Many watercolorists work on a flat surface such as a table. I work that way only if I have no choice. Instead, I prefer to work with my paper upright like an oil painter, or at the very least, tilted at an angle.
Now, you may be thinking that the water will always be running down and making a huge mess. . . and you would be right if I were always working in a very wet sloppy way. But most of the time I use a controlled amount of water and paint, and working at an angle helps me guide the paint where I want it to go. If I were to paint with my paper horizontally flat, the paint and water would spread outward in all directions. When I tilt the paper, however, I’m in control.
We’ll go over this more in later in the tutorials, but for now, let’s look at a few kinds of easels that will keep your paper at the right angle.
1. The easy (and free!) easel
All you really need is a 30 degree angle, just enough the water will flow down. You can achieve this on a table by placing something under your mounting support. A roll of paper towels or a box will both work just fine, as long as it is stable and wont slide. You can place some tacky drawer liner at the base to keep the board in place. This is quick, simple and costs nothing!
2. Table-top watercolor easels
For a more versatility of angle you might consider buying an easel specifically for watercolor. These easels tilt from upright to flat, which allows you to paint at any angle that suits you. Some even have drawers attached for storage. Most online and offline art stores carry some variation of the table-top watercolor easel.
3. Portable stand-alone easels
Before you purchase an easel, make sure to think about about where you’ll be painting. Will you be schlepping your easel with you? If you take classes or plan to set up outside you need to consider weight, size, how you will carry it, what it will rest on (ground or table) and how long it will take to get all of it set up each time you paint.
I have a portable easel (illustrated above) that is specifically designed for watercolor painting. It attaches to a tripod with a tray that holds my supplies. This easel folds down very small, packs right up in my bag, and is very lightweight.
4. Full-size studio easels
In my studio, I use a traditional floor easel for some sizes of paintings. When I do, I always have a table with all my supplies close at hand. You probably won’t need a full size floor easel just yet! These are costly and take up a lot of space. . . in general, a table-top easel is usually the best of both worlds. They have more angle choices, more portability, and are much less expensive.
But wait! Before you go buy any kind of easel. . .
Easels are not one of the necessary items I have covered to this point. They are just another tool to help us control our medium a little better.
There are many easels to choose from and you may not need one right away, if ever. If you work small and don’t use a lot of water you may even find that you prefer to work flat. Many watercolor artists do. As you read through my future watercolor tutorials you will learn how you are most comfortable working, and what kind of easel you might need—so my best advice is to hold off on buying one if you’re just starting out.
Good luck, and happy painting!