond was secure.

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5. The rest is easy. I spray painted my palette on the top side with a taupe/gray color that I found pleasing — a nice warm neutral on which to mix my colors. I sprayed on 2 or three coats, sanding lightly with fine grit sand paper in between coats. Once the paint was dry I applied two coats of polyurethane with a varnish brush to the underside of the palette. Let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next. Once the underside of the palette was done I added 3-4 coats of polyurethane to the top side; again, sanding lightly between coats with fine grit sand paper. Note: I did not use an electric sander for the sanding on this step. I just held the sand paper in my hand and pressed the paper into the surface lightly with the pressure of my fingers.

The polyurethane is necessary for two reasons. First, MDF will blister and warp badly upon contact with moisture. The poly seals the surface. Second, it makes a nice glassy surface which I find very nice to mix my paints on. It is also impermeable to turpentine or mineral spirits, so the palette surface is easily cleaned if desired after each painting session.

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Here is a typical scene in my studio on any given day. You can see I like to clip various things to my palette: mediums, a paper towel, and an old cardboard cylinder that holds brushes, too! So, my palette is easily “customize-able” as I see fit. Maybe it ain’t pretty, but it works perfectly.

For anyone who would like a free standing palette but is ill-equipped or disinclined to make one yourself I can offer one option that I know of. Artist David Kassan has invented what he calls the Parallel Palette. If you don’t need a very large mixing area (DK’s has an 8×8 inch mixing space) the Parallel Palette may be for you.

I was also reminded just recently that a music stand may be employed for this purpose as well. You can secure a disposable or glass palette to this for an inexpensive alternative. 

Best wishes and happy painting!!

DG