I live in a very dry environment. The humidity here is negligible. One of the challenges that I face as a miniature painter is that my paint will dry out quickly. One of the solutions that I have found out about this is to use a wet palette.
What is a wet palette?
A wet palette is a moist sponge that has a porous material on top of it, in our example it is parchment paper. The intent is that the water from the sponge will seep into the parchment paper and then into your paint, hydrating the paint and extend the usability of it.
It is important to choose an airtight plastic container that has a lid that fits snugly. I prefer one that is shallow with a lid that is about an inch or less above the surface of the sponge. The lid is one of the most important parts of the wet palette.
The ability to seal in a humid environment that will keep your paint usable for a long time is one of the most appealing parts of a wet palette. You should choose a container that is larger than you might think you will need. It is better to have too much surface area than to run out of room for mixing colors.
A good quality sponge that is thick enough to fill a fair amount of your palette volume is what you are looking for. The closer you can get it to the size of your container the better. You will have to cut up sponges to fill the rest of the container if the sponge that you choose is not the same size as your container.
A sponge with fairly small cells will allow the water to have a lot of contact with your palette paper. If you have large open cells it can create air pockets that can dry out spots of your paper. In my experience your paper will curl if it begins to dry out. When that happens it makes it difficult to get it to flatten out again and I have lost all of my paint that I had laid out that way.
The palette paper
You will want to find a paper that is porous but not too much so. Some papers that you can purchase for wet palettes commercially is designed for painters that use thick acrylic paint that comes in tubes. These paints require more moisture to remain usable than the paint that comes in pots and droppers that we typically use for painting miniatures.
It is easy for moisture to ruin your paint and turn it into not much more than a glaze or a wash once it gets wet. Also the size of the pores in this paper can allow the fine pigments to work their way through into your sponge rather than staying put.
The most commonly used paper for wet palettes used for miniature painting is parchment paper. This allows moisture to come through, but it is too fine for the paint to go back through the other way.
Use your container to make a template. Place the container on top of some construction paper or other thick paper that will hold its shape. Trace the bottom of your container onto the paper. You will need the template to trim the sponge and palette paper to the right size.
Put several sponges together in a way that will cover the entire bottom of your container and use the template to mark them with a marker. Use your hobby knife to cut them to size. test fit the sponges into your container to ensure that they fit snugly and adjust the trim as needed.
next, use your template to cut out a sheet of parchment paper. Since most containers are slightly larger at the top of the container than they are at the bottom. Your template will leave a small amount of space around the edges. This is normal and if you use the palette correctly you should not have any issues with it curling up.
How to use a wet palette
Weather you build your own wet palette or purchase one commercially, they all work the same. Once you have assembled your wet palette, check to make sure that the lid fits tightly and will not spill water easily. Then open the palette and put water into it until it is just about over the sponge. Add water slowly, it helps you to have a light shine over the top of your sponge.
I like to fold a paper towel to fit the container on top of the sponge. The paper towel will help you to regulate the water that comes in contact with your parchment paper and to prevent flooding. Be careful not to get too much water in your container. If you do you could flood your paper and your paint will become an unusable mess.
Lay the parchment paper on top of the sponge. This is where I sometimes run into issues. Almost every time the paper will want to curl when it gets wet on one side. At first I would try to fight the curl by pressing it down into the sponge. This only made matters worse. Turn the paper over to stop the curl. This will moisten both sides of the paper. You might need a little bit of patience to get the paper to absorb some of the water, when it does it will lie flat. You can also put a small amount of water on top of the paper to help speed up the process.
If you get bubbles or ridges forming in the paper you need to get them out. Those raised areas will dry out in a hurry ruining the effectiveness of the wet palette. I use a plastic debit card to gently smooth out the paper and then put a little bit of water onto it to keep it hydrated even though I just scraped all of the water off from it.
You will need to experiment with the type of paint that you use. but in my experience at this point I just put a little bit of paint onto my wet palette and paint as normal. Pay attention to the amount of water that seeps through your paper. You will need to adjust the amount of water that is in your container until you get to a level where you are keeping your paint from drying out, but not making it too runny.
The difference between a wet palette and a dry palette
Acrylic paint tends to dry out quickly. I live in a very dry location, so a wet palette helps to keep my paint usable much longer. The extra moisture also makes it easier to do blends and other transitions. A dry palette doesn’t contribute any moisture to your paint. If you use a dry palette you will need to add some type of thinner to your paint to keep it from drying out so fast. Usually for acrylic paint this is water or some type of otherflow improver for acrylic paint.