From short to joyful – preparing my palette

Used to be, whenever I’d think of an artist, busy in her studio, I’d pictured her as follows. She’d have brushes, probably several. She’d stand at an easel. She’d be wearing a beret (just kidding). And she’d have one of those white plastic palettes with all the little wells to keep her paints nice and clean.

Wait — no?

Uh-uh. Not for you.

As I learned in my second class  – no. Though it varies by brand, most oil paint starts out “short,” a nasty word (He was short with me because I came up short in painting) when what we want is for it to be “joyful.” For this, we need medium.

Painting Medium

2 parts Walnut Alkyd Medium
2 parts Gamsol (Gamsol is an Odorless Mineral Solvent — basically turpentine without the stink and braincell killers)


It should look like this:

Painting Medium
No, I’m not taking a drug test — that’s my painting medium!

All oil paint has oil in it (it’s true!) — typically linseed oil, from the seed of the Lin (actually, I have no idea what kind of oil linseed is). Gamblin paints, though, don’t have very much, making them stiff (or short) to use straight from the tube. In order to make them flow, and have the glossy, buttery, luscious consistency we’re looking for (what Jim calls “joyful”), we need to add some extra oil and solvent: our medium.

Note: You could use linseed oil instead of walnut oil in your medium — it actually dries faster than walnut oil (a lovely thing when you have to cart paintings back and forth to class) — but it will become more yellow than walnut over time. (And by time I mean — say it with me — 200 years…).

According to Jim, many artists have learned to do what I used to do — dip the brush first into medium, and then into paint (though I seem to recall instead dipping straight into — horrors! — turpentine). The problem with this method is that any yellowing you’ll see over time will be inconsistent, because some of your brushstrokes will have more oil than others. That’s a lot harder to compensate for with lighting. Instead, you’ll need to mash your medium directly into your paint, and for that, those cute little wells just ain’t going to cut it.

In class we use tempered glass as our palette, with a backing of little swatches of all of our greys to remind us what to put where. That’s awesome while I’m there, but being a little, um, short on cash I just hate wasting all of that unused paint, only to have to remix it all again the next time I sit down. Instead, I just bought this Masterson Artist Palette Seal, which will allow me to close up my box of paints until the next session. Handy dandy! You use it with palette paper, so when you’re done with a project you just scoop up the paper and trash it. Nice!

If you’re following this method, and painting without color, you’ll have five paints: Titanium White, Portland Light Grey, Portland Medium Grey, Portland Dark Grey, and Ivory (?) Black.

When you’re ready to paint, squeeze out an inch or so of each in a row from black to white, with a space in the middle of Portland Medium and Portland Dark to create a blend of the two.

Note: Normally for a project you’d use A LOT more paint then this. It’s a real bummer to run out of a mixture you’ve created and have to try to match it. I’m just cheap and didn’t want to waste it for a demo.

Dip the back of your brush into your painting medium, and drip about 4 drops onto each blob of paint (the amount of paint in my photo would probably just take a drop per pile!). Taking your palette knife, cut them in and continue to mash up each pile of paint, scraping up regularly to keep your piles small and neat (I’m not there yet with this skill.). You’ll probably find you need more medium — it should be around the consistency of shaving cream (if shaving cream feels joyful. Maybe you get more joy from… sour cream? Me, I like shaving my legs.)


You’re ready to paint!

In my next post, I’ll talk about holding the brush. Who knew this was something I could do wrong?

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