The Complete Guide to Choosing an Easel

So you’ve got the right paints, the best brushes and canvases as far as the eye can see – all you need now is the perfect artists easel and you’re ready to create your first masterpiece! Whether you’re working in a studio space, spare room or the kitchen, a reliable easel can be a valuable piece of studio equipment. A good easel can help your posture and offers you a dedicated painting space. There’ll be no more clearing the dining table before you begin painting!

A selection of artists easels

Artists easels come in all shapes and sizes – from large, sturdy studio easels to portable easels to take on your painting trips. You may have never used an easel before, even if you have been painting for a long time. Many artists come to use them first in a college or tutoring setting. Other artists may find that they do not need an easel at all. The most important thing to consider when selecting your easel is practicality. We’ll introduce you to the different types of easels that we stock, and give you some hints and tips that will help you select an easel that is best for you.

What Do You Need in an Easel?

Before you buy your first easel it’s important to think about what you need from one. Where will you use your easel? What size is your work? Which painting mediums do you use? What is your painting style like? Are you comfortable standing at an easel or would you need to sit down? Do you have any accessibility issues that need to be taken into consideration? These are all questions you will need to ask yourself that will help you narrow down your choices.

Female artists working on a large scale painting on a sturdy studio easel

Easels offer different benefits to different artists. Some artists that use easels find that their painting process is much freer. The distance between you and the easel allows for more freedom of movement. There won’t be the restriction to making movements just from the wrist. This is beneficial for artists who favour a loose, energetic style of painting. If you do paint energetically it would be wise to consider buying as sturdy an easel as you can afford. A wooden studio easel would be able to withstand the energy of your movements. A lightweight metal easel would be more unstable. If you are working on a small scale with delicate strokes this wouldn’t be as much of a problem. You will still need your easel to be sturdy, but you could get away with using a more lightweight version.

Where will you use your easel?

The environment in which you wish to paint will affect your choice of easel. If you are painting outdoors you will need something compact and portable. If you have a large studio then you may have more space for a sturdier easel. In a spare room you may need to move or store your easel when not in use. You will need something lightweight or even collapsible. Painting in a communal area may mean that you are only able to work from an table mountable easel.

Artist painting en plein air with a lightweight metal easel
Lightweight Metal Field Easels are a great option for painting outdoors

What size and weight are your paintings?

Easels can only hold surfaces up to a maximum height. This is something you will need to double check before you make a purchase. The weight of your work may also be a factor you need to consider. Although most easels will hold canvases of a considerable weight, artists who work with large amounts of mediums, thick paint and collage may need to double check that their paintings do not go above this weight. If you regularly paint work on weighty canvas you would probably be best investing in a heavier studio easel.

Artist sitting at an H frame studio easel

You will also need to think about the size of your work and where it will need to sit in relation to you. For example, if you work on a small scale, but prefer standing at your easel, you will need to make sure the lower canvas support extends high enough to support your painting at a comfortable height.

What medium do you work in?

You can move or tilt your easel to find the most comfortable position to work on a specific area. Their ability to tilt also offers benefits for different painting techniques. If you work in watercolour you won’t want your easel to be at a steep vertical angle, as it may cause your paint to run. Keeping your easel at a lower vertical angle, or even horizontal will make it easier to paint smooth washes.

Abstract watercolour wash painting on box easel
If you’re working vertically while painting in watercolour your washes may drip!

Horizontal tilting is also useful for artists who varnish their work. The angle means it is easier to apply varnish in smooth, even layers. Positioning your work at a forward tilt can also be useful if you work in multiple painting sessions. At a forward tilt your art will be less exposed to dust, so it’s less likely that rogue bits of fluff will stick to it. This practice is also beneficial to pastel artists as it allows excess dust to drop from the surface.

Side view of a thoughtful artist holding paintbrush while sitting in his studio

Placing your artwork on an easel also makes it easier to stand back and assess your painting. Almost like you would in a gallery setting. This can make it easier to work out which areas of your composition need extra work, or where your perspective may be a little off.

Now you’ve considered these questions and seen the benefits of an easel it’s time to look at the easel types!

Types of Easels

Artists easels are available in all kinds of shapes and sizes – so there’s sure to be an easel out there that is perfect for you. You can broadly separate them into two sections – for use indoors or outdoors. Portable Easels and Sketching Field Easels are easy to set up and are ideal for outdoor work. Box Easels are similar to portable easels, but also include a storage compartment for your materials. Table Easels are small and perfect for use on a table top – great if you only have a small space to work in. A-Frame and H-Frame easels are much more sturdy, and designed for keeping in one studio space. Find out more about the benefits of each of these easel types below.

Outdoor & Portable Easels

Portable Easels are compact and lightweight – they are easy to transport and carry if you are working outdoors. Some models even come with their own bag. We sort them into three different types – Sketching Field Easels, Box Easels, and the Pochade Box.

Sketching Field Easels

Sketching Field Easels look similar to a camera tripod. They have three legs with a triangular footprint. At the point where the three legs meet there will be a central column on which artwork can be rested. This column has a lower and upper canvas support to position your work. On some models this central column can tilt slightly while on others, like the Jakar Lightweight Field Easel, is rigid. The Jakar Lightweight Adjustable Watercolour Easel can tilt into a fully horizontal position.

The Jakar Adjustable Watercolour Easel (left) is our bestselling field easel. Like the Jakar Lightweight Field Easel (right), it can be retracted for use on a tabletop.

Lightweight metal options are very popular as they are easy to transport, but a traditional wooden finish is also available. Portable easels have telescopic legs are easily collapsible when not in use. They are easy to extend when you are ready to paint. Some models, like the previously mentioned Jakar models, can be used as tabletop easels when their legs are fully retracted. The Adjustable Watercolour Easel is one of our bestselling easels and offers great versatility – especially for amateur or beginner artists.

Although this type of easel is great for outdoor painting, their shape can make them a little unstable. Their footprint and light weight means they aren’t as sturdy as a studio easel. If you are painting in windy conditions it may be worth weighing down the centre of the easel with a bag of materials.

Box Easels

Loxley Highland Box Easel
Loxley Highland Box Easel

Box Easels are a type of portable, outdoor easel, but include a drawer or storage compartment for materials. They have the same tripod like structure, but with a box rather than just a central column. This box not only includes storage space for your materials, but also holds the central column and canvas supports. Like field easels, box easels are collapsible for easy carrying and storage. If you are painting on small canvas boards, they can sometimes be stored in the box compartment. These easels have a solid wood finish.

Pochade Boxes

Although technically not an easel, the Pochade Box is a popular piece of kit with Plein Air painters. They are one of our best selling easels. Artists can use these boxes alone or affix our Camera Tripod Mounting Bracket. If you are mounting one on a tripod we would recommend strengthening the base with a sheet of plywood.

Pochade Boxes for Plein Air Painting

These compact boxes have a storage compartment for your materials and a hinged lid that you can use to adjust your painting angle. They are suitable for all kinds of media and have a strap for easy carrying. There are support slots inside the lid that hold particular size boards in place while you paint. The larger version is perfect for use with 10” x 12” boards, and the smaller for use with 8” x 6”.

Camera Tripod Bracket

Our Camera Tripod Bracket is great if you want to transform your tripod into an easel. All you need to do is affix the bracket to the back of a board and then attach it to your easel. This is a great, inexpensive way to transform an existing tripod into an easel. This type of set up is popular with outdoor sketchers and water colourists as it provides a stable painting surface that is fairly lightweight and easily transportable.

Indoor & Studio Easels

Easels designed for indoor use offer more stability than an outdoor easel. Studio Easels are the most heavy duty of all the easels we supply and are fantastic if you have the space to erect an easel permanently. If you work at a table that doubles up as a dining area then Table Easels offer a great working area that is easy to set up and that can be tidied away when not needed. Radial easels don’t take up as much space and are commonly seen in college and tutoring environments.

Table Easels

Table Easels are small scale easels that are fantastic if you don’t have a permanent space dedicated to painting. They are easy to set up and are easily collapsible if you need to clear the table for another use. Some of these easels take the form of a miniature ‘H’ frame easel, some of an ‘A’ frame, while others have a solid back. There are also a number of models that incorporate a small storage area – even better if you need to pack your materials away quickly!

Loxley Avon Desktop Easel (left) and Loxley Durham Table Easel (right)

These easels have an adjustable support that you can use to angle your painting surface. Typically this is done using wingnuts that can be loosened or tightened to your favoured angle – but some models do have notches cut in particular positions which only allow you to work at fixed angles. Some models, like the Ebro and Danube workstations are very simple, whereas others have internal drawers and other storage.  The Chatsworth is a particularly popular table easel, available in two sizes. They are made from quality hardwood, have ample storage space, a foam cushion base and adjustable divisions. They are suitable for all kinds of painting mediums.

Chatsworth Duke and Earl Box Easels
Chatsworth Earl and Duke Box Easels

When looking at table easels it is important to consider the scale of the work you will be making. This style of easel is typically suited to small scale paintings, so if you are working on anything large they probably won’t be suitable. Most models also work at a fixed height, in that the lower canvas support cannot be lowered or heightened. This is something worth bearing in mind, especially if you are working on very small paintings. Ideally you would need your work to be held close to eye level, rather than close to the table. Opting for a table easel with an adjustable lower support would be the best option in this case.

Loxley Wentworth Table Easel
Loxley Wentworth Table Easel

Both the Loxley Yorkshire Table Easel and the Loxley Wentworth Table Easel offer this. The lower support of the Wentworth can be adjusted below the table, offering a more versatile position. On the Yorkshire model the lower canvas support is attached to the bottom in a fixed position. To adjust the height of the bottom rest you will need to remove it and then reattach it to the central slot.

Radial Easels

EL685 Loxley Suffolk Radial Easel
Loxley Suffolk Radial Easel

Radial Easels are the types of easels that you would typically come across in art schools and colleges. They offer a space saving alternative to bulky studio easels. The single central support has a hinge and a short tripod supports it. The hinge allows the easel to be titled to adjust the working angle, and the two canvas supports can be moved to accommodate your work. This style of easel doesn’t offer the same stability or strength as an H or A frame easel, but they cost considerably less and can be folded up when not in use.

A-Frame Easels

Loxley Hampshire A Frame Studio Easel
Loxley Hampshire A Frame Studio Easel

A-Frame Easels (also known as ‘Lyre’ easels) are one of two types of Studio easel that we stock. They have a triangular structure and footprint. The front of the easel is made of wood arranged in an ‘A’ like shape, with the canvas supports and column in the middle. This main frame is balanced at the back with a single leg, so the easel is supported like a tripod. On cheaper ‘A’ frame models the canvas support is at the angle of the two front legs. On more expensive models you can tilt the column holding the canvas support. They are great for small to medium sized paintings. A Frames’ are the more lightweight of the two types of studio easel, but offer more stability than a portable easel. They are also more affordable than an H frame.

Mabef M11 A Frame Inclinable Easel
The Mabef M11 Inclinable A Frame Easel can be angled forwards

If you are working in watercolour then an A Frame easel won’t be suitable. They are not suitable for a horizontal working position, so you would find that your washes would run towards the bottom of your paper.

H-Frame Easels

Loxley Stirling Heavy Duty H Frame Easel (left) and Loxley Sussex Studio Easel (right)

H-Frame Easels are the sturdiest of all our studio easels and get their name from the shape of their robust frame. These easels have the largest footprint, which offers stability for even the most energetic painters! Artists’ usually set up an H-Frame permanently in one place. They aren’t as easy to deconstruct. You would need to set aside a dedicated area for one. If you do have a large studio space then an H frame easel makes a great investment.

Although they are bulky, they can be easily adapted for painting at different angles and on different sized surfaces. The main frame is commonly attached to the back support with wingnuts that can be used to angle your work without affecting the easel’s stability. Some heavy duty H frame models are crank operated or electrically powered, which is fantastic if you are working on large and heavy work.

Storage shelf on the Mabef M07 Medium Studio Easel
Storage shelf on the Mabef M07 Medium Studio Easel

Some H frame easels also have a shelf attached to the lower canvas support, or drawers in more heavy duty models. These are great for holding a few tubes of paint and other accessories.

Convertible Easels

Convertible Easels, sometimes known as hybrid easels, are similar in shape to H Frame easels. They have a square footprint so offer the same stability and robust frame, but the H frame is fully hinged. This allows the easel to be converted from a normal upright easel, to a fully horizontal surface. This is especially useful for artists who work in different types of media. For watercolourists the horizontal option will allow you to create smooth washes without drips. It also makes it much easier to apply a smooth, even coat of varnish.

The EL698 Loxley Essex Studio Easel in use
The Loxley Essex Studio Easel can be adjusted to many positions

The Loxley Essex Studio Easel is the most popular of our convertible easels, and of our studio easels in general. This multi-purpose easel is suitable for use either vertically or horizontally. It also has a large storage shelf built into the base, which is perfect for holding your art materials.

Workstations

The Mabef M30 Painting Workstation is designed to accommodate wheelchair users

Painting Workstations offer a large, sturdy workspace where all your materials can be held in one place. They offer great stability as they are more like a piece of furniture than an easel. These workstations have castors so can be moved around, although they are bulky. This type of easel is particularly designed for artists who have accessibility issues with regular easels. In fact the Mabef M30 Painting Workstation is specially made for use with wheelchairs. 

Other Easels and Studio Furniture

Display Easels

Although they aren’t functional easels, Display Easels are a popular way for artists to show their finished work. They are great for taking to art exhibitions and shows, or for using in shops. Visually, they look like miniature versions of a traditional easel – usually an H or A frame. Easily collapsed, they can be quickly and easily transported. Display Easels do not offer the stability of an artists’ easel – so we recommend them only for showing finished work, not for painting.

The Invisi Lightweight Display Easel is our best selling display easel. They come flat packed, and only take a few folds of the plastic to assemble. They are made with corrugated plastic which is exceptionally durable. With proper care they can last a lifetime.

Ken Bromley Invisi Lightweight Display Easel
Loxley Print Storage Rack
Print Storage Rack

Although not strictly an easel, Print Racks are a useful piece of studio furniture for artists who have a lot of work to store. If you own a gallery, or sell prints in a shop they are great for holding prints as they allow customers to easily browse through paintings without taking up too much space. If paper and drawings regularly clutter your studio then these racks are perfect for organising your space.

Final Hints & Tips

It’s certainly worth taking your time in choosing a suitable easel. There is nothing more frustrating than investing in an expensive piece of equipment only to find it falls short of your expectations. Take time to think about what it is you want from an easel. If you’re not sure what you need then revisit some of the questions from the beginning of this post. 

Read Customer Reviews

It is also well worth taking time to read our customer reviews for the easels that interest you. These often include detailed information about how an easel did or didn’t work for a particular artist. Just because an easel is perfect for one artist, does not mean it will be for you. The more detail a review has, the more likely you will be able to judge whether the easel will be suitable for you. If the reviews do not give you the answers you need it may be necessary to ask us some questions, or even visit our shop (when it reopens) if you live locally. Please ring us to double check that we have the model of easel in stock at our warehouse beforehand.

Read website reviews for the easels you are interested in

Choosing your first easel

If you’re choosing your first easel, or don’t know what you need in an easel, then it may be best to opt for an inexpensive, lightweight option – something like the Jakar Lightweight Adjustable Watercolour Easel. This style of easel is easily portable and you can use it indoors and outdoors. It’s telescopic legs make it extremely versatile too – you can use it as a full size easel or collapse it to use on a table top. An easel that offers so many workable options can help you get to grips with the workings of an easel and help you decide what features you need.

Once your easel arrives we hope it will be everything you expected. Why not review it to let other customers know how it works for you? Your experience may be invaluable to another artist!

If you receive your easel and you’re having a bit of trouble assembling it then visit our website. A lot of our product pages include videos of easel assembly. You can also check out our Youtube Easel playlist that has all our easel videos in one place!

Visit our website to see our full range of Artists’ Easels.

3 Responses

  1. You have missed out the most common form of easel used by sketchers and watercolourists, at least in Australia and the US. It is based on a photographic tripod with a board attached. The board is easily home made with the small square threading device that you sell. A good commercial example is the En Plein Air Pro.

  2. For somenone who is a relative newcomer to painting at home this was a really helpful article. Peter Darmody’s comment was useful too

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