I borrowed this phrase from the recently deceased Canadian painter Robert Genn who believed that there is only so much we can learn about how to paint from the many fine instructors and resources available today. The true learning comes from going off on our own and just doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I continue to work on my own development ( Going to MY room!) . I share, through this blog and workshops, what I have learned and what others have shared with me.

I created this blog primarily for those attending my workshops to keep in touch and to further share as we grow together. If others are interested in following that would be great.

Enjoy the journey.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Don't throw out that paint!

With Soltek clipped on 

I had a visitor to the studio today. I showed her my set up and we got to discussing a number of practical things. One of the things she asked was how much paint did I waste. The answer  was   - nearly none. The methods I use were new to her so I thought I might share them.

I often refer to the fact that I have had the good fortune to study with many fine artists. And that if there is something they had recommended in common that it would be foolish not to think it worth paying attention to. One such thing was - putting out lots of paint. In my first few years I often scrimped on paint and, as my instructors said would happen, in the midst of a painting I often made do with what was there instead of stopping to reload. The results spoke for themselves. Now, whether oils or acrylics I put out lots of paint and have developed strategies that work for me to avoid wasting what I don't use.

My new Coulter Art Box 

Guerilla box and palette with oils 
For oils it is simple: I separate my holding palette from my mixing palette. I use a smaller plastic palette onto which I squeeze my paints. That palette sits alongside my mixing palette (normally glass) and I simply take from my holding palette as needed. Using oils I have tried to premix most of my colours, particularly plein air, so it works well taking with the palette knife  and placing onto the mixing surface. At the end of the day, I cover the holding palette and place it in the freezer until needed. Works well and paints stay usable for a considerable time.  The two most common holding palettes I use are the 5x7 and 8x11 palettes from Guerilla Painter and the 8x7 " palette from Masterson Art Products.  Both have lids

9x12 Guerrilla Backpacker™ Covered Palette Tray
Easy L with palette attached with velcro
For mixed paint on my mixing palette I scrape off at the end of the day and place that MUD onto my holding palette and use as required the next day - often adding another colour to change the direction of the hue and value as required. Rarely is anything wasted.

When using acrylics I also have a  holding palette and a mixing palette whether plein air or studio. For plein air I use the same Masterson Sta-Wet palette as above but add the sponge and paper to keep the paints moist. I generally squeeze my tube colours onto that palette (mostly opaques). My transparents are generally liquids and I squeeze them onto the mixing palette as needed.

Using the Alla Prima System with acrylics
For studio acrylics its the same thing just on a larger scale. I hold my tube paints in a Sta-Wet 12x16 and mix on a large glass surface.  

So with acrylics, the paints stay active in the Sta-Wet for many days to weeks and I use most of what I put out. When I need to change the Sta-Wet and there is paint left over I have two uses: I either use it to apply (adding either mat or gloss medium)  to the surface of a group of pre-made panels creating an under-painting for future use or I store it.  I normally have up to 20 or more small jars with acrylic paint in pre-mixed grays that I commonly use - sky mixes, typical warm grass colours etc etc. I paint the top of the jar with whats inside and then know the colour and final value I will get and have a value reference point from which to work back from often modifying the temperature while holding the value as required. So the old paint is placed into these containers. White added as required to adjust value and staining colours added to change the hue, complements added to modify the saturation etc etc - the paint lasts pretty much indefinetly as with normal jared acrylics if managed correctly.

My studio palette setup  for acrylics

I'm sure there are as many solutions to saving paint as there are artists. This is what works for me.

Oh, and I don't want to hear anything about the number of plein air systems I have - get enough of that at home !


  1. I use a very similar system: a round porcelain plate and store it in a round thin container I found at a thrift shop for fifty cents. I also have the two Masterson sealed palettes and I can't recommend them highly enough. I've had acrylics stay workable for a month. The 8 x 7 would hold any number of surfaces with oil paints for freezing. Thanks so much for your blog! I just discovered it, but I can see I'll be back over and over!

  2. Thank you for all your helpful information on palettes. I've been painting on pieces of wax paper that I throw away and I think by now its time I start using appropriate products. I use both acrylic and oil, too. I noticed your large computer screen and wonder what size was it and do you have it clamped to an easel? Pretty impressive.

    1. Hi. I started working with a small computer monitor, then got a larger one - they were fine. But now that the flat TVs are down in price and weight I decided to go bigger and try that. Works well. I use a 40" Sony that is suspended from the wall next to my easel using one of the new TV wall mounts. Can move closer or further and can change the angle. Cheers.


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