In the past few years, as I’ve been getting heavily into miniature modeling and painting for tabletop gaming, I have been trying to up my painting game by watching lots of painting tutorials, learning about the tools and techniques used by painting pros, and trying to set up my workshop area to maximize the time I am able to put into my hobby (time always being at a premium).
In improving my painting, three of the tools/techniques that have had the greatest impact are getting a single, high-quality sable brush (and understanding how to properly clean and use it), thinning my paints with a matte medium/water mix, and the subject of this how-to, using a wet palette.
A wet palette is just what it sounds like. It’s a wet piece of paint palette paper that sits on a sponge material in an air-tight container. A wet palette serves several purposes. The damp palette paper helps to keep your paints thin. In miniature painting, you want to be applying multiple thin coats of paint. A wet palette (and adding a matte medium mix) helps you with that. The wet palette is also good for helping you to blend colors. Commercial scale modeling and gaming acrylic paints are also extremely expensive. And you rarely use that much on a figure. This can lead to a lot of wasted paint on your palette. With a wet palette in an airtight container, you can save your thinned paints and custom-blended colors for you next session. Paints can last for days, even up to a week, in a well-sealed palette.
You can buy commercial wet palettes for around $15. An additional replacement sponge and a pack of palette paper will cost you another $15-20. But thankfully, you can make your own wet palette for about $6 (or even less). Here’s how.
Your wet palette is comprised of three basic components: The air-tight palette container, the moisture sponge, and the palette paper.
You want an air-tight plastic container. Some people like their palettes with a hinged lid. I like a lid that you can completely remove. You can also define the size of your palette by the size of your container. The original Masterson Sta-Wet commercial palette that I bought was 7-1/2″ by 9″. I rarely used half of that real estate, so I decide to save a little space on my desk and went for a smaller container that is 5″ x 7″. I got a pack of 2 Snapware storage containers for $8 on Amazon. If I had it to do over, I would make sure the corners of my container are not so rounded, so I wouldn’t have to trim the sponge and paper. To make it easier for me to create replacement sponges and palette paper in the future, I made a template the size and shape I needed and marked it as such so I wouldn’t use it by mistake.
For the water storage sponge, I got a pack of three 7″ x 8″ “sponge cloths” on Amazon for $1 each. This material is the perfect thickness and construction for this purpose. And a dollar sure beats $7.50 for the Masterson replacement sponge.
The Palette Paper
The palette paper that comes with the Masteron Sta-Wet Palette is a thick paper that is designed for holding lots of acrylic paint for canvas painting and other applications that require a lot of paint. It is not ideal for miniature painting. For that, and for DIY wet palettes, most painters use baking parchment. The baking parchment paper I like is Reynold’s Kitchen Parchment with SmartGrid. This very thin parchment paper has a grid on the back which makes it very easy to cut to size.
Putting it Together
Once you have your components, you want to thoroughly clean the container in hot, soapy water. You also want to put the sponge in boiling water to remove any impurities and bio-beasties that might cause your palette to mold. Once the sponge has cooled, wring it out, soak it in cold water, and wring out about 1/3 of the water from it. You don’t want it to be sopping wet. Now, soak your parchment paper in water for about 10 minutes and then place it over the sponge in the container and smooth it down. To further ensure I have no contaminants in my paints, I always use distilled water in my palette.
That’s it! You are now ready to use your wet palette. To maintain, every 3-4 days, I wring out the sponge, rinse out the container in hot, soapy water, and re-wet the sponge. This will prevent molding.
There are a bunch of YouTube videos of people making their own wet palettes. Here is a typical one. One cool tip shared here is to saw your roll of palette paper to the width of your container so that you simply need to tear off the length you need when replacing the paper.
Using a wet palette has had a huge impact on my painting. Just so that you can see the sort of work I’m doing with it, here is a stand of 15mm doughboys for the sci-fi miniatures game, All Quiet on the Martian Front, a 28mm Skaven ratman from Blood Bowl, and a couple of my 28mm Frostgrave miniatures.