If you are a painter that works in acrylic, watercolour, or oil paints, then an artist’s easel is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your studio. A high quality easel will ensure that you are comfortable while you work. It will also ensure that the painting you are working on is at the right height and angle. Artists have been using easels for hundreds of years. Today, they can be found in the studios of world famous artists, budding amateurs, and high school art classes.
WHAT KIND OF EASEL DO YOU NEED?
There are various kinds of easels. Which one you should choose depends on the medium you are using, your painting style, and where you will be working.
This style is meant to be permanently located in an artists studio. While some models can be folded and transported, if you paint en-plein-air or at various locations you may want a more transportable solution (See next section).
A French box or French easel is an all in one tool for painters who work outside. The plein-air tradition often requires that artists carry their supplies with them to where they want to paint. It consists of a storage box, a tilting canvas holder, and legs. The storage box can be filled with brushes, paints, oils, mediums, and any other tools that the artist might need. The legs are extendible and the entire thing folds up into a compact box. It can then be easily carried by the artist to the site that they want to work on the painting. Most high quality french boxes are made from wood.
“Plein-air” means “outdoors” in french, and was a technique that was popularized by the impressionists and later with the Canadian Group of Seven artists.. They would work on many of their pieces in one sitting outdoors. This allowed them to focus on the lighting effects of the particular location at that particular time of day. This tradition is still popular today. Many landscape painters, working in acrylic, oil, and watercolour paint on site rather then working from photographs.
If your work primarily with watercolours on paper, then you need an easel with a rigid board or means to attach one. This will allow you work outside in plein-air to attach your watercolour paper. There are also table top versions available that allow you to work on paper that is at a diagonal angle. Some models combine these features with elements of the french box. This combination is ideal for watercolour artists that are working outdoors and need to bring all of their materials with them.
Exactly as the the name sounds, this type of easel is designed to set on top of a table. They often contain many of the same features as larger studio versions, but are smaller. Their smaller size often comes with the advantage of making them less expensive and easier to move.
TABLE TOP EASEL
This type is not meant to be an artists working tool. Its meant for displaying finished pieces when directly hanging the art on the wall is not possible or desirable. Outdoor art shows, kiosks, and temporary exhibitions are all situations that would suit a display easel.
TRIPOD AND H-FRAME EASELS
Another important difference that you will notice while shopping for easels, is that there are tripod and H-frame styles.
This has three legs and looks very similar to a very tall camera tripod. They can be made from wood, metal, or plastic. They can come with telescoping legs that make it easy to fold up and transport to different locations. They are also often less expensive then larger h frame designs. The disadvantage to this type of easel, is that it is not usually quite as stable as a heavy duty frame design. So it becomes a trade-off between price, portability, and stability.
The H-frame easel is based on two large parallel boards that act as “feet”. These feet are connected by cross-members for added stability. Attached to the front on the feet are two vertical pieces that are able to swing to adjust the angle of the canvas that the artist is working on. The vertical pieces usually attached to the base with dual support pieces that can also swing and adjust. A large horizontal cross beam that acts as the canvas holder is attached to the vertical pieces. The canvas holder can be moved up or down to change the height of the canvas. A top canvas supporter, to hold it in place is found on the top portion of the easel. This top supporter is also adjustable and attached to the easel a variety of different ways depending on the design. Many H-frame easels contain one or two vertical extenders that are adjustable and can raise the top canvas supported even higher. This is useful if the artist is working on a large canvas. Some smaller H-frame easels can be folded so that they can be transported. Although, they tend to be heavier then the other types and are not ideally suited to being frequently transported. Their biggest advantage is their stability. The large footprint and solid construction of many H-frames creates a solid base for an artist to work off of. This is particularly true of artists that work on large canvases. The stability and weight of many H-frames will prevent the canvas from wobbling or moving while it is being worked on.
There are many small accessories that you can add to your easel. This will increase functionality an make it easier to create. Many of the accessories are aimed at artists working outdoors. They include umbrellas that attach to a French box. This helps to shield the artist from the sun if they are working outdoors for long periods. There are also a variety of carrying cases available. Another product that would be a perfect companion to an outdoor easel, is a wet canvas carrier. This allows the artist to easily carry a wet canvas while protecting the fresh layer of paint from being disturbed.