A few years back, after purchasing the Sorg easel, I wrote an article about all the different styles of easels and their applications. Since then, I found this article by Lisa Takahashi which does a better job of it than mine.

Whether you paint in a studio, a kitchen, in a shed or out in a field, a sturdy easel is a painter’s best friend. Easels come in different shapes and sizes so that every kind of painter has their needs catered for. When choosing an easel, it’s important to think carefully about the kind of painter you are and the requirements that are most important to you.

What do you need from your easel? 

Perhaps you work on a large scale, and so you need your easel to be sturdy and heavy so that it stays put – the largest and most solid easels are H-Frame, with a broad square base. Or maybe you like to alternate between sitting and standing positions when painting, and so it’s important that the height can be adjusted easily – crank handle easels  will easily raise or lower the level of your easel’s working height. Perhaps you work at a table and need something that will fold up conveniently for storage after work – our table easels fold into a neat box and many also offer storage space for paints and brushes. If you will be working with very fluid watercolour and need an easel that can tilt to a horizontal position to prevent spills and drips, there are specially designed watercolour easels that can do just that. Think carefully about how you work as this will make it easier to choose the easel for you.

left: The M/06 Mabef Roma Studio Easel (code EM06), centre: The Jackson's Watercolour Easel (code EJ009), right: Albrecht Studio Easel(code EAABS)

left: The M/06 Mabef Roma Studio Easel (code EM06), centre: The Jackson’s Watercolour Easel (code EJ009), right: Albrecht Studio Easel(code EAABS)

Studio H-Frame Easels – heavy, beech or elm wood easels, perfect for indoor use, great for painting on a large scale

These H-Shaped easels rely on a central wooden column that the canvas supports are fixed on to. These easels have a square base, with the H Frame fixed to the front of the base and an angled support joined to the back of the base. This allows you to adjust the angle of the easel without compromising its stability. These easels are heavier than the radial easels, but they are sturdier and the range of sizes of painting supports it can hold is greater. Some H Frame easels such as the Jackson’s Medium H Frame Studio EaselMabef RomaRoma Grande and Milano or the Albrecht Studio Easel have a shelf or drawer built underneath the lower canvas support which offers very practical storage space, for the materials you like to keep close to hand such as favourite colours, brushes and rags. For those of you who want the stability of an H Frame easel but know that you will need to move the easel frequently, you might wish to consider one with wheels, such as the Mabef Roma. When the easel is where you want it to be simply screw the bolts down and these will secure the easel in its position. For artists who struggle to adjust canvas ledges the Roma Grande has a very easy to use low pressure crank handle. Watercolour H Frame easels will tilt to a horizontal position so you can work just as you would on a table – this can be really useful for watercolourists who need to ensure that their work will not run. These easels will also tilt forward – a feature which often appeals to pastel artists who want to ensure dust falls away from work in progress.

Studio A-Frame Easels – Easy to store, best for medium- large supports, lighter than H-Frames

Jackson’s A Frame Easel (code: EJ001)

The main structure of an A-Frame easel is triangular – 3 pieces of wood form a triangle, 2 at the front and one at the back. A central canvas support runs between the 2 front legs and holds the top and bottom canvas ledges. On cheaper A-frame easels this column is fixed to the angle of the 2 front legs; on more expensive easels it can be adjusted to be at a more vertical angle. A Frame easels cannot be adjusted for horizontal ‘table style’ working.

A- Frames are the second sturdiest design of indoor easel. It’s easy to fold them flat from the hinge at the top of the easel which makes them easy to stack in the corner of a room. They are a little lighter than H-Frames which suits those who will need to move it around frequently. A-Frames cannot adjust to horizontal angles for watercolourists and will not tilt forward for pastellists either.

Studio Radial and Donkey Easels – Best for life drawing classes

left: Jackson's Large Radial Easel (code: EJ022); right: Jackson's Donkey (code: EJ021)

left: Jackson’s Large Radial Easel (code: EJ022); right: Jackson’s Donkey (code: EJ021)

The slender build of the radial easel which stands on 3 short legs at the base of the construction is perfectly suited to life drawing and other observational work, as it is easy to position in front of a subject and does not take up a lot of space. For those who prefer to work sitting down, the Donkey easel has a seat on which to perch and a support for your drawing board at one end, and a handy drawer for your pencils at the other.

Table Easels

Table easels are perfect for artists that like to work relatively small scale, like to work sitting down, or have limited space. Most except the Pochade boxes are designed for indoor use, although they can all be used on a table out of doors. Tripod table easels look like mini A-frames and are available in wood or aluminium. They fold into a conveniently compact size and are adequate for light work, but tend not to offer as much stability as an H-frame table easel. Some H-Frames such as the Jackson’s Wentworth Box Easel have a drawer at the bottom – particularly useful if you’re going to carry yours around a lot and need everything in one place. They also have telescopic upper and lower canvas supports which accommodate a wider range of canvas sizes (up to 85cm).

The Jackson’s Academy small and large box easels use the lid of the box as the canvas support, which can be positioned to your desired working angle. This offers a really sturdy and ergonomic solution to painting indoors while occupying minimal space.

top left: Jackson's Wentworth Box Easel (code: EJ016); bottom left: Jackson's Tripod Table Easel (code: EJ015); right: Jackson's French Style Box Easel (code: EJ019)

top left: Jackson’s Wentworth Box Easel (code: EJ016); bottom left: Jackson’s Tripod Table Easel (code: EJ015); right: Jackson’s French Style Box Easel (code: EJ019)

Field Easels

Jackson's Aluminium Non Tilting Sketching Easel (code:EJFN4)

Jackson’s Aluminium Non Tilting Sketching Easel (code:EJFN4)

Field Easels are designed for outdoor painting, and are available in wood or aluminium. They are smaller and lighter than studio easels, and fold into a neat bundle for ease of carrying. Most field easels have telescopic legs which can be extended to heights for both sitting and standing positions. Field easels would also be great for artists working indoors with limited space. Both our Aluminium sketching easels have very high customer ratings and are sturdy and reliable; the tilting one allows you to work on your painting horizontally should you wish to avoid paint dripping down the composition as you work. French Style Box Easels are another clever design for outdoor painters – a field easel which has a box incorporated into the design which can hold paints, a palette and brushes. Box easels are heavier and a little more cumbersome to carry than field easels but they do minimise the number of extra bags you need to carry on your painting trip.

Jackson's Half Sized French Style Box Easel (code: EJ014)

Jackson’s Half Sized French Style Box Easel (code: EJ014)

The pochade box is well suited for use out of doors. It appears from the outside as if it were a regular painter’s travel case but inside the lid is a board that can be folded out at an upright angle once the lid is fully open. Painting panels can be fixed to this board using the clips attached to it. In the box there is enough storage space for your paints, brushes and mediums. The lid that keeps your tubes of paints in the box also has some holes which you can hold your brushes in for ease of accessibility. A tripod is also available for the pochade which means that you can set up and paint anywhere.

The Mabef Pochade Box (code: EM105)

The Mabef Pochade Box (code: EM105)

The Quick Guide to Easels

 H FrameA FrameRadialDonkeyTableSketchingBoxPochade
Watercolour (tilts to horizontal)Some   Some 
Pastel (tilts forward)Some