The image of a paint-splattered figure standing before a painting propped on an easel often comes to mind when conjuring the vision of an artist.
This is certainly a reasonable mental picture, and many artists fit this view.
There are hundreds of styles and models of easels made by dozens of manufacturers in a wide range of prices. An easel can be a considerable investment and is a very personal choice.
Researching the market for the style that best suits the needs, at a price within the budget is very important for the artist planning to purchase a new easel.
Different media require different styles of support, and the multimedia artist will be challenged to find one easel that fits all his needs. Oil painters require that the canvas remain close to vertical. This prevents dust from accumulating on the surface as the paint dries. The acrylic artist has little to worry about as their medium dries very rapidly so they can paint at any angle that suits them. The watercolorist will want to use the easel set at an angle only if he is not using juicy wet paint. That is, unless spontaneous runs are part of his composition. When he is doing painting that is less wet, he may elect to have the easel set at a comfortable angle. Pastel and charcoal artists may tip the easel to a forward position to prevent excess dust falling onto the work.
Floor Model Easels
Floor easels are available in two configurations. The H-Frame and the A-Frame models are the basic types, with a number of hybrids and specialty styles. H-Frame easels are sturdy, durable and require a good deal of floor space. This shape will hold heavy and large pieces, and may have a number of adjustments available. A-Frame easels take up less space, as they can fit into a corner if necessary, and fold flat for storage. They generally are not able to tip forward and will not hold as much weight as the H-Frame model.
H-Frame is the epitome of a studio easel. They are substantial pieces of furniture that can handle the weight of very large pieces and may have gears and adjustments to customize it for the kind of work the artist is doing. These are particularly good for the acrylic or oil painter working in very large pieces with heavy supports. There are models equipped to handle extra wide and tall canvases with moveable horizontal and vertical members mounted with clamps to attach these large pieces securely. As they can be quite large, they require a fair amount of space and are not suited for the casual painter who wishes to use a corner of the spare bedroom as his mini-studio.
H-Frame Brands And Price Range
American Easel makes their Umpqua model with locking casters to sell for under $100.00. This model measures 75″ tall with a 25″ wide and 30″ deep base. This is a very reasonable price and is a diminutive size in comparison with other models.
To see just how over-the-top it gets, check out the Abiquiu Deluxe studio easel. This is a high-end piece of furniture that fulfills the wildest fantasy an artist could possibly have. The base is 45” wide and 36” deep and has a minimum height clearance of 86”. This little number will set the established artist back a mere $1400.00, not including the $295.00 shipping charge.
A-Frame, or Lyre easels, are a probably the most popular choice for the average artist or art student. They are more compact in size than the H-Frames and are available at a more modest price range. Having three legs, they snug neatly into a corner when space is at a premium and they generally fold flat for easy storage. They do not support the weight or size of the H-Frame, but they are available in many styles, shapes and hybrid versions to appeal to the majority of artists. They are generally made of wood, bamboo or aluminum.
A-Frame Brands And Price Range
There are very inexpensive A-Frame easels under $30.00. These, however are extremely lightweight and are appropriate for only the lightest of canvases. They have no features except the vertical angle and horizontal cross member can be manually adjusted. This type of easel would only be suitable for the very beginning student who may find that this type of painting is not for him and wishes to avoid the extra expense.
An economy priced easel from Conda, costing $55.00, is a reasonable entry-level easel for the beginner or budget-minded starving artist. This model has a 60” mast with the ability to tip forward slightly and has a stable rear leg.
The San Pedro easel by Best is a top of the line easel that has a base of 35” wide by 27” deep. It only requires 63” headroom and can accommodate paintings up to 82” tall. It tilts forward, has a wide painting tray and a bottom shelf for storage. This red oak piece sells for approximately $438.00
This type of easel is perfect for the artist who does smaller work and wishes to utilize a desk or counter for painting. Placed upon a desk surface, the artist can be seated comfortably for painting, while placing it on a countertop allows the artist to paint in a standing position.
Watercolorists and artists doing miniatures and intense detail work spend a lot of their painting time seated. For them, a small tabletop easel is a wise choice. They are also ideal for an artist who has physical limitations and cannot stand for long periods. Desktop easels are also portable and many are simple and fold flat for easy storage and portability. They are a great selection for the kitchen table artist or the art student trying to paint in a dorm or small apartment.
Desktop Easels Brands And Price Range
There are many wood and aluminum easels under $20.00. They are basic tri-pods or a variation thereof. Numerous manufacturers produce these in many shapes and sizes and they are readily available.
Richeson produces a hardwood tabletop easel that looks like a miniature H-Frame. This diminutive easel can hold a 40” tall canvas but is only 18” tall. Using side guides, the angle is easily adjusted. It folds easily for storage and costs approximately $165.00.
Travel Easels Or French Easels
Travel easels are made primarily for the artist who may be painting plein aire, or attending classes or workshops in which the student must supply their own support. They fold compactly, are light in weight and may be designed as an all-in-one painting center. Some models include a tote in which to carry them. They may be wood or aluminum and have telescoping legs for ease in carrying.
A French easel is an all-in-one unit. Features may include a brush holder, palette or palette shelf, drawers, water bottle or bucket, wet canvas carrier, shoulder strap, wheels or telescoping handle. The combination of elements is endless, and the number included will certainly add to the cost of the item.
Travel Easel Brands and Price Range
At the low end of the spectrum, Martin makes the Angelina aluminum tabletop easel for under $15.00. This very basic model is suitable for small works, has an adjustable back leg to vary the angle and includes a bag with shoulder strap.
At the other end of the spending spectrum is a fully loaded Julian Paris French easel. These have been favorites of the arty set since the mid 19th century and today’s version checks in at just under $180.00. This all-in-one unit is for the serious plein aire painter and has many features including ground spikes, metal drawers, leather straps and handle, and a backpack style carry-bag.
The number of easel styles and features available for today’s artist is quite remarkable. Whether the artist intends on spending $20.00 or $1000.00 there is a lot of research in selecting the style that will suit his needs. Talk to artists who have easels and find out how they like the one they own and what they do not like about it. Check out artist discussion forums and read manufacturer’s reviews. Communicating with similar people who are actually using the product is the practical thing to do. Think about your lifestyle and the way in which you intend on using your easel. A frail elderly painter may not fare well with a heavy but highly touted backpack French easel. They would find it more useful to seek advice from people in their own situation, rather than strapping, athletic types hiking across the Cascades.
An easel can be a costly investment and a purchase that the artist may have for many years. Just like shopping for a car, the buyer must consider which features take priority and which are unnecessary. Visions of grandeur aside, what is the artist really going to do with the easel?
A watercolorist does not need a huge H-Frame easel that supports hundreds of pounds. A sedentary person may not relish standing long hours before a studio easel, no matter how bohemian it makes the studio look. A good easel is like a loyal companion. Make sure that the pairing is a good match as you will likely be together for a long time.