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An easel is often the largest and most expensive piece of equipment in an artists possession, however a good quality easel can last a lifetime!  To ensure you're getting the right easel for your artistic needs, there are a few questions to consider...

  • Where do you do your artwork? (Indoors, outdoors, on a beach, up a mountain, in the kitchen?...)
  • What media do you use?
  • Do you have limited space?
  • Do you have a limited budget?

We will address each of these questions as we survey the various styles of easels

A-Frame Easels

A-frame easels are named for their triangular framing and resemblance to the capitol letter "A".  Because of their gently tapered and elegant shape, A-Frame easels are also known as Lyre easels.  A-Frames rely on their triangular footprint to provide a sturdy foundation for painting. The single rear leg allows for placement in corners and tight spaces and on slightly uneven ground.  For their height, A-Frames have a relatively small footprint so when loaded with a canvas/board they become top-heavy and can act like a sail in the wind, falling over.  As a result, A-Frames are most often used in a studio environment as opposed to plein air/outdoor environment.

Environment:  Studio easel - mainly used indoors

Tilt:  Mainly vertical to slightly laid-back. Very little vertical adjustment is possible on A-frames. Most A-frame designs can not accommodate any forward tilt at all.

Media: Suitable for Oils, Acrylics, some Gouache techniques, and compressed dry media such as Graphite & Conte

Storage: In most A-frame models the rear leg is hinged at the top so the easel can be flattened for easy storage.

Affordability: on the lower to end to mid-range on the price spectrum (usually starting at $60 and up)

    More Info:

    A-Frame Aluminum Easels

    These inexpensive and lightweight aluminum cousins of the wooden A-Frame feature telescoping legs, making them perfect for outdoor/field use because the legs can be adjusted individually for uneven ground.  These easels also function as both a table-top and a floor easel, depending on the extension of the legs. 

    Aluminum field easels share many characteristics with a standard A-Frame wooden easel such as the triangular footprint, and tendency to be unstable and top-heavy when holding a large canvas/board.

    Environment:  Field easel or Studio easel - suitable for use as freestanding studio floor easel or desktop easel, or for use outdoors in almost any location or weather.

    Tilt:  Mainly vertical to slightly laid-back with the same limitations as the wood A-Frame

    Media: Suitable for Oils, Acrylics, some Gouache techniques, and compressed dry media such as Graphite & Conte

    Storage: Aluminum easels are extremely lightweight and will fold up to a very manageable size (making it possible to transport them almost anywhere!).  Most come equipped with a nylon carry-bag.

    Affordability: on the lower to end of the price spectrum (usually starting at $25 and up)

     

    H-Frame Easels

    H-frame easels are named for their square framing and resemblance to the capitol letter "H".  H-Frames are widely regarded as the sturdiest configuration for studio easels.  H-frame easels are bottom heavy by nature and feature a wide, four-point base which makes them resistant to side-to-side swaying and front-to-back rocking even when loaded with the maximum size of canvas possible.

    Environment:  Studio easel - mainly used indoors (very heavy and bulky)

    Tilt:  Mainly vertical to slightly laid-back. Minimal vertical adjustment is possible on H-frames. Most H-frame designs can not accommodate any forward tilt at all.

    Media: Suitable for Oils, Acrylics, some Gouache techniques, and compressed dry media such as Graphite & Conte.

    Storage: most H-frame models will release and fold so the easel can be flattened somewhat for storage.

    Affordability: from the middle to the higher end of the price spectrum (usually starting at $200 and up)

    More Info:


    The Master's H-Frame

    The Master's H-Frame Studio Easel is the ultimate studio easel because it does everything!  This easel has the option of forward tilt (ideal for pastel and portrait work) and can lay back to a fully horizontal position as well (ideal for mixed Media, watercolour, inks,  and encaustics)!  Large 4 point knobs allow quick, accurate adjustments.  Casters on the bottom aid in mobility and feature a locking system that ensures the easel will stay in place once you've got it where you want it.

    Media: Suitable for ALL MEDIA - Oils, Acrylics, Gouache, Watercolours, Encaustics, Pastel, etc...

    Affordability: the highest end of the price spectrum (usually starting at $400 and up)

    More Info:

     

    The H-Frame family of easels are also available in smaller table-top versions...

      Mixed Media Easels

      Mixed media easels are characterized by the fact that they have a full range of motion, from a forward tilt to laid back to a completely horizontal position, which is also makes them ideal as studio watercolour easels. There are different styles of mixed media easels and the Master's H-Frame (above) is only one example of this type of easel. The easel pictured here has a sturdy four-point base making it resistant to front-to-back rocking.

      Environment:  Studio easel - mainly used indoors

      Tilt: ALL ANGLES - from a forward lean to vertical to laid back fully horizontal.

      Media: Suitable for ALL MEDIA - Oils, Acrylics, Gouache, Watercolours, Encaustics, Pastel, etc...

      Storage: folds flat for easy storage

      Affordability: from the middle to the higher end of the price spectrum (usually starting at $200 and up)

       

      More info:

       

      Watercolour Easels

      For in-studio work with watercolours, the above mentioned Master's and Mixed Media Easels are an excellent option, however watercolours are often done outdoors and wooden Mixed Media easels are far too heavy to lug around.

      Single Mast Watercolour Field Easels

      Instead of a frame resembling an "A" or "H" a Single Mast easel has a single bar running up the centre, upon which your canvas/board rests.  Again, the defining characteristic of the Watercolour Field Easel will be it's ability to pivot and hold your work surface at all angles, from a forward tilt to vertical to laid back fully horizontal. The other defining features will be it's portability and the ability to adjust the legs individually for use on uneven ground.  Watercolour Field easels are available in wood or aluminum.

       

      Tilt:  from vertical to laid back fully horizontal.

      Media: Suitable for Gouache, Watercolours, Inks, & Sketching

      Storage: Both the wood and Aluminum easels are very lightweight and portable. Both fold up to a very manageable size (making it possible to transport them almost anywhere!).  The aluminum easel comes equipped with a carry-bag.

      Environment:  Field easel or Studio easel - suitable for use as freestanding studio floor easel or desktop easel, or for use outdoors in almost any location or weather.

      More Info:

       

      Sketch Box Easels

      This family of easels has the unique feature of a built-in storage box to hold painting or sketching materials.  They are available as a freestanding floor easel (often referred to as a French or Italian Easel) and as a table-top easel. The freestanding French/Italian style easel is a classic easel for plein air oil painters, however this easel design makes it ideal for more than just oil painting!  The legs adjust individually and some models include a builder's level to ensure your setup will be stable on uneven ground.  Sketch Box easels generally will adjust to all angles which make them good for all media and therefore one of the most versatile easel options. 

      Environment:  Indoors & Outdoors. Ideal as a field easel.

      Tilt: ALL ANGLES - from a forward lean to vertical to laid back fully horizontal.

      Media: Suitable for ALL MEDIA - Oils, Acrylics, Gouache, Watercolours, Encaustics, Pastel, etc...

      Storage: folds up into something like a briefcase, complete with handle and shoulder strap for easy carrying

      Affordability: from the middle to the higher end of the price spectrum (usually starting at $180 and up)

      More Info:

        Table-Top Sketch Box Easels

      The Table-Top Sketch Box easel shares all the same features as the Italian/French style easel, only without the legs. As the name suggests, Table-Top easels are intended to be used in conjunction with a table or counter-top, generally in an indoor studio setting.  There are several models of tabletop sketch box easels; from a very compact 10x13" with and minimal adjustability, to larger sizes with that can accommodate larger canvases and store more materials.

      Storage: folds up easily and often features a handle for easy carrying

      Affordability: from lower to mid-range on the price spectrum (usually starting at $30 and up)

       

       

       

       

      More Info:

      November 04, 2016 — Karen Bullaro

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