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Choose the Right Easel

Choose the Right Easel


Most artists eventually own more than one easel; the large, full-size easels good for a permanent painting station are not portable, and folding travel easels are not always stable enough for larger works. When choosing a first easel, consider the primary use- travel or permanent studio use. The physical dimensions of the painting area will determine the height of the mast and base the studio will accommodate. Three-legged easels work better on uneven floors, but a flat base will give better stability for wide canvases if the floor is flat enough.

For artists working in a small studio, dormitory or at home, a Lyre easel is a great choice. The traditional A-frame design of the lyre has a small footprint, folds small enough for storage, and is light enough to transport in the backseat of a car. Lyre easels like the Winsor & Newton Shannon or Mabef Inclinable are ideal starter easels which will hold fairly tall paintings.

Larger models for permanent studios such as the Best University and Santa Fe II are extremely stable, even with large canvases. The masts are tall enough to allow working on the bottom of a picture at eye level. Larger easels generally have trays big enough to hold mediums, brushes and even a palette. Most easels in this category are constructed of hardwood, but metal versions of traditional forms are available, as well as original designs made only in metal. Metal studio easels are sturdy, rugged and long-lived in the classroom.

Travel easels come in a range of clever designs intended to offer maximum utility in a small package. French field easels such as the Jullian fold into a paintbox which can hold all necessary supplies. The Jullian Half Box version is good for artists who only carry enough for a day’s work; the Jullian Full Box will take the whole show on the road. The Guerilla Box is an innovative easel box that attaches to the top of a camera tripod, great for artists who also bring a camera on painting trips.

Metal tripods are the most compact travel easels, and can double as display furniture for exhibiting charts or finished art. The most durable are the ones with locking levers on the telescoping legs, but that variety is usually more costly than the ones with threaded collars. Both are lightweight and collapse small enough to fit in a backpack.

The variety of affordable easels available today means there is literally something for everyone, at every level. From a part-time pleasure painter working in the spare room to the professional studio painter, everyone needs a way to hold a picture at a comfortable level, so there’s no glare on the wet paint, up away from pets and children. Working at an easel cures distortions in drawing, keeps dust off the picture and allows the paint to be mixed in the same light as the canvas. In order to do the best work possible, having a good easel is not just a luxury, it’s a necessary tool of the trade.

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