How to Make Paint Palettes with Air Dry Clay

By Brittni • Updated on 02/15/2024

These DIY paint palettes are fun to make and may encourage kids (and adults) to break out the paints more often. 

Holding a white, handmade paint palette over a table, with paint in various colors on the palette

My son is big on crafting and especially loves anything related to painting. So, I made a handful of clay paint palettes that are just his size. They’re made of air dry clay, so there is no firing required. And it only takes a few materials (most of which you likely already have at home).

With summer break, this feels like the perfect project to tackle with kids (or a creative adult). And after everything is done and dry, it may even encourage them to paint more frequently. Click through for the tutorial.

handmade paint palette with pastel paints on it, sitting on wood table amongst art supplies

Eventually, I’ll make some fancier paint palettes that require firing, as opposed to just air drying. But for now, these are cute and functional. And perfect for kids, especially! 

Aside from being fun to make and also a functional piece when they’re completed, they’re affordable!

You can make a few of your own for less than ten dollars worth of materials. Speaking of which…

Materials

  • air dry clay (I like this one bc its super affordable and comes in a reusable container)
  • wooden skewer or popsicle stick*
  • rolling pin – an inexpensive one that you use only for crafting
  • sandpaper
  • cup of water
  • sealer (like acrylic sealer, clear polyurethane varnish, or clear nail polish)
  • old cookie rack, screen, or something similar for air flow while clay is drying

*You can use fancier carving tools if you want, but I wanted to make this project as accessible as possible. And I actually used a wooden skewer for most of the clay paint palettes I made.

handmade paint palettes made of white, air dry clay, waiting to dry on a table

The above photo was taken before/during the smoothing stage of the process.

How to Make a Paint Palette

1. Roll clay into ball and then roll it out with a rolling pin.

Start by rolling a palm size amount of clay into a ball and then roll it out with a rolling pin.

Try and keep the thickness to about a 1/2 inch or thinner.

2. Carve out the outer paint palette shape.

Next, use a popsicle stick, wooden skewer, or clay carving tool to cut the rolled out clay into the desired paint palette shape (rectangle, square, circle, abstract shape, etc).

You can also use a large cookie cutter if you don’t want to freehand it. There are lots of cool shapes on Etsy and standard shapes (circles and rectangles) on Amazon.

3. Smooth the surface.

Dip your fingers into a little water and rub the edges of your shape to get rid of any jaggedness.

4. Carve out the paint wells.

Then, carve the interior paint well shapes (you can use your fingers, a carving tool, or the same wooden skewer or popsicle stick from earlier.

Another idea would be to use a plastic spoon to create oval shaped paint wells, by pressing the spoon into the clay.

Once you have them roughly carved, dip your fingers in a tiny bit of water and start smoothing the paint wells and the entire surface of the paint palette.

5. Carving, smoothing, and drying.

Go back and forth with carving and smoothing until you’re happy with it.

Then sit it aside and let it dry according to the packaging. Overnight or 24-48 hours depending on the thickness is a good rule of thumb.

You want to make sure that all sides are drying evenly / at the same time. So using something like a cookie rack to create air flow while drying is recommended.

Broken white paint palette made of clay, closeup

6. Smooth any areas that are still rough with sandpaper.

Use sandpaper to smooth out any areas that need it – like the edges for example. Wipe away any debris with a rag.

Note: Be careful during the sanding process. I got a little too rough with a paint palette, while sanding, and it broke in half. Photo above.

7. Seal the palette to make it waterproof.

The last step is sealing the paint palette. You need to seal the ENTIRE paint palette – top, sides, and back. Multiple times.

So that when you wash the paint off, after each use, the air dry clay is protected from water.

This will help it last longer, help prevent cracking / breaking, and keep the paint from absorbing into the palette surface.

For sealing, you can use an acrylic sealer, clear polyurethane varnish, or my preferred method: which is 2-3 coats of clear nail polish (like a clear top coat).

Surprisingly, I found that the palettes I used clear nail polish on (instead of the other 2 suggestions) were the ones that the paint washed off of the best, without staining the palette.

If you decide to use a clear top coat nail polish, you can use the nail polish brush OR an actual paint brush.

Just make sure you do at least 2 coats (regardless of what sealant you use) AND you cover the entire surface with each coat (top, sides, and bottom).

After the sealant layers are dry, its ready to use!

Woman holding several clay paint palettes in her hand, in front of a piece of artwork

closeup of white paint palette on top of wood table and kids play mat surrounded by art supplies

How much clay do I need to create a paint palette? 

It depends on the size you want your paint palette to be.

But a good rule of thumb is to start with a ball of air dry clay that is a little bigger than your fist and roll it out.

If the size isn’t large enough, ball it back up and add some more before rolling it out again.

How can I speed up the drying time for air dry clay?

Generally, I wouldn’t recommend that you try speeding up the drying time. Why? Because it could lead to breakage or cracking.

I have seen some suggestions for using a fan, like a ceiling fan or box fan. But I haven’t tried that.

You want to get the most air flow possible, around the clay.

So elevating pieces that are drying off of the ground, on little risers (cookie racks work great for this) will help to let the clay dry faster naturally. And also, will help keep it flat.

Sometimes air dry clay will curl as it dries, if there is no air flow underneath.

Can I use polymer clay to make a paint palette like this instead?

Yes! You can use polymer clay / oven bake clay instead of air dry clay. But the process will be different.

For example, you cannot use water on polymer clay to smooth it or make it more pliable.

If your polymer clay is hard, you can add the hardened clay to a plastic bag, seal it, and then dip the bag in hot water. But don’t let water touch the clay itself.

Once shaped, it would be baked according to the package instructions. And then you can seal it with multiple coats of something that will waterproof it, like resin or varnish.

Dishwasher safe Mod Podge may work as well, but I haven’t tried it. So I don’t know for sure.

How do you clean these paint palettes?

I recommend cleaning palettes immediately after you’re done using them. So the paints don’t have time to really dry fully or leach in.

I usually just turn on the faucet in our utility sink (in the garage) and wipe the paint out with my hands. For more stubborn paint, you can try mild soap with water.

Towel dry and they’re ready for next time.

My paint palette has paint stains that won’t come off. Now what?

If the palette is stained and the paint won’t come off, I would paint over it with a 2-3 coats of white paint and then reseal.

Good as new.

handmade paint palette with pastel colors, surrounded by art supplies

several handmade paint palettes on a table for kids   

holding paint palette with pastel paints on it, in use   

overhead image of wood table with craft and art supplies for kids scattered all around

How to Make Clay Paint Palettes

Brittni
My son is big on crafting and especially loves anything related to painting. So, I made a handful of clay paint palettes that are just his size. They're made of air dry clay, so there is no firing required. And they require just a few materials (most of which you likely already have at home). With summer break, this feels like the perfect project to tackle with kids (or a creative adult). And after everything is done and dry, it may even encourage them to paint more frequently. Click through for the tutorial.
No ratings yet

Equipment

  • air dry clay (I like this one bc its super affordable and comes in a reusable container)
  • wooden skewer or popsicle stick* You can use fancier carving tools if you want, but I wanted to make this project as accessible as possible. And I actually used a wooden skewer for most of the clay paint palettes I made.
  • rolling pin - an inexpensive one that you use only for crafting
  • sandpaper
  • cup of water
  • sealer (like acrylic sealer, clear polyurethane varnish, or clear nail polish)
  • old cookie rack, screen, or something similar for air flow while clay is drying

Instructions
 

Roll clay into ball and then roll it out with a rolling pin.

  • Start by rolling a palm size amount of clay into a ball and then roll it out with a rolling pin. Try and keep the thickness to about a 1/2 inch or thinner.

Carve out the outer paint palette shape.

  • Next, use a popsicle stick, wooden skewer, or clay carving tool to cut the rolled out clay into the desired paint palette shape (rectangle, square, circle, abstract shape, etc). You can also use a large cookie cutter if you don't want to freehand it. There are lots of cool shapes on Etsy and standard shapes (circles and rectangles) on Amazon.

Smooth the surface.

  • Dip your fingers into a little water and rub the edges of your shape to get rid of any jaggedness.

Carve out the paint wells.

  • Then, carve the interior paint well shapes (you can use your fingers, a carving tool, or the same wooden skewer or popsicle stick from earlier. Another idea would be to use a plastic spoon to create oval shaped paint wells, by pressing the spoon into the clay.
  • Once you have them roughly carved, dip your fingers in a tiny bit of water and start smoothing the paint wells and the entire surface of the paint palette.

Carving, smoothing, and drying.

  • Go back and forth with carving and smoothing until you're happy with it. Then sit it aside and let it dry according to the packaging. Overnight or 24-48 hours depending on the thickness is a good rule of thumb.
  • You want to make sure that all sides are drying evenly / at the same time. So using something like a cookie rack to create air flow while drying is recommended.

Smooth any areas that are still rough with sandpaper.

  • Use sandpaper to smooth out any areas that need it - like the edges for example. Wipe away any debris with a rag.
  • Note: Be careful during the sanding process. I got a little too rough with a paint palette, while sanding, and it broke in half. Photo above.

Seal the palette to make it waterproof.

  • The last step is sealing the paint palette. You need to seal the ENTIRE paint palette - top, sides, and back. Multiple times. So that when you wash the paint off, after each use, the air dry clay is protected from water. This will help it last longer, help prevent cracking / breaking, and keep the paint from absorbing into the palette surface.
  • For sealing, you can use an acrylic sealer, clear polyurethane varnish, or my preferred method: which is 2-3 coats of clear nail polish (like a clear top coat). Surprisingly, I found that the palettes I used clear nail polish on (instead of the other 2 suggestions) were the ones that the paint washed off of the best, without staining the palette.
  • If you decide to use a clear top coat nail polish, you can use the nail polish brush OR an actual paint brush. Just make sure you do at least 2 coats (regardless of what sealant you use) AND you cover the entire surface with each coat (top, sides, and bottom).
  • After the sealant layers are dry, its ready to use!
Did you make this?Mention @paperandstitch or tag #paperandstitch!

Hoping this DIY paint palette will inspire you to create something special with your little one. I love projects like this, that will be used for months and maybe even years to come.

6 comments | Click here to reply

Thank you só much for this tutorial! I wanted to buy one on Etsy, but the it was só expensive with shipping costs as well. I love working with clay and have all the tools.

Etta

Thanks Stella! Glad to hear that.

Brittni

What a fantastic and creative idea! I can’t wait to try this out with my own little artist during the summer break. 🎨✨

Stella

Your blog is like a treasure map, leading me to discover new ideas and perspectives. Thank you for broadening my horizons!

vishal singh

Thanks Olivia! Can’t wait to make a few more with my son soon, since I made the first batch on my own. 🙂

Brittni

This looks like such a fun project! The paint palettes are so cute.

Olivia J
Leave a reply