How To Set Up A Fabulous Watercolor Palette



I first learned how to set up a watercolor palette in college.

One of my first classes in design school was field sketching. Can you imagine – total bliss!

I had no idea that there were “proper” ways to put together a watercolor palette but the way I learned all those years ago has served me well so I thought I’d take a few moments and create a blog post about how I do it along with the colors I use, some of my favorite colors, and a little bit about why I still use this approach.

The first most important “thing” is the palette itself. I use one similar to this one you can get for under $20 at most Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or Jo-Anne’s stores. I’m also including this link to Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff where they occasionally have deals on shipping and if you can wait for your goodies to arrive – will save you some dough.

Key features and reasons I like this type of palette

  1. Deep and clearly defined wells. (more on this below in set up)
  2. Lots of mixing space.
  3. More than enough wells for all the wonderful colors now available.
  4. Easy to clean
  5. Lid for storage and travel.
  6. This one comes with a bonus travel palette although I travel with a different type of palette and supply kit. That will have to be discussed on another post!
  7. Tall sides for labeling your wells with the color you are assigning to that space.


THE biggest lesson to take away from this is to have the basic colors for your palette and get them arranged ROYGBIV with a twist.

Browns –

Pinks –

Reds –

Oranges –

Yellows –

Greens –

Blues –

Purples –

The snotty old school watercolor rules say:


  • NO white (I hold to this “rule”) because white is opaque and if you want to use opaque colors, use gauche or acrylic. Watercolors have a luminescence to them that shows through to the white of the paper. Of course if you want and like using white watercolor – please use it. Art shouldn’t be about anyone’s rules but your own.
  • NO black (when I add or use black I use an ink or liquid acrylic as a punch at the end of a piece) while I’m creating a watercolor I use Payne’s Gray or Indigo to get a very deep gray/blue.
  • Pure colors only and mix to create what you need. Can I double down on the UUGH on that one? Throw out any book that tells you this! There is this glorious thing called modern science. For the world of art making it has moved mountains.

No Snotty Critics ALLOWED!


What I say(lol):

  • There should be no rules in art making! Technique sure, rules – good golly miss molly – NO.
  • I’m showing you the colors I use. I would use even more if I had oodles of money to buy every color in the world! Seriously.
  • I gravitate to bright jewel tones you might gravitate to earth tones. This is about finding the colors that move you. YOU.
  • Get messy! Always. Make. A. Mess. – Somehow paint flung about has energy to it. This will be difficult for some at first but keep pushing yourself to do something that you are unsure of. What is the worst that could happen. Honestly? It is paint and a piece of paper. Go for it at all costs.
  • If you aren’t feeling wonderful while you are creating – you are doing something wrong. Yup, I said it. So if that happens. Stop. Now go put on some Pink or Journey or Lil Wayne – whatever works to get your heart racing and your energy up. Then try again.

A few more important things you could do – if you wish.

  1. Squeeze the entire tube into the wells. I tend to squeeze by the third of a tube but only for the reason that I travel with tubes and use whatever is at hand as a palette when I’m not in my studio. That sounds weird doesn’t it? But, watercolor wakes up with a dash of water like the round little ones we learned on from Crayola. I use a big 1″ flat watercolor brush to drop water into my wells of every color when I paint.
  2. If you try this approach – “wake up” every color with a few drops of water when you start painting. This way the colors are ready when you need them.
  3. I use a sharpie on the side of the palette to write the name of the color that I’ve put in that well. That way I never forget what is in there when I go to restock.
  4. You will see from my drawing that there are a lot fewer colors than wells that look full. NOT to worry – choose some you are drawn to. Some you will like some you will not but it is great to try new colors and new manufacturers.
  5. Space out your colors similar to what you see in mine. You can see the color wheel – I leave spaces so that if I want to try a new orange for example – there is a space in the orange section to put that color.

This was so much fun! I want to thank Sabrina for asking me about watercolors. I have a new download I’ve created. I’ll post it over the weekend – it is sorta an adult version of a coloring page but for watercolor! You will be able to print it out and experiment with watercolors and have something pretty when you are done.

Until – well… Monday!








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4 comments for “How To Set Up A Fabulous Watercolor Palette

  1. Sandy
    September 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I’m reasonably sure that I could set up a palette correctly, but I don’t think I could ever create the cool art that you are so capable of, Jenna!!

    • September 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Ah… that is so kind of you but – the fun is in the making not in the result! xO Throw caution to the wind and fling some paint!

  2. March 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    “Its paint and a piece of paper”….. thats all I had to hear right now… thank you thank you thank you

    • August 6, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Hey Paula,

      Sorry I’ve been away from my blog for way too long! I’m glad you found my website and you’ve been painting up a storm!


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