Monday, January 28, 2013

DIY Art Tools: A Glass Palette


Taking part-time classes at school when I'm not eligible for any form of grant is a costly scenario. Add on the fact my income scenario is rather unique, the amount of usable revenue I have is severely constrained. It means a tight budget and creative improvisation are mandatory in my scenario. Tuition is the real beast but school supplies are a constant trickle of expenditures. My current priority is to obtain a palette to mix paints upon and I will need it within the next few weeks.

Okay, so no big deal you'd think. Run out and buy a decent paint palette. Since cash is a problem, purchasing one of the ready-made quality palettes isn't likely the best option for me. How about buying a cheap plastic palette? I could, but the recommendation from the instructor is to use a glass palette. The reason being is because of cleaning and mixing issues. We'll be using acrylic paints in my class so a wood palette is pretty much a no-go due to the fact wood is porous and will be hard to clean. Plastic, while cheap, light and mostly unbreakable if dropped, does not hold up against the business end of a scrapping razor. And since acrylics dry quickly, expect to be doing some serious scrapping on the palette. So, ash-can the idea of a cheap plastic palette. That leaves us with glass. Non-porous and inert, glass is a real street-fighter capable of standing up against a  razor blade. But most everything has an Achilles heel and for glass, it's breakage. If a glass palette is dropped, unlike plastic or wood, expect some jagged-edged clean up on aisle three. Still, it's the best choice considering the circumstances.

With the choices whittled down to glass, I started looking at the available options. The instructor had mentioned a way to construct our own which I will dive into in a moment. Nonetheless, I wanted to look at what the art supply stores offered. A trip to the local art watering hole yielded rough costs ranging anywhere from 25 to 40 dollars for a glass palette. Not exactly my idea of cheap. So I decided to pursue the DIY angle. The instructor mentioned using a pane of glass with several layers of masking tap around the border to limit the sharpness of the edges. A workable idea. But never satisfied with a single option, I took a deep dive mission into the ether of the Internet looking for more ideas. Someone suggested adding a layer of Styrofoam backer beneath the glass. The advantage being the white background helps a person see the paints easier. Yep, that's s step in the right direction but I don't like the idea of using standard glass for two reasons: even with the tape, those edges are still sharp enough to cut through while my other concern is the fact the glass isn't tempered nor is it safety glass. Time for more digging. There has to be something out there I can re-purpose.

Eventually, I turned up a viable option: a kitchen cutting board made from glass. Formed out of tempered glass, it is fairly strong. Of course, it isn't safety glass, but it's a step above a regular glass pane which will crack relatively easily. Tempered glass is about ten times stronger so it should stand up to a few minor bumps so long as it doesn't fall to the floor or experience a similar catastrophic incident. A few more minutes searching turned up details about a glass cutting board carried at one of the local Bed, Bath & Beyond stores which is a couple miles from my house.

Measuring in at 12 x 15 inches (30.5 x 38.1 cm), the board is manageable for transporting to and from class. It's not huge, but it has enough surface to allow mixing a number of paints before running out of space. It's functionally comparable to the other rectangular glass palettes I found locally and online. There are some glass palettes that have a thumb hole. Some people claim it is best to avoid palettes you grasp with your hand because a brush and a palette knife are more important to hold. Personally, I don't have enough experience yet to declare my opinion one way or another so I'll go with the hands-free palette choice for now.

Looking for more details, I checked the website data on the cutting board which noted it was tempered, unbreakable glass. Unbreakable? Well, that's debatable advertising hype in my opinion and is non-relevant as such. The board having rounded edges is a given because of the nature of a cutting board so I won't need to tape the edges. Additionally, one side of the glass is smooth while the other is rougher. Not a problem, I can use the smooth side. One last thing to think about was the fact this board had the feet on the smooth side. But since the glue is usually easy to remove, I'll simply peel off the feet and place them on the rough side. And best of all, instead of a thirty dollar price tag, the board cost seven dollars and sixty five cents with tax included. Satisfied with the details, I ran up and grabbed one this afternoon.

Removing the feet is a straight forward task. A razor blade can be slid between the rubber and the glass so long as a person is careful. To reattach the feet to the other side, I'm going to try Dap Strongstik simply because I have a tube on hand that I used for an earlier repair project. It's says it bonds to glass but there is no indication about plastics or rubber. I'll have to exercise care because some substances can fundamentally melt plastics or rubber. Either way, if the feet don't stick or become causalities of hungry adhesive, it's only a minor inconvenience. Mostly, I want the feet to act as a cushion for the glass when I set it down on a surface.

One other thing, when I reattach the feet, I will leave enough space to place a piece of paper in between. That will allow me to tape different types of backgrounds below to help with visualizing how a color will look when applied to a given surface. Of course, the rough side of the glass will have an impact on this but I'm not going for visual perfection on being able to see the background. It's mostly a convenience factor.

In the end, it simply reinforces the fact that problems can be resolved in many different ways. Buying an item expressly manufactured for the task at hand isn't always necessary and can be more costly at times. A little research on the Internet can provide detailed accounts of how other people have approached the same problem. And if that fails, you can usually find how a similar problem in a different domain was solved. Ultimately, DIY is about problem solving: recognize the form of the problem, search out something similar that has already been solved, then apply the relevant aspects of a technique to solve the problem by making adaptions and changes as necessary. In this case, a cutting board solves the problem with little work other than research and a bit of gluing.

Update: and here's a picture of the art palette in active service. The paints scrape off the surface nicely and it's about the right size to work with. I have a fair mount of room to mix different colors on before I have to stop and clean off space.