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How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette

I have finally gotten myself some watercolor tube paints and this week I am going to show you how I set up a personalized palette. We have done a lot of painting together and if you are progressing your watercolor practice, this is perfect for you. Setting up a color palette, choosing your colors, and having an understanding of color and the color wheel, will really push you forward.

Personally, I try to steer clear of a lot of the technical stuff. I like to encourage everyone to experiment and have fun. It can be very alienating to try to jump into the technical aspects but you shouldn't feel you need to learn that. You have paints and paper and can have some fun!

To watch the video click here :

There are three types of watercolor paints - the one you see me use most on the channel are pans or cakes. They come in a whole set with lots of colors in one place, they are dried watercolor paints and are a great way to jump in and get started (also excellent for beginners because you can purchase a large color selection at once and figure out which colors and pigments you like to use most!). Second, there are liquid watercolors that come in what looks like an eye dropper. I rarely use those. Last, there are tube paints. They are kind of the consistency of toothpaste and can offer a very highest quality of paint/ pigment (although that is not always the case).

The ones I tried out in the video turned out to be really horrible! I definitely would not recommend this brand.

To get started, I have my tube paints and an empty palette. I'll reserve one side for using as the lid and mixing palette. The right hand side has room for 16 different paints and those are the wells that I'll fill with paint.

We also need an understanding of how the color wheel works, if you don't feel comfortable with this, check out my video Understanding Color. You can really nerd out on the science of color and learn so much! For this project, knowing the basics of primary and secondary colors will help you gain a better insight.

The basic color wheel uses the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. In art you will often see a primary color wheel made of up magenta, yellow, and cyan. For my palette I am going to use a combination of these, called a split primary color wheel. This means my first six colors will be a warm red and a cool red (magenta), a warm and cool blue (almost violet and cerulean), and a warm and cool yellow. This expands our palette but also gives us greater mixing potential for all of the other colors we want to paint with. You will be able to mix more vibrant and true colors and create what you see in your minds eye.

After our six primary colors we still have room for ten more in the palette. I wanted to include some darks for mixing so I chose payne's gray, prussian blue, transparent brown, and lamp black. That leaves six more colors for personalization! If you follow the blog or youtube channel, you probably won't be surprised that I chose four greens! (Olive green, deep phthalo green, sap green and Hooker's green). My last two choices were a light pink (opera rose) and burnt umber which adds another natural brown to my palette.

I love mixing my own colors but I always want to have my favorites on hand as well. I could mix a green with the blues and yellows but I use so much I prefer to have these first and then make adjustments. Hopefully you'll find my reasoning helpful in choosing your own colors, but have fun creating your own palette that works for you and your art practice!

My seventeenth color is white and white can be quite controversial. Some people prefer to only lighten a color by adding extra water ONLY, this will lighten without changing the hue and make the paint more transparent. Adding white paint in addition to water will lighten it but may also change the hue giving you a more pastel look. I love what white does for my paintings, and again, I don't like a lot of rules. You should do what you like, think about the result you want to achieve and use the supplies and paints that will help you get there! After all, this is not fine art, this is art for fun!

Now it is time for the actual set up! I started by arranging the tubes in the order I wanted, going from red - yellow - green - blue - dark - brown. With a few larger sections at the end of the palette it makes the most sense to start here with my most often used color - green. I followed the same order going around the palette ending with the yellows. Squeezing from the end of the tube try to fill the entire well. You can use a knife or more paint to make sure you get the paint right to the corners and edges so you don't have chipping or separating later on.

I could tell at this point that the paint was too liquid-y and of a much cheaper quality than what I had paid for. However, the process of creating your own palette is still a great practice. I would encourage you to do the same - follow your own rules, make the palette that is going to work best for your art practice, and don't worry about what anyone is telling you.

Now that the palette is all set up, I just walk away and leave the paints in the open air. I want these to dry for at least 24 hours. At that point I am going to create a color chart as a reference guide. It's nice to see how each color looks on paper.

And that's our color palette! Don't be afraid to try out different types of paints before you make an entire palette, I learned that the hard way. But I got to make a video and now we know not to overpay for these ones. LOL. Bottom line, keep it fun and create the personalized palette of colors that is going to work for you!

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John Maxer
John Maxer
Sep 24, 2022

Guys, can I join your discussion? Until recently, I had the same question, and I decided to look for a tool that would be useful for restoring the balance between rest and work. I finally found this service cbd store where I order a product that helps me feel relaxed and gain strength for further work. I think you can try to use these useful products.


Aug 07, 2021

Really enjoyed the portion about the palette setup and color selection, but was alarmed to see that the paint you said this about above:

"The ones I tried out in the video turned out to be really horrible! I definitely would not recommend this brand."

was artist grade Sennelier. Sennelier paints don't match my personal art style, nor yours it seems, but they are a very well-regarded paint from a company who's been making watercolors since the 1890s. Sennelier is excellent for folks who like working in layers, but less appropriate for single layer payload. It's a shame to see such an un-nuanced and negative opinion expressed here for your watchers and readers.


Thanks for the information. I just started using a palette, and in order to "save paint" I only put a dab on at a time. It always dried up and chipped off if I didn't use it all during that painting session. So, today I washed it all clean and am just about to fill the wells with my colors.😀


I love how you've detailed each step. Makes it so much easier to follow and understand colors. Where did you get your blank palette? I can't seem to find it listed anywhere.

Replying to

I just purchased that palette through Amazon. It's called the Shappy Watercolor Palette.😊

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