In oil painting palette has two meanings. The first refers to the surface on which your paint is mixed; the second meaning is the array of colors employed for painting.
Most artists prefer a wood palette. Some use a thick piece of glass placed atop a sheet of gray paper. But a glass palette is restricted to studio use and working from a taboret, which is a small table that holds the bulk of your painting gear.
My preference is for the wood palette. Wood palettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes; the most popular is the oval shape that is designed to fit in the crook of your elbow and is gripped with your thumb through the hole in the palette. The wood palette can be either a small, dinner-plate size or a large platter. As a teacher I recommend that beginners use the smaller size palette.
Before the palette can be used for painting it needs to be prepared with a sealant. Unsealed palettes will leach the delicate oils from your paint and rob them of their lustre.
There are three different methods for preparing a palette for painting. One can lightly apply a few coats of shellac letting each coat dry thoroughly before the next. Some artists who have invested in an expensive, counter-weighted palette will painstakingly seal it with a French polish giving it the look of a fine antique. There is, however, a serious drawback to these two preparations: the warm, umber hues of varnish make it difficult to accurately gauge color mixing.
The better method is this: invest in a litre of linseed oil. It needn’t be artist grade. Raw linseed oil that is available in hardware stores suffices well.
Pour a couple of tablespoons of linseed oil onto your palette and with a clean cloth rag evenly spread the oil over your palette. Let the oil sink in for about an hour then repeat six to eight times. To keep your palette from warping it is not a bad idea to work both sides evenly.
The goal is to saturate the wood with oil. Once fully saturated set your palette aside and allow it to air dry for several days. Even after a week, however, your palette will still feel oily. This is a good sign. It means your palette is ready to begin its journey.
Even though your palette is now fully laden with oil it will still leach the delicate emollients from your paint. But only for a little while.
At the conclusion of every painting day you should clean your palette. NEVER, EVER use turpentine to mop up your paints. Turpentine is a solvent and it will strip your palette like a thief run amok in a foreclosed housing development.
Instead scrape your paint off with a painting knife and rub the remainder into your palette with a cloth. In a short time a soft, wax-like surface will develop that will literally love your oil paint. This waxy surface also acquires a neutral gray color that enables you to accurately mix and gauge your color’s hue, tone and temperature.
Your painting palette is an indispensable tool and like your brushes should be well taken care of.