4 Types of Easels for Watercolor Painters

By Michelle Morris in Art Tutorials > Painting Tutorials

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.

portable watercolor easel

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 tutorials, but for now, let’s look at a few kinds of easels that will keep your paper at the right angle for watercolors.

1. The easy (and free!) easel

All you really need is a 30-degree angle – just enough that 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 feels stable and doesn’t 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 more versatility of angle, you might consider buying an easel specifically for watercolor. The best tabletop easels tilt from upright to flat, which allows you to paint at any angle that suits you. Some even have drawers attached for storage. You can browse a variety of tabletop easel options at Blick, from inexpensive to top-of-the-line.

3. Portable stand-alone easels

Before you purchase an easel, make sure to think about where you’ll be painting. Will you be taking 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. Here’s a similar easel for watercolor painters (you’d just need to attach a tray to the lower support rail). It also converts to a tabletop easel.

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! The better ones 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 a necessary item for watercolorists like brushes,  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!


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