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February 16, 2024

Getting to Know Your Palette

From filling pans to swatching colors, follow along as Maria Coryell-Martin sets up a Demi Palette!

By The Art Toolkit Team

Scattered supplies including paint tubes, a label maker, scissors, open sketchbook, and vibrant paint-filled Demi Palette on a white background.

Today, we are getting to know our palette! Follow along as Maria demonstrates how to:

1) Fill paint pans
2) Label pans
3) Make a swatch card
4) Sketch her palette and explore color mixes

Watch Maria’s full demonstration below.

Filling Your Pans  

Paint tubes, empty pans, empty palette, and toothpicks lined up on a white background.
All the supplies you need to fill your pans with paint.

Once you’ve chosen the paints for your palette, here’s how we suggest filling the pans. First, gather materials:

Then, remove the pans from your palette. They are easier to fill while you hold them.

Next, choose your colors. For this palette, Maria decided to fill Standard Pans with three primaries and Mini Pans with other colors and neutrals!

Two hands hold a tube of paint and pan in the foreground, squeezing out teal paint with blurry tubes in the background.
Maria squeezes Cobalt Teal Blue into a Mini Pan.

Begin filling by holding the pan carefully by its sides. Then gently squeeze the tube, and as you squeeze, lift and push down a little bit to smush the paint into the corners. Finally, scrape the paint tube’s edge across the pan’s edge to have a nice, clean finish with the paint.

A hand swirls paint in a pan with a toothpick with blurry tubes in the background.
Use a toothpick to mix paint and get it into the corners.

If you ever have a paint tube that’s hard to open, you can gently use pliers or run the cap under a little warm water. You’ll notice different paints have different viscosities: some are a little thicker or a little stringier. Sometimes you might see a little gum arabic solution separated from the paint. You can always stir your paints with a toothpick to mix it in and to help reach the corners of your pan. For paints that tend to crack as they dry (like gouache), we recommend adding a drop of vegetable glycerine to the bottom of your pan before adding your paint.

We recommend filling your pans in two fills, between 24 and 48 hours apart, depending on how dry the climate is where you live. Some watercolors and most gouache paints shrink and crack as they dry, which you can fix with a second fill after your first layer has dried. A second fill is a perfect way to top off your paint pans and get them looking extra fresh! Maria says, “A freshly-filled palette just reminds me of a little box of chocolates, colorful and so satisfying!”

Maria’s Demo Demi Palette

An open demi palette full of paint with a matching swatch card on the lid.
Let’s get to know this little demo Demi Palette!
An open, empty palette, a pile of mini pans, and a pile of standard pans.
Demi Palette, Mini Pans, and Standard Pans are sold on our website.

Labeling Your Pans  

We like to label our pans to help keep track of what colors we have in our palette! There are a few ways to do it!

Scattered supplies including a label maker, scissors, and vibrant paint-filled pans.
  • Fine-tipped Sharpies are a good option, though they may wear off over time.

  • Write the paint name on a little piece of paper and tape it to the bottom of the pan with packing tape, which is fairly waterproof.

  • Use a label-maker

Two hands hold up a partially-filled demi palette with some pans turned upside down showing labels and paint name shorthand.
Label your paints so you remember which is which!

Using shorthand will help save space. For example, instead of writing Hansa Yellow Medium, try writing HYM.

Making a Swatch Card

Make a roadmap for the current paints in your palette.

After labeling your pans, assemble them in your palette and make a little swatch card to help you remember which colors are where! 

Make swatch cards the same size as your palette so you can keep them as a roadmap. Simply trace your palette or the insert card that comes with a new palette to get the perfect size. 

Maria suggests working left to right so as not to smudge the paints as you go. You can use high saturation or vary the intensity of each color to capture the range of a pigment: a swatch card is a tool for you, so make it your own. Finally, add the paint names to the back or under each swatch so you remember which paints are in your palette!

Tip: Laminate your swatch card with pieces of packing tape to help it last longer!

Sketching Your Palette and Mixing Colors

An open sketchbook with a palette next to a palette sketch and some color mix clouds.
Mix triads and neutrals to explore your palette.

Now that you’ve filled your pans, labeled them, and created a little swatch card, we recommend one final fun step for getting to know your palette: Sketch it and make some color mixes to explore your new color combinations!

A little shortcut for sketching your palette is to lightly trace the outside of it to get the palette shape and use your paint-filled pans to trace the shapes in your palette sketch! Finally, round out your page by mixing secondary colors from triads and exploring greys.


Use the four steps above to get to know a new palette or add to your current one! We hope these steps help you get to know and enjoy your palette, and we’d love to see what you create. Submit your sketches so we can share more inspiration with the Art Toolkit Community!

Scan of palette sketch and color mixes
Palette notes in a sketchbook.

Tag us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube @arttoolkit and watch other demonstrations on our YouTube channel!

Happy sketching! Happy painting!

An artist sites on a rock, dipping a paintbrush in a Pocket Palette.

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