Watercolor and Gouache are cohabitating in my palette!

Lexington Gray ink in a Lamy Safari fountain pen
Watercolor and Gouache
Stillman & Birn Epsilon 8.5x11" hardbound sketchbook

I finally found a way to set up my palette to fit watercolor and gouache together. I test drove it the other day and it worked fabulously well. A number of people have been asking me about this palette and how I did the reconfiguration, so here goes.....

I bought this palette online from Wet Paint Art Supply  in Minnesota. Apparently they are only made by special order, so Wet Paint ordered a bunch. Their customers liked them so much that they sold out almost immediately and ordered a lot more! The palette only comes with 12 colors (in two rows of six), with room for a third row of your own half pans and colors, for a total of 18. So, how did I transform this into something that will hold 32 half pans and one whole pan?

There is a metal plate with holders for the pans. It weighs a ton. I took that out. I fiddled with half pans in the empty space to see how many I could fit, and what the best configuration would be. I discovered that four rows of seven colors each would fit with the pans placed vertically,  but that I could squeeze in a fifth row if I had the pans run horizontally. In that last row, because of the curves on the corners of the palette, only five would fit. But I could fit a whole pan vertically in place of one of the half pans --- there was enough space to accommodate that. I am always needing extra white gouache when I'm painting with gouache, so I decided I'd keep my white in that one.

I took out a roll of adhesive magnetic strip. It comes rolled up like a roll of tape. I bought mine a long time ago and I don't remember what brand it was, but it looks something like this. I bought it in a craft store. I cut five strips that fit across the width of the palette. Since they were curled from being in the roll, I heated them with a hair dryer, which softened them a bit, and pressed them under a few very heavy coffee table books overnight. The next day, they were flat. With the adhesive side up (bare magnetic side down), I placed them in the palette, approximating where they would go.

I'd already decided which colors would go where the night before. I filled the pans that weren't already loaded, and wrote the names of the colors on each pan with a black fine point Sharpie. Starting with the top row, I peeled the paper strip off the magnet, revealing the adhesive, and stuck each pan down onto the adhesive strip, working across the row. I put in three rows of watercolor pigments (21 colors), then the 12 pans of gouache.

One thing about working watercolor and gouache together is that the opacity of the gouache, plus the chalkiness of white paint, can get into your transparent watercolor and destroy all that beautiful luminosity. This is why I always kept them in separate palettes. Since this metal palette has two sides, it keeps them separated easily. I'm used to having just two mixing areas for watercolor --- one for warm colors and one for cool. So the two sides of the top mixing area provide the wells I need. However, for gouache I need more areas, since I have to be able to mix value as well as color. All those little wells in the lower area are perfect for my gouache!

I was also able to eliminate the opaque watercolors from my palette. Usually I have cadmium red, a couple of cadmium yellows, cadmium orange, chromium oxide green, and a couple of other opaque watercolors in my watercolor palette. Now I can just substitute gouache when I need those, and keep all my watercolors transparent. That gives me an even larger color range than I had before.

I made the chart above so that I could keep track of what colors were in which pans, until I get to know my own system better. I also knew that initially, I'd be making some changes; that's why I numbered the pans on my sketch, instead of writing in color names. When I change a color, I can just change the name on the numbered list of pigments. I've already swapped out a few and shifted some around.

I've been looking for a way to do this for several years, but never found quite the right thing. This works for me at last!


  1. Anonymous2:42 PM

    far more practical than my home made one! I use a tin box that held chocolates and then create spaces with clear caulking stuff.I 'm used of using now so I'll probably stay with it, its been going for 27 years.
    I also use Ivory to clean my brushes, it works so well I still have some brshes that are 30 years old.!Thankyou for sharing your tips and ideas, I love the palette.

  2. Great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Found this post, do you have to do anything special to take care of your watercolor brushes? I love gouache but also love some of my watercolors (ex. Quin. b. sienna) but didn't want to mess up my brushes or watercolors. thanks for the great tip!

  4. Cathy, I prefer slightly stiffer brushes for gouache than I use for watercolor, so I carry a few taklons or other synthetics along with me to use when I switch over to gouache. If I do use my sables with gouache, I try to be gentle!