Oil paintings are usually painted on canvases stretched on stretcher frames. It is difficult to paint these canvases lying on the table, therefore for centuries there have been wooden frames on which these stretcher frames are placed for painting: these are called easels. Especially larger formats should not be painted lying on the table, because they spoil your back.
As a rule, an easel is made of wood, but recently it has also been made of aluminium or other metal. There are a number of different easel types, which have different advantages and disadvantages. The decision which easel is the right one usually depends on individual factors. This article is intended to help you find the right easel.
What are the different types of easel? Basically there are 5 different easel types:
- Studio easel: with H-shaped foot, heavy and stable
- Portable easels (Academies): three-legged, foldable, very quick to assemble and disassemble
- Field easel: collapsible, small and light, for painting outside the studio
- French box easel: like Field easel, but with integrated painting case (material box)
- Table easel: different models, e.g. painting boards to fold up, suitcase easel without legs or studio easel in small)
Learn more about the differences between easel types.
Easel Types: advantages and disadvantages
The cheapest easels are table easels, which you can get for less than 10 USD. However, these are only in the painting boards, which can be folded up. Other models are mostly only cheap presentation relays (for weddings and so on), which are not usable for artistic production. One gets a quite good Table easel for approximately 40 USD, the luxury model costs approx. 180 USD.
Also very inexpensive are surprisingly some field relays, although they contain many fine elements. The simple models cost about 15 USD. The slightly better models are between 40 and 50 USD, and the really good professional painters Feldstaffelein are between 70 and 100 USD.
There are significantly fewer models and suppliers of suitcase scales. The low priced models are around 60 USD, the professional model from the Italian easel specialist Mabef costs around 220 USD.
The price range is also quite high for academy graduates. The simple models (which you can build yourself, see below) cost about 40 USD. But then you don't have a slider that holds the picture from above. The models with slider start at about 70 USD. The good models cost about 120 USD.
Clearly the most expensive are the studio relays. Because they are the largest and most stable - and the wood must be good and deposited, so that the easel does not forgive itself. The cheap models cost just under 100 USD. For a solid studio easel one should plan between 150 and 250 USD - depending on how large and heavy the model should be. The luxury class starts at about 400 USD and goes up to about 800 USD. By far the most expensive easel is the M/01 by Mabef, which also has a lot of fate integrated like an electric picture lifter.
One can buy the easel directly in the specialized trade or order on-line. Also here Amazon is for many the first contact point, because the manufacturers like Lukas, Schmincke etc. listed there also their assortment. That facilitates the price comparison.
Which easel is the right one?
Before you buy an easel, you should carefully consider which type of construction is actually the best. Here are a few suggestions:
A decisive criterion for all easel types is the wood: good easels are made of oiled beech wood. A more cost-effective alternative is elm wood. Not to be recommended, because potentially weather-prone, are softwoods such as pine or spruce wood.
With all easels one should pay attention to whether and how much storage surface they offer. Because when painting one must put down colour tubes, painting knives and brushes, glasses with thinner or solvents etc. somewhere. Who has in the studio a painting cart or a table, no problem. But for everyone else the usual picture format can be very important.
Also fundamental is the charge, if the easel has a slide at the top, with which the canvas (or the picture) can be clamped from above. If this works, the picture is usually firm and stable, which is an important prerequisite for painting. With the cheap models this element is sometimes omitted. Then one can paint on it only very carefully and carefully.
If you have a permanent studio (a real painting room), then a studio easel is the best choice because it is the most stable and durable solution in the long run. Usually you need a high ceiling (at least 3 meters), so that you can use the easel in the height also for large formats.
A studio easel on castors / wheels is usually practical, so that you can always put it in the right light. Because in the course of the day the lighting conditions change - at least if you have at least one window.
If you are still young and frisky, you don't need any "lifting relief" to push the picture up and down. But if you don't have that much power left, a crank is a good idea. However, such a crank is of course a component that wears out over the years.
Who does not only paint with oil or acrylic on canvas, but also with liquid, watery colour solutions such as watercolor, should take a look at the inclination of the easel. Some models can be tilted by 90°, so that you can paint on them horizontally like on a table.
Who does not want to have the easel permanently built up, but would also like to put it away sometimes, is better advised with another easel type. Academy relay easels are most suitable for large formats. You can fold them up and put them on the wall. Many professional artists have one or two academy relays besides their "production-studio relays", where they put finished pictures for inspection and drying (but of course you can also just lean them against a wall).
Portable easels are, however, by far not as stable as studios. Since they only stand on three legs, they sometimes tilt back and forth a little when wide formats are used, when the outer edges are firmly pressed down.
If you like to paint outside (plein-air painting) and want to take the easel with you, a field easel is a good idea. One should pay particular attention to the weight, because during painting hikes a few kilos more or less can already be noticeable. Rubber feet are also very useful, because if the easel stands on a wet surface, there is a danger that moisture will penetrate the legs and the wood can warp.
A field easel is also suitable for hobby artists who do not yet have a permanent studio. Because you can push it small together and store it space-saving (if you get a visitor or something).
In a field relay team you also need a painting suitcase if you are on the way to paint. With a Kofferstaffelei one has the painting suitcase quasi integrated. This can be very practical if you don't need too much material. But it is stupid if not everything fits into the easel case. For beginners and hobby painters, who get by with small paint tubes (sets), such a suitcase easel is well suitable. However, most professional painters will have a real (individually coordinated) painting case with them in addition to the Feldstaffelei.
The only thing left is the table easel: folding painting boards are a practical thing for everyone. The models, which are a kind of small studio relay, which one builds up on a table, are however also rather a compromise. They are only suitable for small formats (max. 70 x 80 cm). And most of the time they are quite wobbly. Also here applies: rather for beginners and occasional painters.
How to construct an easel by yourself
If you don't have the necessary small change to buy a suitable easel, you can make a simple portable easel yourself relatively easily and inexpensively. The following video shows how this works - it's german but you might understand how to build it.
A detailed and well-illustrated manual can be found on the Künstlerbedarf-Blog (german): Build your own easel (incl. PDF instructions)
See also / Read more
- Portable easel
- Introduction to oil painting (for beginners) - Overview
- History of oil painting
- The special feature of oil paint