Organizing Yummy Tubed Watercolor + Gouache Paint

Here’s my process for getting watercolor + gouache paint from tubes to palettes. This set-up allows me to quickly start painting each day with easy access, fast set-up + clean-up — so I can focus on painting!

PS. Got paints? Here are 12+ ideas for using paint swatches!

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. 
Come join us. Life is so
endlessly delicious." 
Ruth Reichl

Tubed gouache paints.

Identification: {left} M. Graham Artists' Gouache, Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache, Maimeri Artist Gouache {backdrop? gouache}

When I paint with watercolor or gouache I want to get painting as quickly as possible to make the most of my art time. So I wanted to share with you the behind-the-scenes process for initially setting up my palettes! This is a long-form post and I hope you find it useful as reference!

When I initially set up my palettes with paint, I painted swatches of every color and cut up the swatches into squares. Every few months, I squeeze fresh paint to the wells in the palette that are running low and make note when tubes are almost out of paint. Fortunately I use very little paint and even painting consistently with gouache, I don’t have to refresh my palette very often. When I get new colors, I make swatches for them.

After painting all of the swatches I toyed with the order that I wanted to place them in the palette boxes. Have no fear. This was not any sort of scientific or art school algorithm but rather ordering them in a way that pleases the eye. You get to decide the order you like best!

Mark-making in gouache by Tammy Garcia.

Art journaling in gouache.

Gouache in an Iona watercolor journal by Tammy Garcia.
Gouache paints.


Next, the process of squeezing a similar amount of paint into each well, following the order I had decided and then re-decided after the swatches got disorganized and re-organized. Being a self-taught artist, I didn’t have a particular array that I knew would make sense, so I over-analyzed, then stressed out, then ultimately decided to go with the order that made sense to me. This works for the way that I work.

Painting a doodle flower with gouache.

I squeezed a little bit of each of the W&N watercolors and the various colors of gouache into the palettes, with a little room for expansion. To house all of the colors, I got two Mijello 33-section covered palettes. I’ve been using these for many, many years and they are perfect for working at my art desk. Keep in mind that these palettes are not airtight enough for traveling, but I love them for around the house where I usually paint!

Color theory is still a quagmire to me, and that is an area where I would imagine that art school would have helped? But I didn’t go to art school - I went to business school. So if you need to calculate return-on-investment… I can do that!

As for the actual colors, I’ve developed this rainbow array through trial & error and lots of just figuring it out as I go. You know I’m analytical, and in everything I do, reality is a key component of my decision process —>

a) like to work fast.
b) do abstract work.
c) need quick set-up + clean-up.
d) want zero roadblock to PAINTING each day.

Winsor and Newton half pan field kits.

Side note: If I want to watercolor on the road or at a coffee shop, I prefer to use my W&N compact field kit with W&N half pans. Some W&N kits come with the student grade Cotman pans and others come with artist quality W&N pans, so make sure you know what you are getting when you order.

Painting patterns with gouache.
All of my gouache paint tubes fit in one clear container.
Paint mixtures with gouache.

Three small stackable clear acrylic boxes hold all of my gouache + watercolor paint tubes. Another photo ↓ below.

So while I started out with the intention of using just single pigment colors and becoming a deluxe wizard at color mixing, you know what? I really dig colors like Payne's Gray and lots of other paints with more than one pigment! I like having all of that lush color within reach.

A visually engaging color mixing book is the Color Mixing Bible. Consider what YOU plan to paint. For example, if you wish to paint little scenes from your garden & landscapes, you'll need the colors necessary to paint nature!

When comparing brands, you will find that some pigments have different names depending on the brand. My inner geek LOVES researching pigments and reading reference charts and TRYING to comprehend the scientific details.

Here’s how the palettes look with freshly squeezed paint - quite pristine! It did not look like this for very long — when you see this you know that the palette hasn’t yet been used!

Freshly loaded palettes of tubed gouache and watercolor paint.

After squeezing all of the gouache colors into the palette… I measured the number of squares I would need per row and painted swatches as a reference. I use the swatches in many ways - plus I know what paint is where. When the paint runs low, I know what color to use to refill the section. And I know what colors aren’t rewetting well… or become gritty or flaky or whatever.... so that I don't buy them again!

Here’s how the palettes look after being used for a long, long time! That’s my kinda palette!

Watercolor & gouache paints.

Brushes, neocolors, watercolor, gouache.
Notes about watercolor vs. gouache! The value of creating color swatches! My process for organizing & documenting tubes of paint!
Tubed watercolor paints.

I filmed the process of painting this tiny abstract with a bit of an architectural or map vibe.

Want to loosen up your painting process? Want to get started with abstract watercolor or gouache?

In my workshops, I’ll help you get started with free-form painting, a delightful, playful, loose style. We’ll generate ideas and transform those ideas onto the page, diving in, zipping around your pages with bright fresh color and quirky designs, doodles, and patterns! Learn more about my workshops!

That's the story of how I got my tubes of watercolor paint and tubes of gouache paint organized in pretty palettes that look like edible rainbows! I hope you found this helpful!