From Paint Palettes to Water Basins (Best Ones to Buy and What You Can Use Instead)
When I first started painting I figured I needed all the tools for acrylic painting to paint well. “This paint palette will help me organize my paint.” Or “this brush will help me make better marks.” The truth is, tools don’t make the artist. Making art makes the artist.
However, there are a few things, other than paint, brushes and canvas, that you may eventually want to purchase to make your art life a little easier. Here are a few good tools to buy for acrylic painting and some you can make yourself.
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Palettes for Acrylic Painting
You can use just about anything to hold and mix your paint while painting. Paper or Styrofoam plates, empty plastic containers, old ceramic dishes or anything that won’t allow the paint to bleed through and give you enough room to mix colors.
When you are ready to purchase some type of palette, there are several to choose from.
These are fairly inexpensive, lightweight and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They usually contain wells or partitions to separate your paint and an area for mixing.
Most are easy to clean, however the cheaper dollar store ones tend to stain.
Palette paper is a pad of paper with a glossy texture on one side. They are meant for one time use and while not expensive, the cost can add up over time. T
hey are also not great for the environment but they have their uses so I always keep a pad on hand in my studio.
Palette paper is handy for example, when you run out of mixing room on your palette.
Plexiglass palettes are clear acrylic plastic that come in various shapes and sizes. They work fine for acrylics and are lighter than glass but can be difficult to clean once paint has dried on them.
Glass palettes are made from tempered glass so they will not shatter into a million pieces if dropped. They are an excellent palette to work from and are easy to clean. Dried paint scrapes off easily with a blade or paint scraper and they can be washed with soap and water.
Glass palettes are heavy so they are usually laid on a table or workbench. These palettes can be pricey but are wonderful to work with.
The traditional wood palette is not very common anymore. They were used for centuries because of their durability and were easy to hold. They are still used by oil painters, but they are not a recommended tool for acrylic painters.
It is almost impossible to clean acrylic paint off wood and the wood would absorb the moisture from the paint.
If you wanted to use a wooden palette, you need to coat it with several coats of sealer to protect the wood and make cleanup a little easier.
Wet palettes are probably one of the best tools for acrylic painting. They consist of a container with a lid, a sponge and a sheet of palette paper.
You soak the sponge in water, wring it out so it is not sopping wet, and then place it in the container. The palette paper usually needs to be soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes and then placed on top of the sponge.
You can add your paint on top of the paper and mix your colors. When you are done painting for the day, place the airtight lid on the container and your paint and mixes will be ready for your next session.
Wet palettes are ideal for acrylics since they keep the acrylics moist and workable for up to a week. I use the Masterson Sta Wet Palette since I can only paint for short blocks of time.
This palette will keep my paint from drying, saving me money and the frustration of wasted paint.
Make your own wet palette
To make your own wet palette all you need is a shallow container with a tight-fitting lid, a sponge cloth or a few layers of paper towel and some palette paper or parchment paper.
Cut the sponge or paper towel to fit your container. Cut the palette paper or parchment paper to the same dimensions. Wet the sponge and put it in the container.
If using paper towel, I find it easier to put the dry paper towel into the container and then add water. You can squeeze out some of the water by pressing with your fingers and pouring the excess off. This keeps you from struggling with crumbled paper towels.
Soak your parchment paper in hot water for about 10 minutes and place it in the container. Now you have your own economical wet palette.
Any glass jar makes a good brush basin. Ideally you should have two…one for cleaning your brushes and one with clean water for diluting paint.
There are also many types of plastic brush basins on the market. They range from cheap to “Are You Serious!”.
Brush basins come in different shapes and types of plastic. Some have a divided interior so you can separate clean and dirty water.
Some basins have holes to stand your brushes up in and lids to keep the interior dust free.
I use a cheap round brush basin because I tend to knock over glass jars. The round basin is more stable and has groves at the bottom for cleaning paint off the brushes.
Easels are one of the most helpful tools for acrylic painting. You can paint flat on a table, but it is tiring on your neck and shoulders. Using an easel is better for your posture and gives you a better perspective on your painting and better light.
Free Standing Easels
If you have the room, you can purchase a free standing easel that can easily accommodate large canvases. These range from 3 legged, foldable A frame easels to more sturdy and expensive types with a square base.
You can stand at this easel or use a stool to sit in front of it. (I use a comfy adjustable bar stool so I can move it up or down to the level I am painting on the canvas).
Table Top Easel
A table top easel is perfect for almost any area. It can sit on most tables or benches and doesn’t take up a lot of space.
They come in various styles and price ranges and are portable for the most part. The downside to these is that they can usually only accommodate canvases up to 32 inches (approx. 80 cm).
If you like to work on really large canvases, a free standing easel would be a better choice.
Plein Air Easel
There are also easels specifically designed for painting outdoors and are referred to as Plein Air easels. En plein air is a French term meaning in the open air.
Some types are wooden or aluminum and have a shape similar to a tripod. They are very portable and fold for easy transport.
There are other types that are usually wooden and contain a drawer or box underneath for storage and sometimes a small table on the side for mixing paint. They usually fold up into a box for easy carrying.
If you would like to learn more about plein air painting, the Artist Network has a great article about the history of plein air and some tips to get started painting out doors.
Low tack painter’s tape is a good thing to have on hand. You can use it to tape painting paper to a board to keep it from warping.
Low tack tape can also hold your tracing paper if you are using this to transfer your reference photo and you can also use it to tape your reference photo to your easel or wall.
You can also use tape to mark off areas of your painting. Be careful when taping previously painted areas as tape can lift the paint if it is not completely dry.
If you cannot find low tack tape, use regular masking tape that you have stuck to your clothing a few times to lessen the stickiness.
A spray bottle is necessary to keep your paints from drying out on the palette and wetting your canvas when necessary to help with blending.
A regular spray bottle produces water droplets that are too large for spraying your canvas and can leave blotches. You need a fine mist for this purpose.
I use an empty body spray bottle that has been thoroughly cleaned. It has a much finer spray so I just get a light misting on my canvas.
If you are going to use this type of bottle, make sure to give it a good cleaning since the alcohol in the body spray doesn’t play nice with acrylic paint.
If you paint in a corner of your living room or dining room storing art supplies can be a problem. Where do you put all of your supplies when you need to use the area for its intended purpose?
If you have room and the budget, you can purchase a wooden cabinet with doors and shelving for storing your supplies.
Purchase one that blends with the rest of the furniture in the room. When you are finished painting, you can store your supplies in the cabinet out of sight.
A cheaper alternative would be to use a storage cart on wheels that can be pushed into a closet or another room when necessary. There are several designs available so you can choose which one works for you.
Why not browse some yard sales to find a cabinet, you can refinish and make that a piece of art in itself. I have an old filing cabinet I refinished and use in my studio to store drawing paper, canvas boards and sketchbooks. It looks great and was free.
There will always be things you want to buy for your art practice like an airbrush or a good camera, but the above items are a good place to start. Everything else will come in time.
I hope these ideas were helpful to you and if you have any other suggestions or questions, please leave a comment.
Thanks for reading.
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