Saturday, January 10, 2015

Parallel Palette on Kickstarter

Painting in oil from observation is a lot easier if the painting surface is next to the line of sight, and roughly the same visual size.

It makes life easier still if the palette is nearby to the painting surface and if it's more or less parallel to it. The near position reduces the amount of wasted effort between mixing a stroke and applying it, and the parallelism ensures that a mixture of color on the palette matches a corresponding stroke on the painting.

I prefer to have the palette on a hinged surface directly below the painting. I often tilt the palette up a few degrees so that it's perpendicular to my line of sight, and also to reduce the tendency of some paint to run or drip. The Open Box M pochade easel that I'm using allows for that configuration.

I use white freezer paper (polyethylene coating) for my mixing surface, which makes for easy cleanup, and the white color allows for more accurate judgment in transparent mixtures..

Over the years, portrait painter David Kassan has been developing what he calls a "Parallel Palette" which sets up next to his easel on its own tripod. He has been refining the design and, together with a partner, has just launched a version on Kickstarter.

Here's Max Ginsburg using a prototype. The palette attaches to its own separate support, not necessarily to the easel directly. For most people this would require carrying a second tripod on location. 

I have not seen or tried out the product, but here's my take on it based on the Kickstarter pitch. The gray plastic box has a rather small (6 x 7.25 inches or 15.25 x 18.5 cm) mixing zone in the center. Following the rule of thumb that the mixing surface should be no smaller than 25% of the area of the painting, I would not recommend this palette for any painting larger than 12 x 16 inches. 

The mixing surface is made from clear plastic. It can be removed for cleaning—as long as you clean it before the paint dries. Because of oil paint's powerful adhesion to plastic I would suspect that it's a lot harder to clean than glass would be because the plastic can't be scraped with a razor blade. 

On the upper area and sides are gray areas for the paint from the tube. There are shallow ledges that are supposed to reduce the dripping paint. But some paint is very oily and will inevitably drip on any steep slope. Even with those ridges, I would be concerned that some paint or oil will get into those slots that are needed to hold on the mixing surface. So it would be wise first to squeeze out any oily paint onto a separate absorbent surface to extract the excess oil before loading the palette. 

If piles of paint are allowed to dry in the spaces between those ledges, I don't know how you'd clean that out; on a glass palette, you could just scrape it off with a razor blade scraper.

In the bottom section are four elastic bands designed to strap in cups or jars for medium and solvent; I don't know if those cups are included. If you don't use that space for medium, you can use the narrow shelf to hold an extra paint brush or two. Keep in mind that a normal oil brush will stick out two inches on either side of the palette. To hold more brushes, most painters use a more substantial brush tray or folding brush holder. What I do is drill graduated holes in a horizontal panel to manage unused brushes. 

A clear plastic lid fits over the whole thing, so that you can safely carry the wet paint around or pop it in the freezer overnight.

The eventual retail price for the Parallel Palette will be $139.00. By comparison, a John Pike watercolor palette (with cover) sells on Amazon for less than $30, and could easily be adapted with a scrap of wood and a T-nut bracket for the same use.

Again, I haven't tried one out — so this isn't a review, just some comments based on what I've seen in the marketing materials.


Nanci France-Vaz said...

Hi James,

Thanks for the comments as I have been watching to see the specs from other artists that have used it. I am concerned about the drip myself as I tried this with canvas and wood and the paint did drip.

My concern is the mixing area and I use a glass palette like you,, so I can scrape off the paint easily. I was looking for convenient on location. I think David has a great idea, just not sure about the specs.

So, thank you again for the post:) Very your work and your blog:)))

Ben Sones said...

I like to work with loose paint, so a vertical palette wouldn't work at all for me, but I do think the idea of getting your palette right next to the work (and in the same lighting) is a really good idea. I use a setup similar to James', with the palette mounted to the bottom tray of my studio easel. I have it rigged to sit at a slight angle; otherwise it catches too much glare from my easel lights.

I used to stick with a glass palette, but one thing I've been experimenting with lately is a rectangular wooden palette, painted a mid-value neutral gray, with a heavy sheet of acetate clipped to the top. This creates a mixing surface that is very similar to glass--it's very hard, doesn't stain, and can be wiped completely clean--but with a few advantages. For one, the paint piles don't cast shadows like they do on glass. Secondly, you don't have to clean it--just treat it like a paper palette, and clip on a fresh sheet of acetate each day. This lets you save your previous days' paint mixtures, which can be a handy reference.

It also doesn't sharpen your palette knife the way that a glass palette does. I've learned that lesson the hard way! Those things get wicked sharp after you've used them a while.

Janice said...

I'll echo Nanci's comments. Your 'non-review' is spot on, logical and insightful. Perhaps it would be helpful for David to take some of what you've said into account in his upcoming design and look at some improvements. I realize nothing can be 'perfect' but it would be helpful if we continue to develop and innovate in the name of our craft. Happy art making, and thank you so much for all that you share every day. Highlight of my Inbox.

Christoffer Gertz Bech said...

I took a class with David Kassan some years ago. We were instructed to make our own vertical, parallel palettes out of wood, with a glass mixing surface. They worked well enough, although they needed an easel of their own, which made the studio space even more cramped than it already was. Paint running wasn't really an issue - in some cases, some surplus oil would run a bit, but not enough to cause any trouble. No stains on the floor beneath, at least.

I too would be a bit sceptical about cleaning the plastic surface. In general, I prefer an all wood palette - light, unbreakable, and if there is some piles of old paint, it can stand any rough method of cleaning. said...

Steven Assael uses a much simpler vertical palette. Just a board clipped to the painting or easel. Very economical. There are some pictures at this blog post:

Johanann said...

This palette has been improved a lot now with the design the palette is now glass and has increased a lot I think there are suggestions floating around for their to be larger iterations but I definitely think it is extremely innovative but obvious at the same time conceptually, many artists I have seen like alan coulson just stick the palette on a wall or on the painting itself with either hooks or using painters tape