My homemade palette has provided good service for several years. It has enough room to muck about in, but it’s not so large that it’s difficult to move or clean. I converted the glass-framed reproduction I found at a secondhand shop into an everyday palette by removing the print and then painting the backing a middle shade. I put the straight-from-tube colors and mixtures in the same places every day which makes it easy to create my as-needed tones. I can practically mix tones blindfolded.
Next to the palette are my cups of solvents and medium. For today’s painting session, I’ve also prepared a ‘seasoning.’
The topmost cup contains the medium: 1 part drying copal varnish, 1 part drying oil, 1 part turpentine, plus a drop of Courtrai drier. Drying, drying, drying–it can’t be too drying. Some people think that driers in oil paint is a bad practice, but I think those critics have lost the thread of traditional craft and common sense. In addition to enhancing the handling qualities of the paint, driers enable layering and mitigate against the fat over lean issue. Of course, if you use a fast-drying material (thin paint or fast-drying medium) over a slow-drying material (thick paint or slow-drying medium), you might run into problems.
I use the same medium throughout, only modifying it slightly–seasoning it–depending on the circumstance.
The second cup contains the linseed oil that I use to preserve my brushes. My drying medium is tough on brushes. In my brush reference, I wrote about my preference for natural sable and hog bristle brushes over synthetic brushes. Driers are especially tough on natural brushes. I always dip my brush in the oil when I put it down and switch to another brush. I typically use a half-dozen to a dozen brushes during a session so a brush might go unused for some time.
Next is the turpentine I use to clean a brush when I want to change colors. I try to dedicate a brush to a single tone or color but sometimes I fall in love with the brush in my hand and I’ll just clean the color out of it with turp before plunging it into another color.
Next is the OMS–odorless mineral spirits–that I use to thin the paint. OMS is not as powerful as turp so it’s less harmful to existing layers. It’s perfect for painting with and thinning paint.
Finally, I have cups for seasoning, although in today’s session I only use one of the seasoning cups. The next-to-last cup has sun-thickened linseed oil. I sometimes add a very small amount of it to passages in order to enhance covering strength. So, I never use it in the mid- or low-tone areas. If you haven’t used sun-thickened oil, do yourself a favor and try it. It’s much better than stand oil.
The last cup is empty today but sometimes I put balsam-flavored turpentine in it. What is ‘balsam-flavored turpentine?’ It’s turpentine with a small amount of Venice turpentine or some other balsam. The ratio is at least 10:1 turpentine to balsam. I don’t glaze very much but when I do, the flavored turp slows drying somewhat and firms the paint. I also sometimes use the balsam-flavored turpentine as an intermediate varnish.