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Palette for watercolor

edited August 2020 in Studio & Supplies
I was wondering if anyone here knows what material was traditionally used for watercolor palettes? Today plastic is widely used, but I'm interested in what artists like Zorn and Sargent used.
To me it seems like they would use either wood (the same as they used for oil paint), metal, or glass. 

I make my own wooden palettes, treated with linseed oil, and would be very happy if these work well with watercolors.

Also, what kind of brushes did they use for watercolor back in the 1800's? Natural hair, I would guess? I ask, because I have always heard that synthetic brushes are the best for watercolor.



  • dencaldencal -
    edited August 2020

    Here is a source for the info
    A set of moist colours in tubes, together with various brushes, apparently from Sargent’s studio, were given to the Fogg Art Museum by the museum’s director, Edward Waldo Forbes (1873-1969). The colours are summarily listed in Marjorie B. Cohn, Wash and Gouache: A study of the development of the materials of watercolor, 1977, p.66, and are mostly from Newman and Winsor & Newton, but also from Hatfield, Schmincke and Weber. Both colours and brushes are reproduced in Judith C. Walsh, 'Observation on watercolour techniques of Homer and Sargent', in American Traditions of Watercolor: The Worcester Art Museum Collection, New York, 1987, pp.44, 61.

    John Singer Sargent: WatercolorsHardcover – April 30, 2013

    by Erica Hirshler (Author), Teresa Carbone (Author), Richard Ormond (Author), & 2 more

    The intro to this book covers materials and techniques.

    The Wall Street Journal
    American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent' Review - WSJ
    Credit: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, Gift of the Homer Family
    Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata.
    Images may be subject to copyright

    I post this photo with credit for legitimate research purposes.

    This probably was similar to Sargents watercolour palette.

    Haven’t found anything about his watercolour brushes, probably stumble over it tomorrow.


    PS Sargent would have used Sable (really Siberian Weasel) brushes.

  • edited August 2020
    My watercolor palette is quite large was custom made and supplied by my then watercolor teacher. Galvanized aluminum, molded to have a nice lip along the edges to prevent spills, a slight bowl was formed in the center of the palette for color mixing, then baked white enamel finish was applied. My palette consists of watercolor cakes laid out and arranged for ease of access for "en plein air" and in the studio painting. W&N watercolor cakes remain adhered to the enamel palette for years without loosing any, but through time they do occassionaly come off, and these pigments never spoil (no mildew or oxidation, no discoloration occur). This watercolor palette is now little over 40 years old, just add water.
     White dinner plates and such made of durable china, white glass, also baked enamel finish on metal was a good choice.
    They used natural hair for watercolor brushes. W&N has been making natural watercolor brushes for a very long time. Feathers and quills were useful tools as well. And look at those Chinese brushes and the likes, these are quite useful, been so for centuries now. I find the natural hair brushes retain water and much more of it and can maintain quite a pointed tip compared to synthetic bristles.
  • TedBTedB -
    edited August 2020
    Plastic palettes are affordable,  but not ideal.  Brass,  enameled steel (tinware) and glazed porcelain are traditional, and allow the paint to spread "wet" rather than bead-up.  I've had mixed results painting plastic palettes with white enamel spray paint for a "wetter" surface finish.

    Ironically, vitreous enamel works while smooth polished glass is terrible.  It's all in the surface tension.
  • edited August 2020
    This is my watercolor palette, it is huge measuring 14"x 15", W&N Artist's watercolor. And my main watercolor brushes, W&N red sable (no longer in production) and a distorted make-up brush, I also use cheap wide brushes (not shown ) for large area washes. Even though red sable brushes are no longer being produced, and recently a new brush has arrived to replace these gems, and looks quite promising.

  • @dencal, @Forgiveness, @TedB ,thanks a lot for good and informative answers! Much appreciated
  • I use Shappy watercolor tray, folding palettes to keep your watercolor set safe and protected from the elements when you need a break from painting, I really like this feature. A nice pallet for taking with you. Easy to clean and use on the go.
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