Getting Started: Setting up your Painting Space

Welcome to my series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught artist.  

Once you’ve got your paint, brushes, canvases and other supplies, you’ll need a place to set up.

While an easel is great for serious painters, it can take up a significant part of your budget, and you don’t really need one when you’re first starting out.  My recommended canvas size for beginners is something in the 9″x12″ to 16″x20″ range, and this size is manageable for working flat.   If you’re sitting at a desk or the kitchen table, try propping up one end of your canvas on some books (protected with a rag) to see if you prefer working at an angle.  If you do, you might want to invest in a table easel at some point.

Try to keep your most used supplies within easy reach, so you don’t set yourself up for back or shoulder pain.  This is my current setup in my garage where I paint:


I put a rag under my water bucket to wipe off paint and catch drips, and put my palette on the left side, since I’m left-handed.   I also try to leave some space next to the bucket to rest my rinsed brushes, so I’m not tempted to leave them in the water pail.   I have a bright task light hanging overhead, but I stop frequently and bring the painting outside, so I can see how it looks under natural light.

If you do have an easel, I recommend standing to paint if you can.  It can be more tiring until you get used to it, but it makes it easier to step back frequently and check your work from different angles, and it may reduce back and shoulder strain if you paint for long sessions.

I always wear my painting apron and often another button-up shirt to protect my clothes, since acrylic paint will stain clothing permanently if it dries.  I also put on hand lotion before starting to paint, so the paint is easier to wash off my hands and arms later.

Next: Common Beginner Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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