How to Keep Those Pesky Oil Paints on Your Palette WET!

Normally I’m a patient sort of soul, but I have my limits. After twenty years of squeezing oils onto a palette, as a daily ‘zen’ activity, I’m finding that it just doesn’t do it for me anymore. So, as a service to my fellow ADD-ers and those of us that detest lengthy routines, this is for you. May I also say two other golden benefits of reducing the frequency of this tedious practice is it can save you a lot of money on wasted dried up clumps of paint as well as minimize
the amount of problematic substances for Mother Earth
to deal with.

As a traditional artist that enjoys using several mediums within one painting I have a couple palettes to keep active simultaneously. Acrylics are easy for me to keep wet (for as long as a month at a time) with very little effort. I’ll give that tip in a future post. Oils, however, have given me more trouble.

  • If the oils are left uncovered overnight they’ll start "skinning" over by the next morning. Usually I can get one more day out of them by peeling the skin back which uncovers the wet paint hiding underneath the skin. I guess if my dollop of paint was quite large I could theoretically use this approach several days in a row, but there’s still a large amount of waste. It’s also especially messy, and if you don’t relish the idea of having hands that look like a mechanic, I’d shy away from this one.
  • The technique I used for many years was placing the palette inside a Tupperware sort of container that seals with a lid. The paint still develops a skin within a couple of days, but it’s certainly better than no covering at all.
  • Another approach I’ve used is dribbling a couple drops of olive oil on top of the paint dollops and then cover the palette with a lid. That seems to give keep the skin from forming for maybe 4 days or so. What I don’t like about this is the excess oil which puddles around the base of my paint blob. It messes with the consistency of the oil a bit. Just to clarify, I don’t "paint" with the olive oil or use it as a painting medium. Many oils such as linseed, hemp, poppy seed, walnut, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils can be used as painting mediums and they all assist in speeding up the drying process of oils, but olive oil does not. I use it only on the outside of the glob of paint to keep the skin from forming so quickly.
  • My current method, which I’m very happy with, is shoving the whole palette into the freezer. I don’t even cover the palette, though I’m sure it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Years ago I’d heard about doing this and I have no idea why I waited so long to try it. Each morning when I’m ready to paint I pull them out and my paints are perfectly wet, just like I squeezed them out that day.

Now here’s a couple other methods I came across that I’m very interested in trying:

  • Clove_oil_preserve_oil_paint_3
    Add clove oil to the little blob of paint, or place the palette in a closed container in which the fumes of the clove oil will fill the box. This is supposed to work REALLY well, so I’m excited to try it out. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

"Clove oil is also used in oil painting. The anti-oxidant effects of the eugenol delays the drying (oxidation) of the drying oils (linseed, safflower, poppy, walnut) in the paint on the palette. A drop per paint ‘nut’ is usually added. Alternatively, the palette can be covered, with a small amount of clove oil applied to the inside of the cover to allow the clove oil to disperse, preventing the paint from reacting with the oxygen within the cover. This method has the advantage of slowing the drying of the paints once they are applied to the painting."

  • The last strategy I’ll mention, but I’ve yet to try, is to submerge the entire palette into a sink full of water. The water won’t mix with the oil on the palette and the air that normally dries out the paint won’t be able to get to it. One would need to make sure they’re using a glass palette rather than wood or paper. It sounds pretty radical, but may be worth a try.

Many of us may not have a freezer space just for a palette or a sink that’s available to submerge a palette in overnight, so I think this clove oil idea may be the ticket. I’ll be trying it out to see. It’s an essential oil that can be obtained from most health food stores.

Happy oil painting!