Build Your Own French Mistress…

Hey everyone, I built this paint box for my studio to replace the way-too-small palette I was using before. How they got the name “French Mistress” I have no idea, other than maybe the folks at Richeson were feeling bawdy in the naming office one day. Anyways, I took some photos along the way so I could tell you how I built this thing. The box holds a 16×20 sheet of glass for a palette.


Sheet of wood, at least 44″x18″.
Pane of glass, 16×20″.
6 poplar square dowels, 36″x3/4″.
Wood glue.
Wood finish.
2 12″ piano hinges.
8 decorative corners(optional).
2 brass toggle catches.
Enough acrylic paint to cover a 16×20″ panel. Colors: white+black/umber/etc(your choice).
Silicone caulk.
Step 1: I planned out what I needed. I took a sheet of birch plywood that I bought from OSH, but whatever sheet of wood that you prefer should work. The one I used was slightly less the 24×48, with a 7/32″ thickness. I also got 6 36″ poplar square dowels with a 3/4″ thickness.
Step 2: I carefully measured where I needed to cut the poplar squares down to the size I needed to make the parts of the box. I cut them down to these sizes:
  • 2 21″-3/4″ pieces.
  • 4 10″-13/16″ pieces.
  • 6 17″-3/4″ pieces.

I then cut opposing 45° at the ends of each of these newly-cut poplar squares.

Step 3:  I cut the piece of birch plywood into 3 separate pieces:
  • 1 21″x3/4″ panel.
  • 2 10″x13/16″ panel.

Step 4: I then glued poplar dowels to the freshly cut birch panels. It helps to have C-clamps to make sure they adhere to the panels, if you have them handy.

*Sidenote: If you want to make these into canvas panels, simply stop here and glue canvas to the front side of the panel.
Step 5: I next applied several coats of wood finish to every exposed part of the wood with a bristle brush.

Step 6: Once the wood finish dried, I applied a couple of coats of shellac to each side of the panel. I then waited a few minutes for it to dry.

Step 7: I then screwed the piano hinges to the sides of the poplars so that the hinges fold inward. This will make sure the box closes shut. Be careful to line up the hinge with the edge so that the box closes straight.


Step 8 (optional): I screwed in 8 decorative corners to the box(4 on the bottom, 4 on top). Not only do they help protect the corners from getting banged up, but they add a touch of class to the box.

Step 9: I screwed one brass toggle catch on each side of the box lid. This will make sure the lid doesn’t open if you move it.

  Step 10: I like mixing on a toned palette, so what I did was take a mix of white/burnt umber/red oxide acrylic paint(well mixed, no streaks), covered one side of the glass, let it dry, flipped the pane over, then set it aside.

Step 11: I spread silicone caulk and applied it to the sides and corners of the box, and an X in the center of the box.

Step 12: I set the pane painted-side-down into the box, let the caulk dry to seal the palette to the box, and lay some paint down on it!

Optional mods: I drilled a screw into the side of the right-hand box lid. When I slide my palette cup around the screw, it makes sure it doesn’t slide everywhere when you’re using it. I also cut 4 foam squares to glue to the corners of the lid. This will cushion the lid when you close the box, as well as help it the box top lay flat while closed.

Let me know if you have any improvements to the set-up! I’m all ears.

Bonus! Link to the Youtube video:

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About Sergio Lopez

North Bay Area based Fine Artist Sergio Lopez. Oil paintings, gouache paintings, plein air paintings, and charcoal drawings.

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  1. Askhat says:

    Thank you, Sergio.

  2. Sergio thanks for step by step guide for building French Mistress, your explanation with the help of picture is very easy to follow.

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