Find the best plein air easel for your painting practice in this review.
There are many types and brands of plein air painting easels, from budget friendly aluminium tripod easels, to pochade boxes with extra features and tools. This review will help you sort through all the options, to find the best plein air easel for your specific requirements.
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What to look for in a plein air easel?
When choosing an easel for painting en plein air, there are a few factors that will influence the type of set up that will suit you best.
Look for an easel that suits your art medium
Pastel artists often have extra trays and storage boxes to organise their supplies. Watercolour artists will need to think about mounting or stretching watercolour paper before taking it to paint outdoors. Quality pochade boxes and French easels will fold out flat to accommodate for watercolour artists. Purpose made lightweight aluminium watercolour easels are easy to set up, take down and carry.
The second factor you should take into account when choosing an easel is how far you will need to carry it. You might be the kind of artist that likes to hike long distances to find secluded view spots to paint from—some easels are compact and pack away small.
You can get all kinds of accessories, like backpacks that will aid you in carrying the easel comfortably.
All plein air easels are built to be lightweight and portable to a certain extent, but some are more lightweight than others. For example, French easels are generally larger and heavier than pochade boxes. This does mean that they are great for painting at a larger scale, however.
The best plein air easel for portability
The New Wave u.go Plein Air Pochade box comes in three sizes, the smallest starting at just 6×8″. It’s lightweight enough to carry long distances, set up on a tripod, or on your lap and start painting wherever inspiration strikes.
Another thing to consider is the canvas size you prefer working at. If you want to work at a large scale, you’ll need a large pochade box, a foldaway tripod easel or a French easel. Taking a French easel outdoors is a bit like setting up your own mini studio on the field.
The best large scale plein air easel
The Jullian French easel holds larger canvases and panels. It’s sturdy, but heavier than other plein air easels on this list.
The terrain and weather will also influence how suitable an easel will be. If you work in changeable weather conditions, look to get an umbrella fitting for the easel, which will protect you from sun and rain. If you think you might be propping your easel up on uneven terrain, get a strong tripod fitting that will stay in one place.
Best pochade box
Sienna Plein Air Pochade Box
The Richeson Sienna Plein Air Pochade boxes come in three different sizes and are custom built from poplar, maple and baltic birch. This box would suit use with oil, acrylic, pastel or watercolour.
Each box features an adjustable canvas holder (which adjusts to 180 degrees), a detachable brush tray, a tempered glass palette insert (held in place with a magnetic clasp). The easel is beautifully constructed, durable and versatile. It closes shut into a compact box and is easy to transport.
The easel will support canvases and panels in a range of sizes. The medium sized box has a palette area of 9×10″ and will hold canvases up to 15″. Whereas the larger size has a mixing area of 10×12″ and will hold canvases up to 17″.
This easel is my favourite for plein air painting, and I use it in the studio too. It works perfectly as a tabletop easel, so you can start a painting outdoors and finish it when you get back.
The tripod attachment, which can be bought separately, is ultra sturdy and can withstand more demanding outdoor conditions.
Get the Sienna Plein Air Backpack, which will comfortably and safely pack away the pochade box, tripod and all your other supplies.
For pastel artists, you can get an additional pastel box insert to store and organise pastels.
New Wave u.go Pochade box
New Wave u.go Plein Air Pochade boxes are ultra lightweight and come in three different sizes. The box itself is made from baltic birch, and the frame is made from aluminium.
The closure is magnetic—the canvas holder, side wall and side tray attachments are also made with strong earth magnets.
The New Wave u.go boxes are compatible with 1/4″ tripod mounts and include a neutral palette for mixing.
New Wave make their own sturdy tripod which is purpose built for plein air painting.
Best plein air easel for watercolour painting
Tilting aluminium watercolour field easels are lightweight and easy to carry. They’re also pretty inexpensive, making them a practical option for watercolour artists.
This versatile easel can be positioned at a horizontal or vertical angle. It has telescopic legs for ease of set up.
Best French Easel
French easels feature a sketchbox, canvas holder and tripod all in one. The sketchbox holds materials such as a paints, brushes and a palette. It’s fairly compact and easy to carry (it comes with its own carry bag), plus it has the capability to hold the largest canvas size compared to the other easels on this list.
The Jullian easel is a classic design and is easily foldable. However, the lined drawers inside the sketchbox also provide adequate space for all your tools.
The all in one design of this easel can save money as artists have to buy fewer components to get started. For example, if you don’t have a tripod then this easel has one built in.
This easel can be used with oil, acrylic, pastel and it also folds out flat for use with watercolour.
Best tripod for plein air easels
The best plein air easel tripod will depend upon the easel you choose.
The New Wave u.go Plein Air Easel is compatible with universal 1/4″ tripod mounts, but the tripod designed by New Wave is lightweight and made specially for plein air painting. It’s made from aluminium alloy, has a quick release plate and a 360° swivel head mount. The tripod is compatible with any pochade box that has a ¼” threaded tripod mount.
Tips for plein air painters
If you’re looking for some extra plein air painting tips, read our plein air guide. It covers how to adapt to painting outdoors, as well as how to set up your materials and some painting tips on how to quickly capture the light and atmosphere of a scene.
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