Welcome back to the 3T Art Blog. This week, we continue to look at the Artist’s Studio. Our focus in this post is on your studio's workstation.
The way we set up our workstations has a huge impact on how productive we are when we’re creating our latest masterpiece. No matter what media you use, you need to have room to work and have your supplies at your finger-tips.
Are you happy with your current workstation set up? What changes could you make?
I’ve had many workstations with different layouts over the years and it’s taken a while to figure out what’s best for me. I’d like to pass on some ideas to help you get set up and working as effectively as possible.
First, ask yourself a few questions. Do you feel more comfortable working at an easel or a table? Does your choice of media work better for an easel or a table? For example, if you’re a watercolour artists, you may prefer working at a table instead of an easel. I work at both, using an easel when I paint medium to large sized artwork or when I draw, but prefer to work at a table when I paint small pieces.
Setting-up Your Easel Workstation
Working at an easel is the choice of many artists creating in a number of media. It’s practical, flexible and takes up a minimal amount of space in your studio. To get started, all you really need is an easel and a side table for your supplies. If you don’t have a permanent studio space yet, you can always set an easel up in any room and get to work.
It may take time getting used to working at an easel if you’ve never done it before, especially if you’re used to working at a table, but I think you’ll be happy you tried it. Using an easel may end up being your go-to from that point on.
Here are a few things to consider when you’re setting up your permanent easel workstation in your studio:
A-Frame or H-Frame Easel
There are many types of easels. You’ll find the most popular for art studios are the A-frame and H-frame easels. They’re named after their shapes. I prefer to work on an H-frame easel instead of an A-frame. The H-frame takes up a bit more room but I find it more solid than an A-frame and it can be adjusted in more ways.
Both designs work well; the choice coming down to personal preference and cost. H-frame easels are more expensive. Either way, make sure you buy a good quality easel. This is a piece of studio equipment that’ll last you a lifetime. More than likely, you’ll only need to purchase it once but that doesn’t mean you won’t be purchasing any other easels for your studio. You probably will. I have two H-frames for painting and one adjustable folding easel I set up with a board when I’m drawing.
You should also decide if you’ll be standing or sitting when you work at your easel. If standing for long periods of time is difficult for you, then set up your workstation so you can sit in front of your easel. If you prefer to stand, keep in mind that it can make a difference to the height of the side table you’ll need for your workstation. It all depends on what height you’ll be comfortable working with. I like to stand when I begin a painting. It’s easier for big strokes and large brushes. When it comes to working on smaller areas of a painting and adding final details, sitting works best. I generally keep my workstation side tables at regular table height.
Side Table Size
Next, you’ll need to figure out what size of side table you’re going to need beside your easel. Do you have just a few supplies you work with or do you need to have everything at hand? The easiest way to do this is to write a list of what you use when you’re creating.
When I’m painting at my easel, I need a lot of things at hand!
My list of supplies looks something like this:
· Paints – I set out the basics first such as white, yellow ochre, raw umber, Payne’s grey and sometimes black (I like to mix my own). Next, I like to have a warm and cool of the primary colours at hand so I add cadmium red medium (warm), alizarin crimson (cool), ultramarine blue (warm), cerulean blue (cool), cadmium yellow medium (warm) and lemon yellow (cool). This allows me to mix just about any colour I want. Two more colours I like to have at hand are cadmium orange and Dioxazine purple.
You probably have a set colours you like to work with. Make sure you have enough room at your workstation for all of them without them cluttering your workspace. I like to put all the paints I’m using for a project in a separate plastic container and only keep the ones I’m using each day out on my work surface.
· Brushes – I like to arrange brushes by type and in order of when I use them for a painting. You can store them in plastic containers and try lining them up along the top edge of your workstation’s side table like I do. For example, I have a separate container for hog hair brushes which I use for roughing in when I start a painting, separate containers for different brands of synthetic brushes I use throughout a painting, and a container for soft brushes I like to use for final details. I also have a container for older scruffy brushes. You never know when a scruffy brush is going to come in handy, right?
Before I start painting, I select the brushes I need and leave those on the workstation’s side table for easy access. At the end of the painting day, I wash them and leave them out so I don’t have to go looking for them again the next day. Make sure you always let your brushes dry completely before storing them again and never leave your brushes soaking in your water container. They’re expensive, so you want them to last as long as possible.
· Paper towel – This is a must for me. I rip sheets off the roll (at least 10) and folded them so they’re ready to use. I don't like to spend time doing this when I'm in the middle of a painting.
· Palettes – What kind of palette do you use? There are more than a few to choose from. You can choose from 6x9”, 9x12” or 16x20” disposable palette paper pads. Any one of these are handy to have at your workstation. You can mix your colours on them, paint directly off of them and when it comes to clean up, you just throw the used sheet away.
You can also use a hand-held wood palette with a thumbhole if you chose to, mixing paint with your brush as you work. This is a great solution for oil painters working in the Alla Prima method (wet on wet without letting the layers of oil paint dry). You can buy 9x12” disposable palettes with thumbholes in them if you like working this way and prefer the ease of clean-up you get with the disposables.
I use either a white or grey disposable palette paper when working in acrylics. The largest size available is best for me when I’m working at the easel. I tear off a sheet and tape it to my side table, which has a pane of glass on a black laminated board on it.
I prefer to use the glass surface when I’m working in oils (I don’t suggest it for acrylics because they dry way too fast on glass). It’s easy to switch the colour of my palette, leaving it black, or changing the colour by just sliding a sheet of white or grey palette paper under the glass. This way, you can actually work on any colour palette you like. Let’s say you’re working on a piece that has a predominately mid-tone green as the background. You could slide a sheet of a mid-tone green drawing paper under the glass. Why? This way you can easily see how the colours you’re mixing will appear on your canvas before you put the paint on.
As a general rule regarding palettes, use white disposable palette paper when you're painting is in the pastel to mid-tone value range and grey disposable palette paper when your painting is in the mid-tone to dark value range. It’ll make it easier for you to get your light, mid-tone and dark colour values correct.
· Paint Storage – I like to mix large a quantity of a paint colour so I have enough for an entire painting. We know all too well we can’t leave acrylic out long before it starts to dry. Even oil paint has a limited open time on your palette. So what to do? I’d suggest trying Sta-Wet palettes.
I bet you’re thinking those are only for folk art painting, right? Well, these palettes aren’t just for folk art painters anymore. They’re great for both acrylics and oils.
When you’re working on a painting and mix up a large amount of a colour you’re going to need for the next few days or longer, you’ll need a place to store the paint. Using a Sta-Wet palette keeps your paint from drying and clean-up is easy. It’s a much better solution than small glass or plastic jars. What a hassle it is when the lid of your jar dries on and you can't get it off! That's never a problem with a Sta-Wet palette. And it’s also portable so you can easily transport your wet colours from an art class you’re taking to your studio and back again.
· Water containers – a large size for me is always best because I don’t change water often when I’m painting. I use an old plastic ice cream container. It’s perfect because it holds a lot of water, has a lid and doesn’t cost extra.
· Miscellaneous items – I always need a palette knife or two nearby along with masking tape, chalk, triangular make-up sponges, pliers (to open those nasty dried on paint tube caps), small plastic containers for extra little bits of paint and a sketchbook with at least 90lbs paper in it for my paint swatches. If you’ve ever mixed a colour, ran out, and needed to mix it again you’ll understand why I paint swatches. It’s a must for large paintings. I need to be able to mix the same colour again without wasting a lot of time and paint. Definitely something for you to consider too.
So, judging by all of this, I need to have a good sized side table beside my easel. I actually have a series of them, one connecting to the other by just a plywood board. You don’t need fancy, expensive fixes to make your workstation functional. Be creative, just like you are in your artwork and you’ll be able to create an easel workstation that’s perfect for you.
Setting-up Your Table Workstation
You can consider all of the same points we looked at for our easel workstation when you’re setting up a table workstation.
If you plan to work at a table, make sure to leave yourself ample room for your supplies. Just like in the previous section, figure out what supplies you need to create your work and write a list of them. This will help you decide how large a surface you’re going to need. You should also consider where you’re going to put your table in the studio. Will it be up against a wall, under a window so you can work by natural light or in the middle of the room so you can move around it easily?
When I’m working on a small painting, sketching up a new design, or creating maquettes, I always work at a table. I’ve spent countless hours working on all kinds of things at my drafting table, including real old-time drafting projects using T-squares and set-squares from my college days when I studied engineering and later interior decorating. My drafting table is still in a big part of my studio today. Like an easel, it’s one of those pieces of studio equipment that, if you purchase a good quality one, it’ll last you a lifetime.
Once you’ve decided where to put your table, you need to figure out where on the table your work surface is going to be. Off to one side or in the middle? Are you going to work flat, use a tabletop easel (they also come in A-frame and H-frame) or some other set-up you have on hand so it’s at the right angle for you to work?
I’ve worked on tabletop easels before, but prefer to work on a surface that’s tilted to about 45 degrees. There are all kinds of ways to set something like this up but at some point you’ll needed something more permanent then some books and an eraser taped to your table so the canvas wouldn’t keep sliding down. Yes, that was my set up for many paintings. Eventually, I sketched out an idea and asked my husband (it’s handy having a hubby who’s a cabinetmaker) if he could make one for me. He did. His version can even be adjusted to different angles. I use it all the time when I’m painting small pieces at my drafting table.
When you’re setting up your supplies at a table, try not to put anything behind your work surface that you’re going to need when working. It’s just too hard to get to, especially if you’re planning on sitting while you work. Keep supplies to your left and right side. If something doesn’t work on one side, move it to the other side. Make it a comfortable workstation for you. I keep paints and brushes on the left and a 6x9” disposable palette paper pad on the right along with paper towel, a water container and a palette knife. If you’re a left handed, you’ll probably want to switch these things around.
Since I work on small paintings at a table, I don’t need as much room for supplies as I do at an easel. I only mix up the paint I need and set up one plastic container with the brushes I’m likely to use and put that on my table. One thing I do like to have on hand is the full assortment of paint outlined in the previous section. This keeps me from having to get up and search for paint colours once I’ve started working. Just the same as being at the easel.
Whether you like to work at an easel or a table, keep the same things in mind when you set up your workstation. Have enough space to work. Make it a comfortable space so you enjoy the hours you’re going to spend there.
Also, don’t be afraid to try different configurations and ways of doing things. If you’ve never tried working at an easel, give it a go. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it. Easels aren’t just for painting. You can use them for drawing, pastels, charcoal, pencil crayon work, or many other types of media. Depending on the style of your work, you can even use watercolours at an easel.
Working at a table has its benefits too. Depending on the size of your table, you’ll have more room for supplies, some you can even permanently store on the table if necessary. Another advantage of working at a table is you can easily switch up what you’re using your workstation for. For example, you can reconfigure your work surface from painting to collage work or to paint pouring without much difficulty. You can even move your entire workstation in one shot by just moving the table.
Do you have any ideas about how you can change your workstation to make it more efficient for you to work at? What are they? Leave a comment and let everyone know what you’re planning to change. Let’s get a discussion going that we can all learn from.
Next time, the 3T Art Blog is going to be looking at how to set up a sightline from your easel to the still life you’ve set up, the model you’re drawing via Zoom, or to the image you’re painting from your tablet. We’re also going to discuss artificial lighting in a big way. Don’t miss it!
See you next time!