How to set up the table for watercolors

How to set up the table for painting

Workspace for watercolor artists

The layout, setup, and preparation.

How to make your painting experience as comfortable and practical as possible

If you just got started with painting, then most things are new, and you probably have more then enough with what happening on the paper. There are so many things to learn. Time and space just seem to melt and disappear. Sometimes you end up with something you are very happy about, other times you get really frustrated. BUT there are many typical mistakes that can be easily fixed.

The set up is an invisible trap, It is very important, that you set up your work area, whether it is your living room table, your desk, or a fully professional set-up. Whichever it is, the tools and materials should be in the same place. So your ming makes your hand go to the blue paint without even looking. It should come as natural as driving. you don’t think what your legs are doing nor your arms, but you get home with no problems.

It can actually give you some extra challenge because of the mistakes do on your artwork. Mistakes like, splashing and drippings, not working quick enough, adding to much color or to much water. To do this thing are totally typical but they can be easily fixed.

Below I will give you a basic guide on how you can set up your watercolor painting supplies and what you need.

Basic watercolor Supplies

One of the nice advantages using watercolors is that you don’t really have to spend much money on it. But there is an enormous selection of fine art quality supplies to choose from. You can spend 1000 $ on just one brush. Luckily in watercolors, you have to look hard to find real crapy paint and it is not difficult to find cheap brushes that are good. Ask for tips in your local art store, they might help you find something equivalent to the high-quality brands.

To get your watercolor painting experience off to a successful start, this is what you need:

  • Paper
  • Paints
  • Brushes
  • Palettes
  • Paper tissue
  • 2 to 3 glasses of water
  • Paper for testing colors

 How to set up the table for watercolors.

First of all, I avoid placing my supplies/materials all over the table. I keep all the most important things close.
Some techniques have a flowing movement, a rhythm, like a dance, from water to color to pallet to brush to the page. you have to move quickly and often you don’t have time to think: you can’t afford to lose a second.

SO, how do you arrange everything you need, in the best possible way? Figuring out what best suits you and your needs can save you from frustrations. Place your materials so that you can have maximum control.

Workspace for watercolor, start thinking like you do when you set up the table for lunch or dinner. (This makes it easy to remember) You place the plate in the middle and the tools and accessories all around.
Put the paper in the middle and colors, brushes, tissues etc like a rainbow. If one arrangement doesn’t work for you – try another, if you are left-handed,  set up everything on your left   of course.

watercolour tips and triks, studio. Magny Tjelta

How To Set The Table


Lighting is important, If you can place the table near to the window., if you depend on a lamp, get a lightbulb that mimics daylight. There is two sort of light for lamps one is yellowish and gives soft warm light ( you don’t want this one.)The one you want gives you cold light. They are not on the first row in the supermarket.  A lighting store can help you set you up  the correct bulbs or fixtures.

Paper for testing I always have a paper for testing on the right side of my artwork. I use the same paper as I am using for my artwork to test the effects before putting them on the painting.

There are different reasons for this: I use it for seeing how much pigments are in my brush. I test how much water the brush can hold. When one color is dry I can paint over it with a new color and see how they appear together.
Sometimes I blend the colors there like I would do on a palette. It is great for comparing colors and to see if you blended the same as you did earlier.

Paper tissue This is indispensable for two reasons.
Firstly for soaking up water or paint to let it dry our and secondly, for erasing mistakes. Go to this post to watch my videos to see when I use the tissue.
I also clean or wipe the brush on it. you can also have a cloth or some fabric for cleaning your brushes.


Foto: Jeanette Nilssen, in Magny`s Artists studio
Foto: Jeanette Nilssen


Brushes Don’t leave your brushes in your glass of water, not even for 5 minutes. This can cause the brush hairs to bend and ruin the point. Sadly the effect is irreversible. Lay your brushes on your folded paper tissue or over the top of the glass until you need them. When they are dry I place them upright in my nice vase.

The water should not be up over the ferrule for too long, and certainly not if the handle is of wood. In time the paint will peel off the handle or even worst it just simply falls apart. (I know……)

2 to 3 glasses of water I usually have one glass that will always hold clean water. the other two I preferably clean my brush first in the muddy and then I rinse it again in the second one. Don’t be afraid of to much water, I say this because I see people often just take a little glass and it is sure that the water will in no time get muddy and so will the artwork.

Palettes/paintings I place them above or on my right side of my painting. It all depends on what I am painting.


You will not go to jail if you do something different 🙂
This is my best advice.

Foto: Jeanette Nilssen
Foto: Jeanette Nilssen
Watercolour painting, Foto: Jeanette Nilssen
Foto: Jeanette Nilssen
Foto: Jeanette Nilssen
Foto: Jeanette Nilssen



studio art
Foto: Jeanette Nilssen

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10 thoughts on “How to set up the table for watercolors

  1. I was interested to see that your set up is exactly the same as mine – which was reassuring – except I don’t use multiple pots of water. Instead I just change my water a lot. Why didn’t I think of having multiple pots of water? I will be making that change in future. Thanks!

    1. Hi! Is this shoop in UK? I live in Dubrovnik Croatia and run painting holidays,but I have friends in UK who can get it for me.It looks great.Thanks for shareing info.

  2. Hi Magny!
    What you do when painting outdoors? I run painting holidays in Dubrovnik,Croatia and we mainly paint outdoors.I use board,the position on it is same as yours on the table…but I fix all the meterial with the tape to the board….the paper,small box of paints,paper for testing paints and tisue .For water and brushes I have pockets on the chair.

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