Sunday, May 22, 2011

Whitaker Day One: The Perfect Palette

If you want a great palette, just go down to a local craft store and buy some birch plywood. It's light and thin (only about 1/8-inch thick). Be sure to get the one that is the least warped and has the best grain. Before you actually cut the wood, however, be sure to make a mock up in cardboard.

The trick is to put the thumb hole on the opposite side of the palette in order to make it balance on your arm without having to hold it (commercial palettes put the thumb hole on the near end of the surface so your thumb is under constant strain to hold it up).

Make sure that it matches the length of your arm and sits comfortably on your forearm. And lastly, make sure the thumb hole is big enough to go around the base joint so that the pressure is on your entire index finger and hand instead of just your thumb knuckle.

When it's all worked out in cardboard, and you're ready to cut the real thing, simply use a dremel tool or 1/2-round file for the edges. Taper the thumb hole to match the angles of your hand.

Stain with a simple mixture of whatever oil paint you want (Whitaker uses burnt and raw sienna mixed at about 50/50). Then do a lot of sanding to get it perfect.

To finish it off, buy a can of spray shellac because it's only soluble in alcohol rather than artists' oil paint solvents. Over time, the palette will still build up and become rather grey; but that just makes it even better.

So take it for what you will, but this is coming from a guy who has been through a lot of palettes (you'll notice many of them had hole placements that caused thumb strain over the years):

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