Earlier this morning my husband and I enjoyed our first fire in the downstairs fireplace. It was warm and cozy, and I’m looking forward to spending many fall mornings and winter evenings curled up close to the hearth. There is another fireplace upstairs, but having a wood-burning fireplace close to the studio is very nice.
Before he went upstairs, he took time to stroll through the studio, and I was a caught off-guard a bit when he stopped, nodded, and remarked, “That looks nice.”
What was he talking about? I’m presently in-between art projects. Nothing was on display on my easel.
Curious, I turned and saw him pointing to this:
No, it isn’t some abstract painting. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this is my very messy palette — which I have yet to clean after my last painting session. How do I paint with such a messy palette, you may be wondering? And the answer is, “Not very well.”
From the time I first began oil painting — November 2016 — I’ve struggled with “palette management”. For a time I fussed and fretted about what colors I needed or didn’t need, how much paint to put on the palette, what to use for a palette, and what to do with left-over paints.
Over the years I’ve resolved a few of those problems, but some of them still remain. Happily I have a good idea of what pigments I enjoy working with, and at one point I had a lovely wooden palette with spaces marked for each different pigment. It was nice. It was neat. It didn’t last very long.
Gradually I moved away from my wood palette — which was more difficult to clean than I liked — and began using glass. I love it! Although you can’t tell from the picture above, I do clean it from time to time, and it is very easy to clean. I scrape paint off with a putty knife, and then carefully put the entire palette into my big art-room sink. It fits! From there, it’s easy to wash off all remaining traces of paint.
I have a bad habit of skimping on paint. Unlike most artists I see on video tutorials, I don’t keep a palette with every hue laid out. Maybe I should. Instead, I wait until I know what color I want to use, and then I squeeze out a glob of it onto the glass. Obviously I do a lot of mixing on the palette. I should point out, by the way, that I have it placed on top of a white container. Some of the white you see in the photo is paint; some of it is the top of the container showing through the glass.
Lately I’ve been working on using more paint. Sometimes in the past, I’ve barely picked up enough to cover the canvas, so maybe I’m over-correcting and maybe I’m wasting paint that way. It all makes for an even messier-than-ever palette.
The question of what to do at the end of a painting session is still a difficult one for me. I’ve tried saving paint. It didn’t work too well. I’ve tried keep an extra “throw-away” canvas close by and just playing with whatever paint I have on the palette. Fun, but still a waste of good paint, I suppose. I’ve tried gathering it all into a little glass jar to create my own yucky-looking gray, but really, do I want to do that?
For now, I’m not worrying much about what’s left-over. When it comes time to clean my palette, I just scrape it all off, wash the glass, and I smile. I also tell myself that next time I’ll be a little neater with my paint. Next time I’ll lay out my colors. Next time I won’t make such a ridiculous mess. And then… next time comes and I make just as big a mess as ever.
This, I think, might be one disadvantage of being a self-taught artist. While I can learn a lot of useful art techniques from online instruction, those tutorials don’t usually talk about things like keeping the palette clean. I often read about the need for it, but I don’t have any art instructor standing over me, reminding me to take better care of my materials. When it comes to cleaning my palette, as you can easily see, I’m just plain lazy.
That’s exactly what it is. I’m lazy. I tend to put it off as long as possible. So, maybe later today I’ll stop making excuses, scrape all that dried-up paint away, and scrub the glass clean again. It looks so nice when it’s clean. I feel so hopeful when I pick up a clean palette.
Realistically, I’m sure I’ll make another big mess, but, oh, well. That’s part of who I am as an artist, and at least my husband finds my “palette art” interesting.