What if I Don't Have Room to Paint?

Woman painting in apartment
Hero Images Getty

Question: What if I Don't Have Room to Paint?

"What do we do when we live where there is just no room to paint? I live in a senior apartment which is cramped and there is always a fear of getting paint on the carpet. I can tape down a tarp, but it's too much to take it up and retape it down each day. Any suggestions?" -- ESA


Acrylic and oil paint are problematic to remove, but if you painted with watercolors, then even if you did flick or spill paint somewhere it should lift off easily with a damp cloth.

I know some oil and acrylic painters think painting with watercolor means you're doomed to have weak, wishy-washy color. But this is definitely not the case. Watercolor can be dramatic and bold; it's got to do with how you use the paint and how much you dilute the colors. A quick browse around the paintings on the websites of the Royal Watercolour Society or National Watercolor Society shows just how intense and vibrant watercolor paint can be.

There are a few watercolor pigments that are staining which leave a little color behind when you lift them off watercolor paper and may stain a light-colored carpet. But there are more than enough alternative colors to choose from. The tube label and the manufacturer's color chart ought to tell you whether a color is staining or not. For instance, on this watercolor chart from Winsor & Newton, staining colors are marked "St".

Another advantage of watercolor is that you can easily use it at a table, without an easel.

Buy a block of watercolor paper so you don't have to stretch paper or need a board to support it -- you can place it either flat on a table or propped up at a slight angle on a book. You could even place it on a bed or bedside table.

If you have your own furniture in your apartment, an old-fashioned writing table or a computer cabinet where there's a top panel that folds down to create a work surface (and hides stuff when closed) with drawers beneath creates a place to store supplies and paint.

Close the top panel and everything is hidden from view, neat and tidy. An alternative is a sketchbox or small pochade box, which you could possibly store under a bed or table. A sketchbox with a drawer that comes out on the side, rather than back, makes your brushes and paints more accessible.

If you want to use acrylics or oils, would it be possible to buy a cheap rug to have permanently in place where you're going to be painting, rather than having a tarp you roll up at the end of a session? Then it wouldn't be the apartment's carpet that got paint on it, and you could replace it periodically when it got tatty? Again, a sketchbox would give you somewhere to support a canvas ​or pad of canvas paper, and store your paint, while folding up into something that could be pushed to one side easily.

Other options that don't need as much storage space as oils or acrylics are water-soluble pencils, or permanent pen and watercolor (or watercolor pencil). If you use thickish watercolor paper (or a block) it won't need stretching and the cardboard on the pad acts as a board for support. The paint remains watersoluble even when dry, so if it does get on anything, it should wash off easily. If you don't like the transparent nature of watercolor, then perhaps try gouache or mix the two.

Don't give up on painting though! Being creative and expressing your creativity is ultimately far more valuable and worthwhile than a bit of carpet.