“This is part of my Watercolor Lessons series of posts, where I share personal experiences that I feel have not been sufficiently or succinctly covered elsewhere. If you’re interested only in the lessons and not my normal blog posts, you can easily select them in the categories box on the right. ”
When I first started watercolor painting, the singular thing I spent the most time trying to figure out was this easel. Through lots of research on the internet about what people had done, this setup was the easiest and least expensive that I could put together. I had seen Alvaro Castagnet working with a similar easel and wanted to try to make one myself. Note: This is my first attempt at making a board from foamcore instead of wood, so come on! Let’s try this experiment together. The steps are almost the same, though.
The Swiveling Easel – Why? Well, I’ll tell ya.
In watercolor, it’s very important to control the flow of the water on the paper. Sometimes you may want the water (and therefore the pigment) to lay flat and not move around much. In other circumstances, you might want the paint and water to move quickly down the paper. This easel setup will allow you to do just that without having to make adjustments to the easel while you’re working.
Note: I usually use a thin board made from processed wood for this, but since I needed a larger board for some larger work, and I was concerned about weight, I went with foamcore. It’s not nearly as sturdy as the the wood, as you can see in the video.
The supplies you need are:
- sturdy but lightweight tripod with a quick-release shoe. Make sure you get one that has extra shoes readily available. I have a number of boards in the same and different sizes that I can swap instantly.
thingy (see below. I don’t know what it’s called.)Tee Nut – Threads should be the same diameter as the original screw on your tripod’s shoe.
- screw (I use one with an allen wrench head so I can really crank it down)
- long ruler – I recommend you get one with a finger guard for all your cutting needs.
- box cutter
- packing tape
- awe or drill (depending on the surface you’re using)
Tripod: The SLIK F740 tripod is one I highly recommend. The shoes are wide and large, adding a greater surface area for the board to rest on. In addition, the tripod itself is well made, sturdy, and inexpensive. You can find it on Amazon here, but you may want to ask at your local camera store if you can get the replacement shoes easily. Where I live, they’re very easy to find and cheap, but I don’t see any on the American Amazon website. It doesn’t matter what tripod you use as long as it’s sturdy, lightweight, and has quick release shoes that are fairly large.
Support: If you’re working small (45×60 cm or less), I highly recommend using processed wood instead of foamcore. It’s a much sturdier and more secure surface to work on. The downside is it’s much heavier. If you go this route, see what your local hardware store has to offer. Plywood is probably going to be too heavy to carry around, and may push the limits of the tripod.
Cut the Board to the Required Size
I mark it out lightly first with a marker or pencil. It’s easy to cut when using foamcore. If you use wood (like I usually do) and you don’t have the necessary tools, you can ask the store to cut it for you.
I leave about a half an inch on three sides and more on one side so I can tape scrap paper there and check my colors before using them.
Tape the Edges
Makes it look nice and protects it from moisture.
Find the Center and Use an Awe or Drill to Make a Hole
This hole should be slightly larger than the diameter of the tee nut’s shaft. Hey, you in the back, stop laughing. Geesh, there’s one in every crowd.
Attach the Shoe to the Board
Here are the supplies you’ll need for this step. The screw and threads on the tee nut must be the same diameter as the original screw on your tripod, or at least a diameter that allows the screw to fit into the shoe’s original opening.
Hammer the tee nut into the board. These brilliant little devices have spikes that dig down into the board and keep the screw secure. No matter how you turn and twist the board, they won’t loosen. When I use wood, I add a silicone glue to make this even more sturdy. I was afraid to try it with the foamcore, and maybe that’s partially why it’s not as sturdy as I would like. My wooden boards are much more sturdy.
Remove the original screw from your shoe and insert the new one. NOTE: You may be able to avoid this step if you can find a tee nut that has the same threads as your shoe’s original screw. I couldn’t, and it was just easier to buy a matching screw.
Add washers to the shoe so that when you screw it into the board, the screw doesn’t protrude from the opposite side.
You want to make this as flush as possible, so use washers to keep the screw from coming through too far.
Here’s what it looks like on the back.
Put a piece of tape over the metal to protect it from moisture, and to protect your paper.
Attach the shoe to the tripod, and you’re ready to go!
The foamcore is easier to assemble than the wooden boards, but I’m not entirely happy with the stability. I think the main issue is the tee nut isn’t able to get the same grip it has with the wood. I’ll play with this some more in the future and update this post if I find any solutions. I’m considering gluing heavy cardstock or even a thin piece of wood to the back of the board to give the tee nut a firmer hold. I haven’t had a chance to paint on this large board yet. It seems like it will be okay, but if you are working in a smaller size, I would still recommend going with a wood surface. I use wood up to a 45×60 cm surface, and it works very well.
As always, good luck, have fun, and go paint something great!