My Gouache Palette

The most common questions I receive are related to my palette, whether it’s the colors or the actual box. It’s something I don’t really talk about often because exact pigments aren’t a huge deal to me, and I think there’s a benefit in being flexible and working with whatever you have available to you. With that in mind, and the fact that I am constantly changing things and trying new paints, let’s go into some detail about my gouache palette. Oil palette will be another post for another day.


The type of gouache palette you use is highly controversial and will make or break friendships. Choose wisely. Half-kidding, but it can be a subject that people are particularly passionate about. I prefer the Mijello 18 well airtight watercolor palette, and have a stack of them to prove it. If you’re a person that needs every color in the rainbow, there’s a larger 33 well version, but I barely fill the 18 well one and find it much easier to carry for plein air. However, you must carry this flat like a pizza box or the colors may run into each other.

The best part of this palette is how easy it is to clean. A simple spray with a water bottle and then a wipe down with a rag will do the trick. It’s a good palette for artists that plan on using the gouache regularly, at least once a week, otherwise it will likely dry up on you despite being air-tight.  I cut up a sponge cloth from Trader Joes to help keep moisture in as well, but it’s also great to dab brushes on to remove excess paint.

If the paint DOES dry up, you can make it workable again by spraying the paint well until the water pools up around the paint and letting it sit for a while. It might not return to a perfect consistency but will be workable. If this sounds like something you experience often, I suggest using M. Graham paints which seem to reconstitute best of all the brands I've worked with.

There is another type of box that is popular, especially for those that don’t paint frequently. There’s all different sizes of this kind, just search for "Airtight watercolor box". This one has 12 spaces, is airtight, and to rewet the pigment, people usually give it a little stir with a toothpick. Putting it in the refrigerator will help keep it moist as well. I clearly have never tried this, and am really put off by the idea of scooping the paint out with a brush and trying to keep it clean, but a lot of people love them. I do love how each compartment is sealed and it can be thrown into a backpack for easy travel. You will need a separate surface to mix the paint on, which is another annoying aspect. 


When filling the palette with paint, don’t be stingy. You’ll probably squeeze at least ⅓ of the tube in the well, and that’s okay. The more paint you have, the less likely it will dry up and get crumbly in one session. Using too little paint often is a recipe for a very watered down transparent-watercolor looking painting.


Before closing it up, give it a hefty mist of water to keep the paint from drying up between sessions. If I know it will be a while until I come back to it, I make sure that there’s almost a small pool of water for the paint to sit in. 

With that in mind, let's talk about mold. I personally rarely have issues with mold since where we live is a dry climate, but have heard that putting a sponge with a drop of bleach or clove oil will help. I haven't tried either since it's not something that happens often. On the rare occasion that it does, I simply take a palette knife to remove the moldy area and it seems to be alright. Sorry the image is kind of gross, this palette gets a lot of use lol.


The big question- what colors are in my palette? Like I said, I constantly am changing things, so specific brands and hues aren’t important to me. I do find myself leaning towards trusted brands such as Winsor & Newton, Holbein, and now Daniel Smith, but there’s a lot of great options out there. This is what’s in my current palette. It’s most important to have a warm and cool of each primary, plus a black and a white. Black is a must have for me because it’s very difficult to mix a dark value in gouache, however if you wanted to avoid it you could mix a prussian blue or a dioxazine purple and burnt umber to get something nice and dark.

Be sure to check the lightfast rating, often found on the paint tube. This is important if you sell your work and want it to last, as you don’t want it to be fading over time. 

Titanium White or Permanent White - The most opaque that I’ve tested is Holbein. Get the large tube, you'll go through it fast. 

Cool Yellow - Usually a lemon yellow. I prefer the W&N Cadmium free lemon yellow as it’s more opaque and very bright, but the cadmium free versions are very expensive. Currently I'm just using the regular lemon yellow and it's fine. Lemon yellow is my 2nd most used color.

Middle Yellow - Not always necessary, but a cad free yellow, or a hansa yellow is good.

Warm Yellow - Permanent Yellow Deep, or a Cadmium-Free Yellow Deep. This tends to be very close to cadmium orange, so you might not need it. (not shown in my current palette)

Orange - Cadmium Free Orange has gained a permanent spot in my palette, and it so useful! It does run though, and is one of those pigments that seems to get everywhere. Use with caution.

Warm Red - Cadmium-Free Scarlet is a favorite. I also like the Daniel Smith Pyrrol Scarlet.

Middle Red - Cadmium-Free Red is a great middle red. I also find pyrrole red to be a great replacement for cadmiums.

Cool Red - Quinacridone Magenta. You can also use Alizarin Crimson, but I prefer the quin magenta for it's bright color and ability to make nice pinks.

Purples - I don’t carry a lot of purples since they tend to be fugitive (fade under sunlight), but I do have a lilac and lavender from Daniel Smith, and also have a dioxazine purple.

Warm Blue - Ultramarine blue. This is the color I use the most of, and make sure to have plenty on hand. Buy 2-3 tubes at a time.

Mid Blue - Cobalt blue on occasion. This pigment is toxic so I use it sparingly, but it is really a beautiful color.

Cool Blue - Phthalo Blue from Winsor & Newton is my favorite, but it doesn't have the notorious staining power or dark appearance that I have normally seen in other brands and mediums. I also might have a prussian blue on hand if I ever needed something very dark and transparent.

Warm Green - Linden Green is a must have for me. While it is easily mixed with lemon yellow + a tiny bit of red & a tiny bit of phthalo blue, I like to have it as a shortcut for those backlit greens.

Cool Green - I love having a cool green such as viridian or a deep green. I’m not too picky since I always mix it with other colors. Out of the tube greens tend to look very artificial.

Earth Tones - If you have the palette space, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, and Burnt Umber are great to have on hand. These are great shortcuts for plein-air painting.

Ivory Black - Ivory black is great and tends to have a cool undertone. 

Extras: I love having a turquoise blue or green in my palette if I’m traveling to somewhere tropical, or often in my case, painting the beautiful blue waters of Lake Michigan. 

Note on Cadmiums: I prefer to have a palette that is as non toxic as possible, so I use cadmium-free versions. These are a little questionable on longevity since they are new, but I’d rather not have the heavy metals. You can find more details about each paint color by checking with the manufacturer. They often have information regarding potential hazards and composition of their products.

Older Post

Leave a Comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published