All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Should I Clean my Oil Palette?

I removed about two tubes' worth of dried paint off this palette.


I think it's a point of pride among studio painters to leave thick slabs of dried, leftover paint on the palette. If your palette covers enough acreage, why not preserve these coprolitic remains?  You have worked hard to get where you are today, and these are the trophies to prove it.

But for the plein air painter, not cleaning one's palette thoroughly can cause problems down the road.  First, the mixing area on most palettes is small.  You can run out of room fast if you don't keep things tidy.  Second, dried-up paint adds weight to your gear, and if you like to hike a distance to your painting location, you want to pack like a long-distance hiker, for whom every ounce counts.

I'll admit—I'm a terrible one for keeping a clean palette.  As the above photo shows.  It seems that my mixing area just gets smaller and smaller.  It's the Incredible Shrinking Palette.  But now and then, I'll take out the gloves and the putty knife and scrape off those fossilized piles as best I can.  It's not a pretty process.

Palettes basically come in three flavors, and each requires a different approach when cleaning up at the end of a painting session.

Wood palettes.  These can easily be scraped clean of wet paint with a razor blade.  But you don't scrape it by pushing the business end of the blade forward.  That would just cut into the wood, ruining it.  Instead, you drag the blade across the wood with just a little pressure.  This takes off most of the paint, and a little OMS on a rag will finish the cleaning.  If you forget and let the paint dry, you can apply a putty knife to work off the big hunks and then use a sander to get back down to the wood.  To help with clean up, make sure you prep a new wood palette (or a newly-sanded one) with linseed oil first.

Acrylic palettes.  You don't really want to use a razor blade on these, as you will gouge the surface and make it even harder to clean.  Instead, use a plastic squeegee tool to scrape off the wet paint.  Follow this with a rag dampened with OMS.  If you make the mistake of letting paint dry, you can take a putty knife gently to it—but that's about as far as you can go.  I really don't like acrylic palettes for this reason, but they are much lighter than the next palette.

Glass palettes.  These are the easiest to clean, wet or dry paint.  Dry paint just takes a little more effort with the razor blade.  Unlike with wood, you push the blade forward.  But the glass can be heavy, and it can break.  I love my glass palette for the studio.  But for plein air, I prefer wood.

I should mention one positive to leaving those piles of paint:  They serve as a memory jog for where to put out your different colors.

Honestly, I'm not fastidious about cleaning the palette other than the mixing area.  I do try to keep the mixing area clean enough so I can properly see the color of my mixtures.  But as for the areas where I lay out fresh paint, if there's a pedestal of dried paint, I just put fresh on top of it.  I don't clean these areas until I have trouble closing the lid—or need to worry about weight.

4 comments:

junkgrl said...

Good info. In the summer I plein air paint with Golden Open slow dry acrylics. Using a stay wet pallet system. With or without the sponge. Humidity makes decisions on that. The paint gets too runny with the sponge and humidity and makes carrying my palette always flat awkward. The paint runs if not flat. It’s 9x12. What works for me is I use a small make up box on Amazon with 24 color wells that snaps on very tightly. A silicon mat between the lid and case gives further seal and easier cleaning. It’s small so I just dip brush or knife in and transfer what I need to the palette. This has freed up more mixing room. I don’t mix colors ahead—just go for it. I alsoI use a 7 day pill organizer for some block in regular acrylics so that initial paint will dry faster and I can move around faster. The paint keeper (about $12.00 on Amazon) gets popped into my bag and I pull paint directly from the case. I know there are a few dedicated paint keepers for art paint but I’ll cheap. I get out much much faster doing my thing now. Going to try it for my winter painting in oils. I’ll buy one for that. I paint small so I don’t need huge piles of paint. I do keep my bag of tubes in the car and carry a tube of white and some accent colors in my kit. I enjoy your blog. And paintings.

Paint Storage Palette Box 24 Wells Airtight Stay Wet for Watercolor, Gouache, Acrylic and Oil Paint https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074W5TFD7/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glt_i_9YRQ639EK6KRMABT34TK?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Great information, junkgrl! Thanks.

Conor O'Brien said...

I enjoy ready your blog. :-) I'm a painter and the maker of Shamrock PaletteBoxes. I strongly encourage painters who buy my boxes to use the wood palette area as it was intended. The boxes are already treated and the palette needs no preparation before use. There's no need to clean a wood palette down to the bare wood...in fact, this is not desirable. When finished painting, I suggest removing most of the leftover paint, then wiping the palette in a swirling motion with a cloth dipped in a little bit of linseed oil, mixing all the colors together and leaving a thin coating of paint and oil on the palette. After some time...not long if they paint a lot...the palette will attain a beautiful, slick, neutral gray patina. With age, the palette will just get better and better.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks for the input, Conor! I'd love to try one of your boxes.