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Best 10 Painting Easels

My selection of the best types of easels available.

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A good painting easel isn't cheap, and some are definitely at the kind of price where it's an investment. A decent studio easel will last you a long time, possibly even your whole artistic life. Don't feel compelled to buy one from a fancy wood (it's going to get paint on it sooner rather than later) and check it's not so complicated to manipulate you're going to hate using it.

Don't let anyone persuade you that you and your art aren't worth investing in! An easel not only make painting easier as the board or canvas stays in place, but it does make you feel like you've taken another step towards fulfilling your artistic dreams.

1. Best Easel of All for Studio Painting: H-Frame Easel

H-frame floor standing painting easel
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
I have a H-frame easel in my studio and it's been a loving relationship for years. It's got a ratchet system (pull out, move it up/down a notch, then let go) for moving the shelf the canvas rests on up and down. Providing it's standing on a level surface, an H-frame easel is wonderfully sturdy. You can get rough with a brush or knife on a canvas and the easel won't wobble. If a canvas is tightened into the shelf well, only very wide ones wobble. The legs won't collapse accidentally if you trip against it (as can happen with an A-frame easel).

Things to check:
• How is the canvas shelf raised? Is it easily done?
• Will the top of the 'mast' hit the ceiling? Can I cut off a bit if need be?
• What is the maximum size canvas it'll take?
• Does it collapse flat for storage or transportation?

2. H-Frame Table Top Easel

Table top painting easel
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Before I had space for a H-frame floorstanding easel, I used an H-frame table-top easel. It's the same sturdy design, just intended to be used when you're sitting at a table (or even on the floor) rather than standing in front of it. I generally keep mine near my main easel, on top of a chest of drawers, often with a work-in-progress on it. But as it folds flat I have been known to pack on top of the luggage in the back of the car when we've gone on holiday.

3. Lightweight Sketching Easel

Portable easel for plein air painting or sketching outdoors.
Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
I also have a third easel, a lightweight tripod easel that folds up small into a carry bag, for use painting on holiday or when I'm out and about (see more photos). Mine's as basic as they come, but it does the job. It's a little low for standing to paint at all day (but I don't often do that), and so light the wind does like to pick it up (I solve that by resting a foot on the one leg).

4. An Easel for Really Big Painting

Double mast easel for huge paintings
Image courtesy of Blick Art Materials
If your usual size canvas is huge and you've got the space, you could invest in a giant or oversized easel with a winch or pulleys for easy manipulation up and down, wheels for moving the easel around easily, and possibly even two masts for supporting a canvas not just one. Check the wheels lock in place and the maximum size canvas it'll take, plus the weight. The latter is important if you're painting on wooden panel or using heavy items in a mixed media painting.

5. Easels for Limited Space

A-Frame Painting Easels are Popular in Art Schools
A-frame easels are popular in art schools because they pack away easily. Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
If space if really squeezed or you need to tidy away at the end of every painting session, look at single-mast easels (Buy Direct) or if you've a little more space an A-frame easel (Buy Direct), though neither of these designs are as stable as an H-frame easel.

6. All-in-One Painting Stations

Painting station
Image courtesy of Blick Art Materials
If neither space nor money is an issue, then how about an easel/desk/chest-of-drawers for your studio? Space for tidy storage of painting supplies, an easel for working at, and simply nice to look at too. The photo shows the one included in my list of Gifts Ideas for Artists When Money's No Object, but smaller, slightly less expensive painting stations, are available.

7. Pochade Box

Cigar paint box for plein air painting
Image courtesy of Blick Art Materials
A pochade easel is a small box where the lid serves as an 'easel' for holding a couple of small painting panels, and the bottom provides storage space for a few paints, brushes, and a small palette. If you're going to be painting anywhere windy, look for one with widget for keeping the lid propped open. Be sure to check the maximum size panel you'll be able to use (it'll be smaller than the box itself).

8. Sketchboxes

sketchbook easel
Image courtesy of Blick Art Materials
A sketchbox is like a desktop easel attached to a paints storage box. Check whether the paints storage area is automatically open when the easel is up, which way it opens (to the back or side?), how it's held closed when you're carrying the sketchbox, and what height canvas it'll take. You'll need a table to put the sketchbox on, or a chair so you can sit with it on your lap though this tends to be awkward.

9. French Easel

French easel
Image courtesy of Blick Art Materials
A French easel is like a sketchbox easel with fold-out legs to bring the easel to a suitable painting height when you're standing. If you're going to be painting on location a lot but not walking too far to do so, it's a style of option to consider. But if you're walking long distances, it can get quite heavy especially if it's full of paints. Check the maximum height of the easel when the legs are extended and how easy it is to do.

10. Windmill Easel

Windmill Easel
Photo ©2010 Wilton Nelson
A windmill easel is designed to revolve, giving you easy access to any part of your painting because you simply rotate it around to within reach. You can also tip a windmill easel backwards and lay your painting flat. The photo here is of the windmill easel in Wilton Nelson's studio. He says: "The windmill easel turns and tilts to fit whatever brush strokes desired and is wonderful to have."

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