As an artist that works fairly often with acrylic paints, the need to be able to walk away from my work for awhile has presented some problems. Once out of the tube/jar/bottle, acrylic paints dry. Ironic, isn't it?
Where this really becomes a problem is when I've mixed a batch of custom color and then have to put the painting aside for awhile. I know, I know, where's my dedication to the craft? But, hey, life happens.
I've tried a few different products that are supposed to help prolong the open life of acrylic paints. Some were inadequate. Unless I'd mixed WAY too much of a color and could peel the skin off to reach fresh paint underneath, they simply didn't do the job.
One product that's pretty good is the Premier Sta-Wet Palette By Masterson. It did a very nice job of keeping the paints fresh for up to 3 weeks. But the depth of the palette meant they had to be pretty small portions of paint. And as time went along, the moisture level in the palette made the edges of the paint dollops get rather watery and begin to run into each other. And after three weeks, the paints were still wet but were starting to smell funky.
A last issue I had is that the papers for the Masterson palette were very difficult to find in my area. Plenty of sponges available but no paper. I did find though, that freezer paper would work in a pinch.
Then I found two better (and much cheaper) option.
It began in a workshop by Jeannie St. John Taylor, when she showed us how she used the lids of margarine tubs (or whipped topping tubs) as her palettes for small dabs of color. If she needed to save a color for a while, she simply popped the top of the tub back onto the lid and, presto, an air tight seal. If it had to be extended, she gave the paint a short mist of water and closed it up again.
I borrowed this idea and bought some cheap food storage containers at a local dollar store. The clear containers were much better for me so I could see what colors I had on the go. I use the lids for the palette and the "tops" for rinse water as I paint. When it's time to stop, I simply rinse the "top", then snap it over the lid. The little bit of moisture left from the rinse keeps the paint fresh for up to four weeks (depending on the size of the paint dab). If I don't get back to them in time, it doesn't solve my color dilemma but I simply peel the paint off and save the dried, flexible paint drops for use in an abstract later.
One drawback to my particular system to note: the colored lids can affect your color perception as you paint. I test on my background so it's never been a huge dilemma but you can see how it might become one.
For large paintings, I still needed something that would hold a generous amount of paint but really hadn't found a good option yet. But then, in preparing for a large live painting session, I grabbed a deli-type container on the way out the door. It seemed like a good all-in-one option for big amounts of paint and having some rinse water nearby.
It worked very well and after clean-up, I simply slapped the lid back on thinking I'd deal with it at home. Well, home took over and it was two weeks before I got back to my temporary palette. To my amazement, the paint was completely fresh from top to bottom. Problem solved!
Here's how it works: take any multi-compartment deli container (you know the type that come with veggies and dip, or crackers and cheese) and use the compartments for your paint colors, but leave one compartment empty. When you need to close up the paint, put 1" of water in that compartment and snap the lid on. The paint I've currently got in there had been in this make-shift palette for 5 weeks and is still completely usable and moist. As the water evaporates slightly, it creates enough humidity in the container that the surface of the paint does not dry. I'm going to leave a little paint to see how long I can really keep it going, but for the purposes of my latest painting, it's been perfect.
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