July 12, 2009

Don't buy one of these things

I normally try to keep this blog focused on ink, paper, and digital from time to time, but enough cartoonists use gouache and watercolor often enough for this to be a good topic.

The contraption above is one of the pieces of equipment I've owned over the years where the relationship started as a dazzling, starry-eyed honeymoon, but ended in tears and bitterness. If you don't recognize it, it is a Masterson Sta-Wet Palette, and if you have ever worked with tube watercolor or gouache and had your perfectly mixed color dry onto the palette, never to be quite the same again after re-hydration, you are probably already ordering one online after reading the name.

Don't enter your credit card quite yet.

First of all, let me say for the record that this product does exactly what it says it will. It will keep guache and watercolor and acrylic wet, even in the thinnest of layers, for days to weeks. It's a sealing plastic box that comes in various sizes. Inside is a sponge pad and a sheet of acrylic coated paper that you use as a disposable palette surface. You soak the sponge and get the paper wet, put the paper on the sponge, blot off the excess water and you put your paint on that. Close the box when you're done, come back to still wet paint. I'm not panning their product because it doesn't work.

I'm panning it because they charge $obscenity.bullshit for it. The small palette costs ten bucks and the large one costs 15. The flimsy paper, which paint will often leak through and stain the sponge, costs 4-7 bucks for refills of 30. The sponges, which have to be replaced occasionally due to paint leaking through the paper, and which are prone to mold (evidently they have no antimicrobial treatment like many kitchen sponges do) are 7-10 bucks for three. It all works but it's all shitty and cheap, and you can do better for less money, and NOT have a mono-tasker tool taking up space in your studio to boot.

All you need is:

  • A piece of cheap-as-you-can-find tupperware like Gladware, or whatever off brand gladware is, or a deli takeout containter, or anything that seals up watertight that's large enough to fit your paint mixing area into. (either use a large one or a bunch of small ones.)
  • A piece of cotton fiber paper. Most watercolor papers and decent stationary paper are cotton. If you're an artist you probably have scraps of this lying all around. Those scraps can be put to good use as stay-wet palettes, and then you can doodle on them when you dry them out.
  • A sponge or sponges.
  • Water.
Here's what you do:

Below you can see I had a soaked sponge in my plastic tub. I chose a small one so the photos would come out better. The sponge is really wet, I did not wring it out.
Next I took a piece of light weight watercolor paper and soaked it till it was floppy, then blotted it so it wasn't slick with water on the surface.
On top of the sponge it went.

Then I took some red gouache, because I figured it would photograph well. Left on it's lonesome this guache dries despair-inducingly fast.

I spread it around to show that even the thinnest skim will stay moist and workable.

Then I sealed it,

And out it in my closet:

That was Thursday night. Tonight I opened it, and voila- as you can see it is quite moist, yet it has not bled or been dilluted. It is exactly as I left it:

With some scrap paper and your tupperware you can have your own stay-wet palettes for cheap, and you can use them for food when you're done. Why buy one?

By the way, I want to say an odd sort of thank you to all my readers. It's common on the internet for people to develop a strong sense of entitlement to content they like, to the extent that people will harass bloggers and movie makers and comic artists about not updating their totally free whatever that they earn no money from and don't even get ad revenue from. As you've all undoubtedly noticed my updates have been less frequent lately, which is because I've been trying to get past a stage in my book for First Second and it is just a freaking slog, and, well...no one's given me shit about it. Not one single person. No one's even asked me the uncomfortable to answer question of what's been wrong, why am I not updating as often. I've gotten some very kind comments about people's appreciation for the blog, and that's been it.

So, thank you all, for not being self-entitled pricks and being really kind to me. I'm really pleased to see that's the kind of classy audience I attract. I'll tell you all this, the best of the blog is not behind me. Two of my biggest tutorials are still in the pipeline, as well as several requested topics, and I am always finding new stuff. I'm having a hard time finding time lately, and when that's over, I'll post weekly or maybe even more once again.

Thank you all again.



Agentflit said...


Haha, no seriously, this is one of my very favorite blogs. I printed out all your anatomy tutorials so I can study them at my drawing table. You deserve a break after all you have given us!

Jenn Rodriguez said...

first, thank you for having a stellar blog! i spread your tutorials like the plague.

i like this little wet pallet idea. i originally found a more elaborate incarnation of this one which involved a butcher tray, a wet paper towel, vellum and a piece of plexi: http://no-sign-of-sanity.deviantart.com/art/Acrylic-Palette-Tutorial-35607420
the concept obviously can be applied to many readily available household items (who has butcher treys lying around?) and you don't need to spend a lot of money on a specialty item you can fabricate yourself!

thanks for a great post!

B2-kun said...

Another useful tip for putting together a stay-wet palette and timely shopping advice to save your readers some cash. Two birds with one stone!

Ambassador MAGMA said...

This is awesome! I've always wanted to try guache ever since I learned all those pulp cover illustrators used it. I've only used water color (which you can use after it's dried) and acrylic (which you can freeze or just wrap in plastic) and it's good to know guache is salvageable on the cheap.

By the way, WHAT'S WRONG? WHY HAVEN'T YOU UPDATED? MY LIFE IS OVER DUE TO YOUR INFREQUENT POSTS! AAAAaagh! Seriously, Kirby speed with the book! May the schwartz be with you!

Cetriya said...

actually, I think its a good thing not to update to often. I rather quality and well, we're all trying to find time to do things we need to do.

Plus, your blog is good for its archive to reread where as other blogs are just for the lols

Sam said...

Very interesting.

I agree that this blog represents quality over quantity. I'll miss it if it ends, but the whys and hows are none of my business.

I'm still looking at your anatomy lessons as well - most helpful. Thanks for the good work!

Adam Weisblatt said...

Your take on the updates is exactly what I thought. Wow! This person is doing this incredible thing for us by providing consistently HIGH value information that I have not seen anywhere else. Someone that well informed must be pretty busy with their other projects and I'm just grateful that you have been generous with your time to give us the wealth of content that is here regardless of the consistency of updates. Thanks!

joey said...

Good call on the homemade stay-wet tray. I never had any problems with the tray I used in college, but cannot remember the maker. Anyhow.
As I read this I kept coming across the word guache in your post. What you are referring to is gouache.
guache = lacking social experience or grace.

Hugo Sleestak said...

I think I'm just extremely stingy with my gouache, but I never really squeeze more out of the tube than what I'm going to use in a single session. As a result, I like using the standard 1950's illustrator's palette, the ol' steel butcher's tray. Of course, if Al Parker or Jon Whitcomb had had Gladware, they might have made a real quick switch!

LOOKA said...

Hell yes, not that I haven't been knowing, but you know, you got shit going!

Also: Check this out for a un-manipulated look at SAM -THE BOSS- HITIs inking!!!


It flows with magic and as I see the man don't use no pencil! ROCKIN'!

PBJ said...

Oh man, this blog is totally awesome. I can't wait to try some of these things!

Applejinx said...

I'm just delighted to have discovered you at all :) only wish I'd done it earlier, because I draw a daily (NSFW) web comic in ink and INK WASH. So if I'd only been paying attention, there are many things I've learned about ink wash that I could've- or could still- share :)

Love your attitude and will be paying attention- and trying to learn from your anatomy tutorials, which are exactly what I needed (only thing comparably good is Burne Hogarth)

Lindsay said...

Very nice job. Thanks for a great tutorial.

Louise Smythe said...

thanks so much for posting this! what a good idea - and money saver. i always get frustrated when my paints dry too quickly.

Cate said...

Thank you for the info. I was about to lay down my money for this and appreciate the realtively simple solution to preserving my acrylics.

Caio Fern said...

is a really good solution !!!

Unknown said...

wow, you kept one blob of paint wet! how practical is this for painting? not very. no offense.

Unknown said...

Well, to me more constructive and practical with money try this.... (I am biased, obviously) Get a rubbermaid storage container (a shallow one) and use the underside of the lid as the palette area. I like to hold my palette in my hand so I made a handle on the top of the container lid out of some strong plastic tape I found. Use a spray bottle and spray down the inside of the container and paint and then put the container onto the lid. so you are basically using the rummbermaid container upside down. It will keep your paint wet for a long time. Glue a sponge in there for added moisture. It works and I have a huge, lightweight plastic palette that I can peel the old paint off of if I want and can carry around the palette because its covered. just try it. it cost me like 6.50 to make a huge palette. I got it at walmart.

Comic Tools said...

Adam: I'll address your points first, then your tone.

I don't paint much anymore, so using a large plastic container and loading a full palette with expensive paints just for a proof of concept demonstration for a blog I don't get paid for was impractical. I was simply demonstrating that the same basic thing as the Stay wet palette can be made cheaply.

You evidently have another, very similar method that works. I'm glad you brought it to my reader's attention, now people can try both and make their own decision. I may well try it (with a similarly impractical sample) and post my thoughts about it at some point. Though since you use almost exactly the same materials, I don't see how it's much cheaper, Id have to say.

That's your points addressed. As for your tone, much worse than a needlessly combative asshole mocking me by patronizingly feigning amazement when he's actually missing the point of what he's mocking, is an asshole who says "no offense" afterward. If you don't want to offend, try not being offensive, instead of using "no offense" like you're spraying lysol around to mask the scent of a really nasty shit. It just smells like shit-scented lysol. Which is how I think of the way you present yourself.

Unknown said...

sorry for being an ass

Comic Tools said...

Between your actually contributing good information and for apologizing on the internet, an unheard of phenomenon, all is forgiven.

Adam said...

Youre not worthy of forgiving me.

Anonymous said...

I used a sta-wet palette once and left the soaking-wet sponge in overnight. The next day, the acrylic paints had absorbed too much water, become very liquid and run together on the palette paper--a real mess!

Chander said...

Thank you for your blog. I like it.
I have a fairly large air-tight shallow container, which I have lined with thin moist foam at the bottom. After my painting session I leave leave my plastic palette with thick and thin colors on it in this container. Honestly, it has been great going ever since.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the post - I knew to use a wet sponge and a covered container, but I didn't know about the wet cotton paper. Now I'll enjoy my gouaches more... and not lose painting money! thanks again.

Unknown said...

Moving Masks

Anonymous said...

although you do make a good point in how crappy the quality is, i can get one online for cheap and you dont have to buy everything in bulk. it does stain the sponge, and is prone to mold, but what is NOT prone to mold hen it comes to WET environments? almost everything really.
how i have handled mine was to make sure that i look online for things to be cheaper, and the cost is not all that bad if you just get the small one, you got to be able to pay for what you can afford and the refills in cost are not terrible.but i would have to agree with the quality, HOWEVER the instructions on how to handle the sponge, is to clean the sponge with ammonia, which is a common household use, which works for me, and i have had not too much trouble with it, while a lot of the students in the class have told me that its better without the sponge, i cant really agree with them because im don't like to waste paint, so this pallete thing works for me, i get small one, the only thing that i dont like about it is that you cant really carry it like you would with your books, it must be held flat and that is as annoying as holding your soup on a flat tray, so it has its up s and downs, but i generally like it for what i do every day.

Unknown said...

Excellent idea. Will try it out. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Brilliant idea. Thanks for sharing. Will try this out.