Friday, May 20, 2016

Keeping Gouache Wet on the Palette

Following on the discussion yesterday, blog reader Glenn Tait shared a do-it-yourself option for keeping gouache wet longer on the palette.

He says: "I have tested different 'Sta-Wet' palette options with gouache and found the following to be very effective.

Glenn Tait's DIY 'stay-wet' palette tests
"Take a piece of soaked micro fiber sponge and tightly wrap it with baking parchment paper. I placed mine in a medium sized watercolour tin box so I could take it on location.

"It works really well, especially with the tube squeezed colours. The mixed colours don't last as long due to their being thinned out more. Even after a couple of hours working outside on a windy day the colours were still fresh.

"I did a test to see how long they would last inside. I was surprised that they were still fresh after about 10 hours and usable up to 13. My test chart is included below along with some photos of the sponge.

"The sponge is the type used to put under dish racks to absorb excess water - I picked this one up at a Dollar store. The sponges come in different colours, this one was a medium gray which worked nicely as a palette surface colour, as opposed to the typical yellow cellulose sponges from regular Sta-Wet palettes.

"Another advantage is that when the micro fiber dries it doesn't twist out of shape or go hard like the cellulose tends to do."

Thanks, Glenn!
Links to materials
Quilted micro-fiber dish cloth
Waffle weave dish cloths (gray)
Baking parchment paper
Watercolour tin box


Matt Dicke said...

Thank you very helpful. Will definitely give it a try.

Unknown said...

This is my economical, very reliable wet palette method that I have used for years and years. It also works with acrylic paint. It uses a plastic container, with tight lid (Tupperware or Rubbermaid). Line bottom of container with a sponge-sized pad made of Viva paper towels, cut to size of container bottom. Top this pad with a sheet of deli paper cut to size of Viva pad. Deli paper is available at Amazon. A box of deli paper will last for years and is my go-to supply for many art uses. This is a whole 'nother story. Moisten Viva pad as you would a sponge, but don't wring it out. Experiment with amount of moisture needed. Top with deli paper. The needed amount of moisture will speep upward to deli paper without puddling. Top with tube paint. Deli paper is very strong and can be mixed upon. Seal with lid to store. It will keep for quite a long time.

jeff jordan said...

I use a Zoltan Szabo/Jack Richeson plastic palette, the smaller one with alternating larger and smaller rows of wells and a close fitting lid. I make sure paint is damp at the end of the day, and the lid does seem pretty airtight, because the paint is still just fine the next morning.

Lys said...

The picture is very helpful. I was just wondering what type of micro fiber sponge it could be.

Thank you a lot to both James and Glenn.

Unknown said...


The sponge I used is 3/8” thick with sponge on the inside and covered with cloth on both sides of the mat. My mat size was about 16”x20”.

The important thing is to get a piece that has a flat surface so that the parchment paper receives equal distribution of water. In earlier versions I used a piece of sponge that was stitched in long ribs every inch or so which made small valleys. This resulted in areas where the paper didn’t receive water equally which created dry spots on the palette surface.

These mats have other uses in the “wild”. I have a piece clipped to my pochade board to remove excess water from my brushes with ease (read "don't have to pick up a cloth all the time). I use another piece for quickly cleaning colour off my water-brushes when sketching.

There is an Amazon link below to the mats below but they do seem pricey, check your Dollar stores first. If you are in Canada go to Dollarama, which is where I got mine.

Charley parker said...

Presumably, Glenn has found the commercial solutions less than satisfactory, but I find they work OK for me.

I use a Masterson Sta-Wet palette for plein air, 8x7" fits nicely in my pochade box, $11 USD:

I use a 9x12" in the studio $14 USD:

If the sponge shows a bit of mold, spray it with some ammonia water.

Gayle said...

I'm an acrylic painter. The Masterson Stay-Wet tray is great for studio work (I keep in in the fridge in between sessions) but doesn't work well for me outdoors. After years of trial and error to find the deal outdoor palette, my solution is as follows: meat tray liners. Very inexpensive (3,000 pads for about $20) from grocery store supplier. I spread a layer of them in shallow tupperware-type container, pour a bit of water, just enough so that the liners absorb all of it. The side with the minuscule holes should be placed side up. The water evaporates slowly, keeping paint and mixture workable. Spray a fine mist now and then, and the pads will absorb extra water and then release it by evaporation. Pads usually come in sets of three's, but can be easily separated to fit the contours of the container. Another advantage: if you need a fresh spot for color mixing or the surface get covered with too many mixtures, just lift up one or more pads, throw in plastic bags and re-saturate some new ones. They are very thin, so provide a smooth surface for color mixing or for using a palette knife. Since these are used to preserve fresh meat, they are treated for bacteria prevention

Glenn Tait said...

I think it is great that there are so many options and different alternatives out there - Gayle, meat tray liners are not something I would have considered.

I actually use three sizes of the Masterson Sta-Wet Palettes but with Golden Open Acrylics so I don't need the sponges or paper. These boxes are great, they keep my paints fresh for weeks. It is the sponges that I have had issue with (yellow tint on palette paper, cellulose twisting when dry, etc.) My first attempt at this gouache palette used cut down Masterson paper and sponges but found that the microfiber sponges had better retention of water than the cellulose ones and were easier to work with wet or dry.

Charley parker said...

Nice. I will try the microfiber sponges in my Mastersons'. I agree that the sponge can be a weak point. Thanks!

Lys said...

Glenn, I'm from Italy. We don't use dish drying mat, but I'll manage to find something similar.
Thank you again.

Glenn Tait said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Tait said...

Lys, I found one that looks very similar to mine on
EBay Italy

Alexander said...


Interesting read! I tried making a stay wet palette by soaking some paper towels with water and covering them with what I suppose is regular baking paper (I lost the box sadly). Does the baking paper need to (visually) let moisture through? I don't see mine letting any moisture through, it just feels cold to the touch. My paints did seem to stay wet a bit longer in comparison to when I just leave them on a plate but I doubt I can keep them for 13hours (inside). Just wondering if this is special baking paper?


Alexander said...

Interesting read!

I have a question though: I tried making a stay wet palette by moistening some paper towels and placing what I suppose is just regular baking paper - I lost the box it came in - on top. (Visually) It didn't seem as any moisture was comming through the paper. It just felt cold to the touch. The paints did seem to stay wet a bit longer as opposed to when I just let them sit on a plate but I doubt they would've stayed workable for more than 2 hours. Should I see/feel moisture comming through the baking paper?