Friday, March 29, 2024

Review: Peg & Awl Petra Painter’s Palette

Closed Petra Palette (with standard-size fountain pen for scale)

Paint pans and mixing tray next to each other on one stable platform.

I’ve teased in a couple of recent posts about my latest standing watercolor palette, and I finally finished taking enough photos to reveal it: the Peg & Awl Petra Painter’s Palette.

Process-oriented sketcher that I am, before I get to the review (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), I must address briefly the last palette I used and why it didn’t work.

The last standing palette I used had a tri-fold
tray design.

After trying a few others prompted me to think more about what I need in a standing palette for sketching on location, I had decided that the key element is a thumb loop on the bottom. Without one, I can’t hold the palette with one hand while also juggling a sketchbook in the same hand. The one I chose for being lightweight and compact is an inexpensive, generic one I picked up on Amazon (shown at left).

With a fairly large capacity of half pans and two generous mixing trays, it seemed like it could work. I gave it a valiant try last fall, and it got me through several sketches, but not easily. The tri-fold design made it difficult to hold steadily without the mixed paint dripping one way or another. Depending on which direction I was holding the sketchbook, the mixing trays always seemed to block some part of it, as there’s no way to fold one side down without concealing the paint pans.

Using it taught me that another requirement is that both the palette and the mixing area must fit in the palm of my hand while also being steadied by a thumb or finger loop – and the whole setup must be small enough not to block the sketchbook. Tiny palettes proliferate, so I had no shortage of options, but it seemed like they were all either the right size or had a loop, but not both. In particular, I looked at Art Toolkits many times for their appealing sizes and customizable configurations, but none has a loop.

Enter the Peg & Awl Petra Palette. Peg & Awl makes several designs of compact paint palettes, all designed to fit in both of the Pennsylvania company’s Sendak artist roll and mini Sendak roll. I haven’t been carrying the Petra in one of my rolls, but it’s nice to know it fits well in either if I decide to do that.

Like all of Peg & Awl's paint palettes, the Petra fits neatly inside a pocket of the mini Sendak roll (shown here) and the standard-size Sendak.

The main reason I was attracted to the Petra design is that configuration places both the palette and the mixing area next to each other on a single, wood platform. Unfortunately, it does not come with a thumb loop, so I contacted Peg & Awl to see if they would be willing to attach an additional strap (like the one that secures the leather cover) on the back to serve as a loop. They weren’t able to accommodate my request during the busy holiday season when I wanted to take advantage of their sale. I bought it anyway – with the intention of rigging up my own loop somehow.

The solution I devised was about as simple (and low cost) as could be: a Field Notes Band of Rubber, which the notebook maker often includes free with orders. It’s thin, lightweight and a snap (ha) to attach. Instead of a thumb, I slip my second and third fingers under the band, keeping the palette secure in my palm. The palette’s 2 ½-inch width is comfortable to grip.

Two fingers secured in back.

A simple Band of Rubber does the trick!

The paint pans, longer than half pans but perhaps a little shallower, are simple cut-outs in the wood palette (made of US-grown sustainable maple). Although I had acquired it before the holidays, one reason I hadn’t filled it until this month is that I knew the pans would be difficult to clean out compared to removable half pans, so I wanted to think long and hard about which six colors to include (I’ll write a separate post about the colors I chose, as that was a whole separate process).

Paint pans filled at last.

The mixing tray is “sealed with natural EcoPoxy,” which feels smooth and almost glassy. I wondered what it would be like as a mixing surface, but watercolor does not bead up, even on first use (which is a problem with slick metal surfaces and even some plastic ones).

A simple leather flap covers the palette and secures with a leather band similar to a belt loop. It’s a clean, simple design that appeals to me esthetically and practically: nothing unessential here.

My first trials of the Petra were just in time for cherry blossom season, which was the sole reason I included pink in the palette. As expected, the rubberband secured the palette to my hand sufficiently. It’s difficult to see in my photos (as usual, I needed a third hand to photograph this setup adequately), but most of the palette rests on the sketchbook while my hand is underneath the sketchbook with two fingers attached to the palette. It works ideally when I’m sketching with the book in the vertical orientation so that the palette can rest on the page not in use. When sketching in the horizontal orientation, there’s no space to rest the palette, so it’s more of a juggle.

Hard to see, but my fingers are back there.

Although the Petra palette is working better than all the other standing palettes I’ve tried, it’s still an overall struggle. Once my right hand is literally tied up with the palette, it’s not free to do anything else, so my left hand has to do all the work. I don’t mean the painting (which is easy enough one-handed); it’s removing the cap from the waterbrush and spritzer that’s hard!

I’m not ready to give up on urban sketching with paints, but I may eventually have to concede and resort to one of two things: Either sit to paint (like most sketchers do) or stay at my desk to paint, neither of which makes me happy. I’ll probably know by the end of summer whether this works for me or not.


  1. This is an interesting exploration! I generally sit and draw so I hadn’t n considered the challenge of using the palette when standing. The field notes band looks great:)

    1. Being a standing sketcher adds more challenges to the experience, but I gain a lot in being able to move about quickly and be up higher. I'm already "vertically challenged" enough as it is, and if I sit, I might as well be lying on the ground. ;-)

  2. My palette is probably the same tri-fold one you had been using. I like it, except that it is sometimes difficult to navigate balancing the three sections. I was happier with my original metal palette which was smaller...but I couldn't have as many colors. This new one would be too limiting for me. I'll be interested in seeing how this one works out for you.

    1. It is challenging to use so few colors, but I also enjoy the effect of a limited palette! We'll see how I do with it!


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