If you’re contemplating getting a new easel, first determine exactly what you need from a surface support. Consider the requirements of your individual practice.
Specifically, think about the size of the surfaces you like to paint on and which kind of easel could accommodate that. Another important consideration is the location you most frequently paint in—if you travel around a lot and paint outdoors, you’re going to need an easel that’s easily transportable and stays standing when you place it on various types of ground.
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Easels for different mediums
Easels that adjust to diagonal or vertical angles are great for use with mediums like acrylic, oil and pastel. The sticky paint won’t collect as much dust if your canvas is stood up vertically. Plus, you’ll be able to see your whole painting up-front, instead of having to crane your neck over a flat table to see what you’re doing. These easels don’t work well with watercolour or ink, as these mediums have very low viscosity, and the liquid could run before it dries. You can find easels that can be adjusted to lie horizontally too, perfect for drawing or watercolour. I outline some examples below.
Types of easels
Table top easels are easels that require an extra surface support, like a table, to be brought to eye level.
They’re ideal to have if you work on a smaller scale, as most tabletop easels won’t hold extra large surfaces.
If you don’t have enough space in the room you paint for a freestanding easel, but you have a table or desk you could you paint at, then tabletop easels are a favourable choice. They’re also a good option for people who like to work sitting down.
They can be the most inexpensive type of easel to buy, as they’re the smallest. So it’s a good choice if you’re a beginner, not wanting to splash out on expensive materials.
See the product picks to find a table top easel suited to your preferred way of working and your budget.
- Mabef Table Easel: this is the mid-range option. Made in Italy from high grade beech wood, this easel can hold medium sized canvases around 22 inches.
- Richeson Tabletop Easel: this is the high end option. It’s made from solid hardwood and can hold canvases that are up to 36” high. You can adjust the angle of this easel easily from 0° to 85°.
- Richeson Pochade Box Easel: without the tripod attachment, you can use a pochade box as a table easel. You can buy the tripod attachment separately to make it into a free standing easel that’s perfect for working indoors or out. Without the tripod, you can prop it up wherever you choose to work, on a table, or even on your lap. It’s ideal for travel because it packs away into its own box, that you can also store a palette, paints and anything else you need. The box will hold canvases up to 15”.
Studio easels are designed to hold large canvases. They provide optimum stability while painting. They’re built to last, so they will be sturdy. You’ll have more trouble trying to move a studio easel around when compared with the the other types, as they’re made to stay in the artist’s studio. Think of a studio easel more as an item of furniture.
Studio easels can have simple designs and mechanisms, or they can have more features and functionality.
A frame easels are the easiest studio easel to fold away, store and move around. They’re good for medium to large sized works. This type of easel has less flexibility when it comes to adjusting the surface angle than others. Many cheaper A frames can only be adjusted to a diagonal angle, not vertical or horizontal.
- Mabef A frame studio easel: This model is pretty inexpensive for a studio easel and can support canvases up to 47”. It has an anti-vibration spring and the canvas holder can be adjusted with the ratchet control. Mabef easels are made from high quality Italian beech wood.
Radial easels suit a wide range of canvas sizes. They can be adjusted to various angles to suit your working style. Many radial easels bend at hinged joints to support surfaces at 180°, convenient for watercolourists. Radial frames are quite minimal and non-obstructive, making them appropriate for still life, or life drawing.
- Mabef Radial Easel: This universal folding easel is lightweight and easy to store away. It can accommodate canvases up to 43″.
H frame easels are considered to be the most supportive and accommodative of larger sized painting surfaces, but are more difficult to pack away and move around. They are often built with more features and come at higher price points.
- Mabef H Frame: This mid-range option is made from Italian beechwood, and supports canvases up to 84½ inches in height. It has an adjustable working angle and a tray to hold paints and brushes.
- Richeson Classic H Frame: If you’re working at a large scale and want an easel you can trust to hold heavy surfaces without becoming unstable, the Santa Fe II the best option. It will hold canvases up to 106” that weigh up to 135kg. The H frame has a double mast making it extra supportive. It’s made from solid oak and features a mixing surface with two canisters. Of course, the extra features and support come at a higher price point.
Accessories for studio work
Studio cabinet: this is a mobile workspace with in-built washer pots. The cabinet has three drawers so you can neatly store away art supplies.
Field easels allow you to pack away your materials into a compact container, so that you can easily travel to paint plein air. They’re small and light in comparison to studio easels, making them easy to carry around.
- Aluminium field easel: This sturdy field easel is incredibly lightweight and can be folded away and packed into its own bag. The easel is suitable for drawing, pastel, acrylic or oil.
- French Box: French box easels are heavier than the simple field easel frames, but they pack away into a box. They are a compact option for those who love to travel and paint. You can store essential paints and other materials in the box whilst transporting it and whilst painting. This classic French Box by Jullian holds surface up to 72″ and comes with its own pack away bag.
- Mabef Pochade Box: A pochade box appears like an artist’s tool box from the outside, but inside it holds a palette, has a storage compartment for paints and an inbuilt easel that folds out. This box by Mabef is great for small plein air works, it holds panels up to 11¾ x 9½”.
- Richeson Pochade box: This beautiful pochade box holds larger surfaces—canvases up to 15”. It also comes with an inbuilt glass palette measuring 12 x 10”, giving you lots of space for mixing. This is the tripod that goes with the box.
Accessories for field work
- Easel Umbrella: This gadget clamps onto your easel to protect you and your work from the elements.
- Painter’s Seat: a folding painter’s stool that’s easy to carry and bring with you on location.
If you’re interested in venturing outside to paint plein air, read our plein air painting tips.
The best easels for beginners
For beginners looking for an easel that marries affordability with functionality, tabletop easels are a brilliant choice. Some smaller tabletop easels start at less than $30 and can hold medium sized canvases. They are a great option if you prefer painting on a small to medium scale. Also, if you decide to get a larger easel further down the line, tabletop easels have their own function, for if you want to sit at a table or desk to paint a small piece.
The best easels for professional painters
The best easels for professional painters and for studio work is an H frame easel. These easels are the sturdiest and hold the largest sized canvases. They are easy to set up and are adjustable so they can hold various sized canvases.
If you’re just beginning on your oil painting journey and you’re not quite sure what supplies to get, start with this beginner’s guide. It’ll teach you about all the tools and materials you need to start oil painting and give you valuable advice on how to use the supplies to get the best results.
If you’re interested in looking for some more great art supplies, check out our art supplies store.
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