The palette of a madman

Thought you all might enjoy seeing one of the palette setups I use. I’ll admit it’s crazy, but I really enjoy using it :slight_smile:


That looks wild Tim! Honestly—I’d want to frame it! If you don’t mind me asking—How long does it take you to set it up and how often do you remove and repopulate the palette?

It takes about 15 minutes to lay everything out. Sometimes a bit more or less depending on the number of hues I’m using. I have the colors premixed and stored in syringes, which saves a bunch of time and lets me put pretty tiny dots of each color out.

I scrape it off when I want to lay out a different set of hue strings, or when too much of the paint has dried out. I don’t get to paint regularly these days, so that happens more than I’d like. Normally I keep it from drying out with clove oil. The lid has some cotton squares taped to the underside, and each square gets a drop or two of the clove oil every few days. That’ll keep most everything but umbers from drying out between sessions, as long as it’s not more than a couple days. So if I’m painting regularly every day or two, I can just pop the lid off and start painting. Maybe a pile or two needs topping off—occasionally I’ll scrape of a whole hue and replenish that.

It’s wacky and I certainly wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. But I actually really enjoy working this way. It feels kind of like playing a piano, where things are tuned ahead of time. You just pick the note you want and go. That’s an oversimplification because most of the time I need to do a little mixing, but in this setup it’s quite straightforward. I can get pretty much any color I want by mixing between adjacent colors to get the hue and value right, then knocking the chroma down with the corresponding neutral.

SO very cool Tim. Would you mind sharing the materials (like the type of syringes) that you use to set this up?

1 Like

Gladly! I’ll add some details soon.

1 Like

One of the more memorable moments from my week at GCA was seeing you set up to paint! However, I think your painting results make it seem a bit less crazy.

1 Like

Too funny. I feel ridiculous setting that palette up in public. But I really enjoy using it so I suck it up and do it anyway :smiley:

1 Like

Oh, and thanks for the nice words :slight_smile:

I’ll try and explain more about the setup in segments. It’ll take too long to write up in one shot—there’s a lot of info. I am a madman after all :slightly_smiling_face:

I can start with the syringes. I order them online from You have to call them to make an account before you order. Since they sell hypodermic products they have to control who they sell to. You can explain to them that you’re a painter and they can create a special industrial account where you can only order products without needles. I made the account years ago and there was a group of artists making accounts so they didn’t bat an eyelash. Hopefully it’s still easy. They were really friendly and helpful on the phone.

You want all-plastic syringes with no rubber/latex in them, as the oil will rot the rubber and lose the seal. I’ve been using Norm-Ject Luer Slip syringes. They sell them in both sterile and unsterile varieties. You don’t need sterile—in fact it’s probably better to order unsterile as they appear to just come in a big bag. The sterile ones (which is all they offered last time I ordered) come individually wrapped, which is a bit of a pain to open. But the price seems to be the same, so either way is fine. You should also order caps.


I’ve tried a range of sizes. I’ve found 5ml to be a good general size. 3ml gets a bit small to load, but not impossible. 1ml can only be loaded with another syringe (the opening is tiny). I use 10ml for neutrals and other colors I use a lot of. If I was able to paint more regularly I might use 20ml for my common colors. I’ve found above 20ml to be impractical. I do use the 1ml size for travel and classes. 1ml is both more than you think and less than you think, but is usually plenty for a few painting sessions—especially if I’m using hue strings, where I tend to use only a bit of each color.

If people are interested I can explain the loading process in another post, but in general you just stuff it in with a palette knife, clean the tube off, and try to get as much air out as possible. You can usually refill them a few times, so they’re quite economical. 100 5ml syringes costs ~$15 + shipping. The caps are ~$4 for 100.

It’s important to note that the paint won’t stay wet in the syringes as long as in a metal paint tube. But as long as you keep any major bubbles out of the syringe and get the cap back on, the paint in the syringe will last a long time. Unfortunately I can’t say exactly how long, but I’ve definitely had them last for more than a year. I made a big set of hue strings maybe 7 or 8 years ago and those lasted at least a year—maybe longer—before my son was born. After he was born I stopped using them until last year (not much time for painting!). Last May I wanted to use the hue strings again, so I dug up the old set. All the colors had dried out by that point, but I can’t say exactly when they dried out. I started mixing new strings again last May, and all the colors I’ve mixed up since then are still fine in their syringes.

Conveniently, with the cap on the syringes will fit pretty nicely into 1/8” pegboard holes. So I keep the colors I’m using regularly in some pegboard near my easel setup. Here’s a photo of a corner of the pegboard:

Also, here’s a photo of the syringes from my Phthalo Blue string up close so you can get a sense of what they look like loaded. I also threw in a 1ml and 20ml syringe for comparison. I label them with the pigments mixed together (Phthalo Blue and Titanium White in this case) and the Munsell value for that mixture.

I’ll post more soon!


This is just awesome Tim. SUPER valuable info. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you laying this all out here for everyone. :heart:

1 Like