A painting easel has been a staple for artists for centuries and certainly will be for more centuries to come.
But finding the right one can be difficult. There are many different types of art easels and the best easel depends on your personal demands.
To be fair, a good and sturdy easel might require a small investment, but it might last for an artistic lifetime.
What Is an Easel?
An easel is an upright support usually made out of wood that can be used displaying or fixing an item upon it. The standard painting easels that artists use keeps the canvas at about a 20° angle with the vertical while painting. Normally this allows the artist to stand while painting, although there are some special table easels that can be used when sitting down.
The general idea and design of the easel haven’t changed much over the years. The only difference is that besides wood, other materials such as aluminum and steel have gained popularity as well.
In addition to the artist easel used for painting, there are also special easels just for displaying artwork. These display easels are normally more simple and less stable, making them unsuited for anything besides display.
#vintage 1930’s ‘Winsor & Newton of London’ field Easel. Nice easel for using to display art or for its original use. Folds up for transportation. Good patina and paint marks. pic.twitter.com/hQkYoyOMAO
— Merchant of Vintage (@merchofvintage) 13 November 2017
Types of Easels
There are many different types of easels out there. That is what makes choosing one so difficult!
But don’t let that prevent you from finding the best easel for you. We will go over the most common types of painting easels and what to look for.
A Frame Easel
The A frame easel is also known as a lyre easel and has a triangular shape with 3 legs; 2 in the front and 1 in the back. The name “A frame” come from the fact that the legs seem to form a letter “A” when you look at it head-on and use your imagination a little.
They are the default painting easel for many artists and art schools. Since the back leg can normally be collapsed inwards, this model needs relatively little space to be stored. Adjustable clamps normally make it possible to work with any small to medium sized canvas.
This all makes them the ideal art easels for beginners or artists with limited physical space.
The Mabef Lyre Studio Easel M-11 is a typical example of a Lyre or A frame easel. It has an inclinable canvas holder that can easily be adjusted and the center pole can be slanted when needed. Its height is ~68” and can extend to ~96”, while carrying a canvas with a maximum height of 53”.
The beechwood base opens to a 26” x 30” x 30” triangle and features a shelf that can be used to store your paint supplies. With only 15 lbs, this A frame easel is pretty lightweight and you won’t have too much difficulty moving it around or finding a place to store it.
H Frame Easel
The H frame is another commonly found type of painting easel. Their frame looks similar to the letter “H”, hence the name. The H frame model has a much sturdier base and is more stable to work with than an A frame easel. This means you can push your brush or knife down and apply as much pressure as you want, without the easel starting to wobble.
Unlike the A frame, you the bulky base makes it impossible to collapse this model and as a result it can’t be stored as easily. This makes the H frame easel most suitable for experienced and established artists that already have a dedicated workspace with plenty of space.
The H frame can handle bigger sized canvasses than the A frame and sometimes comes with a paint tray where you can keep your paints and brushes.
This model requires a lot of space both horizontally and vertically. So make sure that it doesn’t hit the ceiling.
A company called US Art Supply offers good H frame artist easels. The one shown here is 70” to 96” tall and can accommodate a canvas up to 48” high. This adjustable easel is made out of seasoned beechwood and the front storage compartment allows for easy access to your paint supplies.
As the name suggests these giant easels are indeed quite big. If you are planning to paint to next “The Night Watch” than you might want one of these large canvas easels. They are well built, sturdy and designed to carry more weight. Some of them can even carry loads that are over 3,5 meter long and 100 kg heavy.
All of this means you will need a big working station for your easel and be willing to invest quite a pretty penny in a painting easel. Giant easels are best for serious artists that want to work on a large scale.
The Lyptus Wood Dulce Easel by Jack Richeson is a fairly cheap compared to other giant easels. Nevertheless, it can hold canvasses up to 7ft high! The base is made out of solid Lyptus hardwood and measures 21” wide and 24” deep. With the slide and lock system you can easily adjust the height with every new project you start.
Table Top Easel
Unlike all the other model mentioned so far, a table top easel will let paint while sitting down at a table instead of painting while standing. They are a good option if you are working on a small scale and might be the best easel for watercolor painting.
Naturally, they are easy to store and very portable. They normally have a design that looks like either an A frame or H frame with the legs missing. Sometimes they also feature a small drawer for your art supplies.
The table top easel is ideal for people working on small projects or who prefer to sit down while painting.
An example of a table top easel is shown below. This painting easel by Art Alternatives can be converted into a portable miniature desk. Its drawer has three compartments to hold your brushes, paints and other supplies separated. Due to its lightweight and small size it’s is highly portable and easily stored.
Convertible easels will give you the most flexibility since you can convert them from their normal position into a table top position. The best of both worlds! This is especially ideal for people who don’t just use oil paint or acrylic paint, but work with mixed media instead. You can easily adjust the slant of the canvas to match the kind of paint or medium you are working with.
This all makes the convertible easel a good option for people looking to work on a wide variety of project with different media.
The Manzano easel from BEST is an example of an easel that can be used either in a vertical or horizontal position. This makes it easy to work with watercolor, oil, pastel or acrylics. It can hold a canvas up to 50” and has a 20” wide paint tray.
Plein Air Easel
People fluent in French will quickly realize that plain air easels are made to be taken outdoors. Instead of using a photo or your imagination as reference, hold your plein air easel in one hand, your paints in the other and keep walking till you find a nice scenery to paint!
They normally have tripod legs and are made out of wood or aluminum. They are relatively lightweight, easy to carry and easy to set up; making them a very portable easel
The plein air easel is ideal for artists that like to paint outside and bring their easel with them.
A good model to start with is the En Plein Air Pro. Weighing less than 10 pounds, it is super light and compact. The complete easel fits in a regular sized backpack so you can take it with you to the end of the world. Within minutes you can set up the easel yourself and it can even function as a table easel if you decide not to assemble the tripod.