Do you paint flat or use an easel?

With a background in drawing and painting in watercolor, I was used to working flat at a table. When I showed up for my first acrylic painting class, I was (almost) surprised to find that everyone had an easel to work at. It felt strange painting at an easel – holding my arm up in the air. After the class ended, I continued to paint more and more in acrylics, always flat on a table or on the floor. I began to wonder if I should be using an easel. Some online research (on revealed some interesting points including, “work vertically, because the painting will be displayed vertically.”

Things to consider when deciding to work flat vs. at an easel:

  • How large do you work? It’s easier to work on an easel with larger paintings than a table.
  • Viewing your painting. You can back away from an easel, to “take in” and view a painting, especially the larger ones.
  • Do you add fine details? I find it easier to add details when the painting is flat and I can lean on the canvas.
  • Acrylic vs. oils – Oils take longer to dry and dust can be an issue as it dries when a painting is laying flat.
  • Do you have a dedicated space for an easel?

I invested in an aluminum easel. It’s lightweight but sturdy and folds up for storing. Learn more here. It looks so professional, and I love displaying my latest painting on it! There’s even an arm that extends to hold my brushes and palette!

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I want to hear from you! How do you prefer to work?
(To date, 90 people have completed this survey and 79% prefer to work flat.)

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18 thoughts on “Do you paint flat or use an easel?

  1. I enjoy working with a tabletop easel if I’m working on small to medium canvases. I actually have the tabletop version of the same one you bought! I find I enjoy painting most when I can sit comfortably while doing it. I love my table and the easy access it provides.

    1. Thanks for your input! Lately, I’ve been working in watercolor. I think I’m most comfortable sitting and painting flat! Whenever I paint in acrylic, I’m all over the place – the floor, the counter top, the easel. Still trying to get comfortable I guess!

  2. i have only worked flat excepts when I visited, as a guest, a big city studio. My problem is that the perspective is off sometimes and you don’t see it until it’s too late.

  3. Now I draw on flat surface. But I wanna draw vertically. It will have a professional look. Besides the entire work can be seen as a whole. While we work on flat surfaces there is a chance to make slight mistakes due to perspective.

  4. I was glad to see this entry as I was wondering if there were any others who preferred to paint flat. I’m just a hobbyist and I have purchased both a table top and a regular easel. I use the table top once in a while but I still prefer to just use the table or my lap. The fact that they are displayed vertical is a good one though and one I had not considered.

    1. Since I mostly work in watercolor, when I do paint with acrylics on canvas, painting flat feels more natural to me. I’m sure if I spent more time painting with the easel, I’d be more comfortable. I think the size you work in is also a factor. I tend to work on smaller canvases. If you work large you may need it on an easel, so you can back away and take the whole canvas in. Thanks for commenting!

  5. As a beginner and not a spring chicken, I paint flat. I find my arm is just too tired using an easel. Wish I would have adjusted to it long ago, I’m just a late bloomer

    1. I was watching a painting video on YouTube yesterday and I noticed the loose way the artist was holding the brush and painting at an easel. It’s the first time I realized that the painting might look different – the brushstrokes – depending on if you use an easel and how you hold the brush. Thanks for your comment!

  6. I just finished a watercolor workshop given by a world class artist who does portraits. She required we use easels. I learned painting flat. My pictures In the class were very poorly done and I CAN paint. She painted for us and I have to admit they were so free and alive I have vowed to paint on an easel until I am comfortable with the change. But I agree that I will continue to paint flat for smaller paintings. Thanks for theses postings they were helpful

    1. Galer, thanks for your comment! It’s interesting that in a watercolor class you painted with easels, since the paint could run down the page. Maybe that was the effect your teacher wanted. Everybody does things differently. Finding what works for you is the key. Personally I like to be able to work flat and rest my arm on the table.

  7. I have a drafting table that I can manipulate the angle of its table top and used it for acrylic and watercolor. I just took up alla prima in oils – 8×10 – 18×24 canvases and wonder if a vertical standing easel would be better.

    1. Michael, I’m not experienced in oils. I thought I heard that it was better to leave oils on easel to dry bc they take a long time and this way dust doesn’t settle. Even if that is the case you could work on your table if you are more comfortable and prop up the painting to dry when you are done.

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