Typical waterborne acrylic paints and mediums dry relatively quickly due to the evaporation of water and some other volatile components. Traditional uncovered palette systems only work well with acrylics if you are working very quickly because of this fast dry time. Our very slow-drying OPEN Acrylics are an exception, but for the purpose of this article we are only addressing palette options for use with our regular drying acrylic products in studio environments, such as our Heavy Body Acrylics. OPEN Acrylics are generally the best solution for a plein-air palette solution.
The best solutions are quick use disposable palette surfaces, such as palette paper and various types of plastic surfaces, covered palettes or pre-mixed colors stored in plastic containers with lids. Avoid using any kind of porous material such as wood, paper or cardboard, as this will only speed up the drying due to absorption of water into these surfaces, and the acrylic will adhere permanently, making clean up impossible. Below we will go into more detail about these different options and provide some suggestions and ideas for managing theses different palette systems.
Uncovered, Quick Use, Disposable Palette Surfaces: Palette paper, freezer paper, polyethylene plastic sheeting, or plastic containers can work as quick use mixing surfaces, using just enough paint for your immediate purposes at hand. Any wet paint that remains can be stored in properly labeled airtight containers or allowed to dry, then disposed of or be used as acrylic skins for collage.
To extend the working time on this and other types of palettes you can always blend in up to 15% Retarder into the paint, or you can mist or spray water or a blend of water and OPEN Thinner in a 3:1 ratio (3 parts water to 1 part OPEN Thinner). It is important to label this spray bottle as “GOLDEN OPEN Thinner with water” for safety and convenience. In testing, the OPEN Thinner and water mixture allowed for hours of working time on an open palette when sprayed every half hour. There are a variety of types of spray bottles and misters that can work, with some that provide a finer and more controlled mist.
Acrylic paints and mediums after full drying can be easily peeled off of most plastic or glass palettes and then used as collage elements:
Reusable Palettes without Covers: Glass, ceramic, enameled metal, or plastic palettes can be used. We do not recommend the use of Plexiglas or other types of acrylic sheeting, as acrylic paints and mediums can adhere permanently. Enameled butcher trays have raised sides to allow covering. All these surfaces can be used without lids for a short work time, but for any longer term use, some way of covering the palette would be necessary. Again, misting every 30 minutes or so with a water / OPEN Thinner mixture can be helpful in keeping the paints workable on the palette for hours.
Palettes with Covers:
There are many options for covered palettes, both “home made” and within the art materials marketplace. Airtight containers such as Tupperware® can work well. Generally speaking, any shallow plastic (not acrylic), ceramic or enameled container could work. The simplest solution is a tray with walls or a lip that allows for covering with plastic wrap. While low and shallow profiles with less headroom will help keep the paint wet longer, deeper containers can hold smaller individual containers. You could also place a glass or plastic palette inside a low walled plastic container with a lid. This allows you to take the palette out and clean it so you don’t have to clean out the whole container. A few pieces of strong tape adhered to the underside of the palette can be used to pull the palette up and out of the container when necessary for cleaning.
Included in this category are the “Wet Palette” systems. These are low profile, flat covered plastic containers that use a thin moistened sponge with a piece of semi-absorbent paper material on top. This system can work well, but you must watch for mold growth and clean the palette on a regular basis. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for ways to reduce microbial growth, which often includes using small amounts of household ammonia. We have found that when misted with water or a mixture of water and OPEN Thinner on a regular basis, plastic palettes with covers can work very well without any sponge inside, as long as you keep the container closed as much as possible. The less “head room” in closed palettes like this will keep the paints wetter for a longer period.
Pre-Mixed Colors Stored in Plastic Containers with Lids:
This method expands on the traditional idea of a palette. The solution here is to pre-mix a large array of colors and store them in separate containers. These plastic containers with lids can be stored on permanent shelves in the studio, or on movable carts, or both. They should all be clearly and accurately labelled with the contents for safety purposes. For ease of selection and use, a swatch of the mixture can be put on the lid so you can easily see the dry color, along with its surface sheen and level of opacity or translucency. This can be helpful, due to the wet to dry color shift with acrylics.
These mixtures can be a lot more than just color mixes too; they can be special mixtures of paint and any medium, gel or paste that you like, in any ratio you like, that suits the way you work. You could have a whole series of very translucent glazes, for instance, or tints, or very matte or glossy or highly textural mixtures. The list is endless and this method can save time and effort in the studio trying to match colors or surfaces while working.
This method can streamline your work flow in the studio as your colors and color and medium mixtures will be readily available and can include many more choices and options than you could mix up on a single small surface. Reusing empty paint or medium jars can save on plastics. Empty paint tubes and jars can be purchased at art stores. For any paints, mediums or mixtures stored in containers, it is very important to clearly label the containers with all the ingredients used for future reference and for product identification in case of accidental ingestion by pets or children.
Airtight lids, keeping the lids on when not in use, and storing the containers in a cool place out of sunlight are necessary to keep the paint mixtures from drying out. If using water in such mixtures, make sure to use distilled water in order to avoid or reduce microbial growth and adding a few drops of clear household ammonia to these mixtures can also help in this regard. Mixtures with no water added will not typically have these issues.
Choose a method that fits best with the way you work. These options can be used alone or in combination. Drying time will be highly variable due to the weather and climate where you live or the indoor environment. Air conditioning can create a much drier situation that can speed up drying. In lieu of living in or near a rain forest, using a humidifier in your studio can be very helpful in slowing the drying time. The overarching thought here is to create a system that takes into account and works within the natural parameters of waterborne acrylics, so your studio experience allows you to work as freely as possible.
OPEN Thinner: http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicalinfo_openthin