Brenda Swenson: Setting Up Your Watercolor Travel PaletteThe warmer days of Summer are here! We are heading outside to travel, sketch and paint. Not a lot of information is available on how to set up a watercolor palette… so I figured I’d share my thoughts, technique and paint choices.

Paint Color Choices
Above you can see how I lay out my paint. Some of the paint locations may not make sense to you but it does to me. All of my paints are DANIEL SMITH Watercolors. Occasionally I will switch Italian Burnt Sienna for Transparent Red Oxide.

Next to the paint name you’ll notice numbers beginning with “P”. These numbers refer to the Index Code Name. Example: Nickel Azo Yellow PY150. The number refers to the pigment used to make the paint.

  • Nickel Azo Yellow
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Quinacridone Gold
  • Permanent Yellow Deep
  • Anthraquinoid Scarlet
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Phthalo Blue GS
  • French Ultramarine
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Manganese Blue Hue
  • Phthalo Turquoise
  • Cobalt Teal Blue
  • Phthalo Green BS
  • Quinacridone Sienna
  • Italian Burnt Sienna
  • Transparent Red Oxide
  • Lunar Black


(1) Before I use a palette I give it a light scrubbing with a mild abrasive such as baking soda or soft scrub. This takes the slick surface off the mixing area and removes any residues from the manufacturing. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the palette…you don’t want this in your paint.

Paint mixes and mingles on palette (above right).
Here you can see how nicely the paint mixes and mingles because the palette was prepared with a mild abrasive.

(2) I fill the wells with my favorite selection of paint. Don’t put tiny dabs of paint in the wells. FILL the wells! Tiny dabs of paint will eventually just fall out. Hold the tube over the deep end of the well then come back towards the shallow end while squeezing the tube.

(3) Let the palette sit open for a day or two (longer in damp climates). When the paint has set up and is no longer sticky I wet my thumb and push down in the center of each well (right). What this does is create an indentation for the water. When I get ready to paint I lightly mist the paint wells and I am ready to go.

Air Travel
I travel a lot to teach and paint. I never want to arrive and find my art supplies have gone elsewhere without me! I ALWAYS take my palette in my carry-on luggage along with my brushes. I don’t bring paint tubes but instead fill my palette with fresh paint a few days before and let air dry so the paint becomes more solid. When I arrive at my destination I mist the paint with fresh water, put a small sponge inside and close overnight. The next day the paint are fresh and juicy again. I haven’t had a problem with airport security, yet.

Now…get out and sketch!

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Brenda Swenson is the artist author of two books, Keeping a Watercolor Sketchbook (Award of Excellence Finalist) and Steps to Success in Watercolor. Her paintings and sketches have been featured in Splash 11, 12 & 14, Artistic Touch 4, Watercolor Artist, Watercolor Magazine, Watercolor Highlights, and numerous other publications. Brenda has been awarded signature membership in Watercolor West (WW), Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS), San Diego Watercolor Society (SDWS), and she has won numerous awards for her paintings. An active participant in the arts community she has served on the board of directors for the National Watercolor Society and Watercolor West. She is in demand to teach and demonstrate her painting and sketching techniques to groups nationwide and abroad. Blog: