DIY – Painting Your Wood Palette Gray

For awhile now I have wanted to refinish my wood palettes, opting for a painted gray rather than stained wood. I have two palettes, a large one and a medium sized one. I bought them from Turtlewood Palettes and they are so well balanced that I feel like I’m not holding a palette at all. The owner even made a custom adjustment to my medium sized palette to make the grip even more comfortable for me to hold. But I have finally decided the warm tone, the dark value, and the wood grain pattern get in the way of mixing just the right color.Turtlewood Palettes offers a gray palette now, but it appears to be the same value as their wood palettes. I believe they are shooting for a mid-value gray, but I want a lighter value. So, I took a deep breath and started my DIY project.

The first thing to do was to enlist the help of my handy husband to customize my large palette to match the grip of my medium sized palette. No problem. He’s a man with the right tools!

He bandsawed it…

and Dremel-tooled it…

and I was ready to go.

I only wanted to paint the top surface of each palette. I started by sanding them with 100 grit sand paper to knock off some paint buildup and provide for good cohesion of the new paint. Remember, sand along the grain! Afterwards I cleaned each palette with mineral spirits.

As for the paint color, I had a small…very small… hope that the perfect gray would come in a spray can. I wanted a barely warm gray that would be on the lighter side of a mid-value gray. In fact, I really like the value and color of the Richeson Grey Matters Paper Palettes.

So, I headed to my local Home Depot, where all real artists buy their paints…NOT! There were dozens of grays, and the right gray did not come in a spray can. Darn! In fact, the right gray didn’t exist. Double darn! So what’s an artist to do? Mix some paint!! I bought the sample sizes (8 oz) of two grays I thought would give me the gray I wanted.

  • The brand: Behr’s Premium Plus Ultra: paint and primer in one
    • not an endorsement, they just had the right colors
    • brushes clean up with water
  • The colors: Classic Silver (PPU18-11) and Casual Gray (BNC-17)
  • The finish: flat; matte
  • The mix: 1 part Classic Silver + 3 parts Casual Gray = The perfect gray…for me

Time to paint…

Disclaimer…OK, notice the beautiful Rosemary and Co Brush in the foreground. I thought I would need a good brush to smooth out the paint surface.  Didn’t work at all. I’m so glad it cleaned up with water. It’s back where it belongs…at my easel. On the other hand, that sponge brush…that’s your brush for this DIY project. It worked beautifully! Two coats of paint with a light sanding between with 320 grit sand paper and here is the comparison…

Notice the value of the gray palette is lighter than the value of the butcher paper, whereas the value of the wood palette is darker. We’re on the right track! Now for a lacquer finish to seal the paint and protect it from the oil paints and solvents that will be used on the palettes. Oh, and it comes in a spray can!!! Buy at least three cans…really, I had to go back to the store to get more.

The lacquer I used is pictured above: Deft, Clear Wood Finish, Satin. This can comes with a nozzle that can swivel for a wide spray and a narrow spray. You can put additional coats on every 30 minutes. I did all the lacquer coats in one day. On the first can I used the wide spray and probably got four coats out of it. Honestly, I felt like a lot of it was going in the air. It was producing very rough layers, so I sanded lightly after the third coat with 320 grit sand paper. I could barely see any build up of lacquer after finishing off the first can. On the next two cans I used the narrow spray and only got a little more than two coats out of each. It was a bit harder with the narrow spray to get an even coat and to make sure the lacquer was not going on too heavy. I sprayed across the palettes in two different directions to make sure the coverage was even. After the third can, I could see the satin finish and gave it one final, very light, sanding with 600 grit sand paper. I also lightly sanded the bottom sides of each palette, because the lacquer had worked its way onto the back sides during all the spraying. In all, I sprayed eight coats of lacquer on each palette. Here is the result:

The circled areas on the piece of Grey Matters Paper Palette are (from left to right) my mix, Casual Gray, and Classic Silver. You can see from the (not professional, but one I had laying around) value scale that my perfect gray is on the lighter side of a mid-value gray and matches the Gray Matters Paper Palette pretty well…if I do say so myself.

You might be wondering, “Why lighter than a mid-value gray?” I found that the color choices I was mixing on my palette were consistently getting to my canvas darker than I intended. To compensate for the problem I was starting to adjust my color mixing to be lighter on my palette than I thought I was seeing in front of me. It was time to do something. The wood palettes had several issues. First, the grain of the wood in some areas on the palette was quite a bit darker than mid-value, while in other places it was closer to a mid-value. The values of the colors I was mixing looked different depending on where I was mixing on the palette. Second, the stain color on the wood was really beautiful, but too warm. That caused me to compare all of my color mixing against a warm background. I really needed a neutral background on which to mix. The gray I chose does have a touch of warmth in it. It’s a personal preference. To me the other grays looked cool enough to be blues.

Time to paint!

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