Too much choice and not enough knowledge. How does a beginner choose the best easel for drawing? Where do you even start? Indeed do you even need an easel? I’ll point you in the right direction.
The best drawing easel is a combination of four things: size, weight, adjustability, and stability. Choose an easel that will hold your normal drawing size, ensure your easel adjusts to your preferred angle of work, that it’s stable and secure while you work, and the right weight for its purpose.
I’ll tell you what to look for and suggest a few easels worth looking at. Your decision will be based on the type of drawings you make and your budget. Use this guide to buy the right easel for you.
OK. let’s crack on.
Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links, I sometimes earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend trusted sites.
What Are Easels For?
That’s not a dumb question, here’s why.
When an artist draws on a horizontal plane, such as a tabletop, and looks down on the drawing from above, while simultaneously studying the subject in front, the change in perspective confuses the eye.
The artist sees and draws a foreshortened version of the scene. Everything looks fine until the artist picks up the drawing pad and views it vertically. It’s then that the distortion becomes apparent. The drawing is elongated, and that’s because it was drawn at the wrong angle.
Read this post for more: What’s the Best Angle For Drawing and Sketching?
An easel is a simple support designed to hold a board, or canvas, in an upright position. It enables the artist to view the subject and the drawing in the same plane. A vertical position makes it far easier to measure the proportions with accuracy and judge the correct perspective.
It sounds like an easy solution but in fact, drawing vertically takes some getting used to, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you think about it, we learn to draw as kids, hunched over a table, with a tight grip of a pencil. Using an easel requires a different set of skills and they must be learned. That takes me to another point.
Spending too much time bent over a drawing pad is also bad for your neck and back. Drawing upright will stop your neck from cramping and standing upright will improve your posture.
I must admit I draw from a seated position but as you can see, my art tends to be very detailed and I have to get right up close to see what I’m doing and maintain a very steady hand. If you draw the same way as me, I suggest you use a mahl stick (a rod as a hand support).
I advise you to draw in 20-minute bursts and then break away for a few minutes to get your head together and your muscles working. Don’t work non-stop for hours on end.
Do you lack confidence? Take a class and get into the habit of drawing. I found this class on Udemy, 115,028 students can’t all be wrong!
How to Choose the Best Drawing and Painting Easel
Everyone has slightly different needs, amateurs and professional artists alike, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
There are several factors that come into consideration when choosing the best art easel for you.
Let’s go through them.
Look for High-Quality Materials and Fittings
Buy the best easel you can afford. In general, you’ll be on safe ground buying from a reputable brand.
Your easel needs to be made from high-grade materials, which means seasoned hardwood, aluminum, or steel, and have fixings that are equally durable.
Most quality easels are made from beech wood, however, the finest wooden easels are made from oak, a much harder wood. As well as being beautiful, oak wood is super strong, and the screws and fittings are less likely to come loose. Oak easels will last a lifetime.
Beechwood is great too. It’s softer than oak and as such the screws and fittings can loosen over time. They need more TLC to keep them in good order. It’s no big deal.
Aluminum is primarily used for field easels. It’s lightweight, strong, and weather resistant.
You need fittings that won’t rust and have bolt threads that won’t strip when you tighten them. Most fittings are brass plated and a few are solid brass. Examine any plastic fittings carefully, in my experience, they tend to break with constant use.
Also, take note of how the fittings are attached. Are they screwed on or riveted? Rivets are less prone to work loose. Field easels suffer a lot of wear and tear, and they tend to shake and vibrate in transit. It’s amazing how often things come apart.
An easel should be an investment. Buying a cheap Chinese easel is a waste of money. The wood splits, they’re usually softwood, and the fixings are low-grade and easily broken. Be cautious.
Be equally wary of cheap Chinese metal easels. In my experience, they are flimsy and easily bent.
Consider the Stability of Your Work Surface
Your drawing support has one real job and that’s to keep your board or canvas firmly in place while you work. Any movement is irritating but a fall can be disastrous.
Buying a quality easel will ensure that the legs, sliders, and tilt mechanisms can be tightened into place securely.
Portable easels must be sturdy enough to stand up to mother nature. Seasoned varnished or oiled wood will withstand the elements, and so too will aluminum.
All easels need a firm base, meaning rubber ferrules to prevent slippage or lockable castors for studio easels.
In my experience, the wind is your number one enemy when you work outdoors. Your canvas or drawing board acts like a sail and it only takes one gust of wind to send everything flying.
Lightweight easels are going to fall over unless they are weighed down or tied to the ground with guy ropes. I hang a water container from the middle of my easel as a center weight. It’s important to have a low center of gravity and suspend the weight low to the ground. I’ve also used a bag of stones in the same way.
Single-masted tripod field easels are the least stable. Tripods topple easily, and your board, or canvas, is held in place only by a single bar. There is no way to lean on the surface without the board moving. How much that disturbs you will depend on your way of working.
Find an ONLINE COURSE that suits you on the courses page
Are Spares and Accessories Available?
Consider the kit you’ll need, artists, have to carry their supplies in the field or have their materials close to hand in the studio. That requires accessories to make life easier.
My easel has a lipped tray that attaches to the easel legs. It’s big enough to hold my sketching kit. It also has an extension bar that holds a bigger drawing board.
The best brands have dedicated fittings designed to complement their models. The American firm Strada takes this approach to another level. They have attachments for almost any requirement, which includes extra trays, quick-release plates, panel holders, extensions, and more, check them out.
They also supply spare parts and this is often overlooked. If something breaks, you want to know that you can buy a replacement part or component.
The best brands usually have parts for sale, albeit at a hefty price. There are always workarounds, but it’s much more convenient to order the genuine part if you can.
Other accessories that you might need are studio lights that attach to your easel, adjustable umbrellas, and easel spikes.
I’ve seen plenty of fancy-pants UV-protected umbrellas with universal clamps for sale but honestly, just buy a golfers umbrella holder and a cheap brolly on eBay. I’ve even used a pushchair parasol in the past. Same thing, but with different marketing.
Look for other features that will make your easel more adaptable. Hooks, holes, and straps, they all make a difference.
Choose The Right Size of Easel
It’s important to consider the size of your artwork and how much space you’ll need to work in comfort. Are you a studio painter or do you paint and draw outside (Plein air)? These factors will drive your decision-making.
Buying an easel that is too small for your needs will make it difficult to create larger works or experiment with other media and techniques. On the flip side, buying an easel that is too big for your needs will take up too much room in your precious workspace.
Don’t forget to include the additional space you’ll need surrounding your studio easel. You will have supplies and accessories, tables, and possibly a chair. It all has to be factored in.
It might make more sense to buy a table easel that can be packed away when not in use.
All you can do is calculate how large you like to work, and use the average as your benchmark.
Remember that some easels can be extended to accommodate large canvases, and also take into account the angle you like to paint or draw. You will need extra room to tilt the easel and adjust it to your individual needs.
This very popular drawing course by Brent Eviston is on Udemy.
He has over 73,000 students!
Consider the Weight of Your Easel
It’s very important to consider the weight of your easel. Are you going to move it frequently? A field easel must be lightweight and the trade-off is stability.
A studio H-frame easel is stable and some giant easels can be very heavy indeed. If an easel is too big and heavy to move around easily, ensure it has wheels or castors, preferably with adjustable locking bolts/feet to hold the easel in place on uneven flooring.
If you intend to transport your easel from place to place, Plein air easels must be light enough to carry comfortably.
Lightweight easels are often made from aluminum. Plenty of manufacturers make and sell wooden tripod easels but for the life of me, I don’t see the advantage.
Aluminum field easels are lightweight, telescopic, and weatherproof. Far more practical than their wooden counterparts. If I am hiking across the countryside I want the lightest kit possible.
There is another type of easel worth considering for outdoor use. Box easels combine a portable storage box with an adjustable easel all in one setup. They aren’t that light, I liken it to carrying a suitcase. Make sure you have a shoulder strap if you’re walking any distance.
A friend of mine straps his French easel on the back of his push bike. It works a treat but remember what I said about screws working loose. That’s the drawback.
The 5 Different Types of Easels Explained
There are 5 types of easels suitable for drawing and painting and each type has a different purpose.
Disclaimer: I’m using the Meeden range because the images are good, the products are good, and they cover all the options. I’m not suggesting that they are the best easels, but I would have no issues buying one.
This is an overview:
1. Tabletop Easels
A tabletop easel is small, compact, and designed to sit on a flat surface, such as a table, desk, or worktop.
Its primary purpose is to support smaller artworks for artists where limited space is available. They’re generally made of wood, lightweight, and collapsable.
They’re scaled-down versions of the larger A-frames, H-frames, box, and tripod easels.
They offer a convenient solution for artists where space and storage are a priority.
2. A-Frame Easels (Lyre Easels)
An A-frame describes a typically wooden easel that features two legs that angle outwards from the top, held in place by a horizontal bar towards the base, with another one at the top. There’s a supporting leg at the rear. The rear leg is collapsable for easy storage.
A vertical bar runs along the center with two adjustable sliding brackets to hold canvases of varying sizes firmly in place.
An A-frame is a studio easel, it’s designed to hold large works, and provide stable and secure support. At the same time, it’s light enough to move and store away easily.
In general, most A-frames are in a fixed position but a few models have a tilt function.
3. Portable Field Easels (Plein Air/Tripod Easels)
Field easels typically feature 3 telescopic adjustable legs that are designed to be set up on any uneven ground.
The front legs have a detachable crossbar or canvas supports where the board sits. It’s supported by a central vertical bar with a sliding T-bracket at the top which secures the board in place.
Some single mast easels pivot to a horizontal position (Meeden easel above) making them the perfect easel for watercolor painting. The board/canvas is held tight by two slider brackets at both ends of the mast.
Most field easels are constructed in lightweight wood or aluminum and are easy to carry. The main aim is to be as light as possible but sturdy enough to function in an outdoor setting. Having used both types, I recommend aluminum easels. They are more practical.
Field easels are more suited to Plein air artists who work on a smaller scale where stability is less of an issue. Tripods are inherently less stable
4. Classic French Box Easels
French easels are usually wooden boxes with a hinged lid that opens up to reveal a custom palette with storage compartments beneath. The compartment slides out from the front giving the artist instant access to the art supplies.
A center bar is attached to the box lid with sliding lockable clamping bars at the top and bottom to hold the canvas or board in place.
The telescopic front legs are hinged on the side and when unclipped they slot into place and tightened. The rear leg is folded out and held by a lockable stay.
All the legs can be adjusted for uneven ground and the lid can also be adjusted to different angles by two lockable ‘desk’ stays at the rear.
The box easel is very popular with Plein air artists who need the convenience of a mini studio outdoors. They are stable with a low center of gravity and fully laden and will weigh approximately 15 – 20 lbs or 7 – 9 KG. You’ll definitely need that shoulder strap.
If you have a need for less storage consider opting for a half-box easel. It’s as the name suggests, it’s a smaller type of box easel designed to be truly portable. It’s a great easel for sketching.
5. H-Frame Studio Easels
H-frame easels are heavier and larger than other types of easels. As the name suggests, they are constructed in an ‘H’ shape, with two vertical masts secured with crossbars.
The slider brackets or canvas holders can be adjusted up or down along the central mast. On heavier models, this feature is controlled with a ratchet or winch pulley system.
H-frames are designed to tilt and some flip horizontally, perfect for watercolorists. The designs vary between companies but they all do the same thing. The frame, or mast, hinges and is locked into place with tightening screws.
Selected models have a frame design with a shelf, or drawer, built-in for extra storage space.
Large studio easels are not designed to be moved, or if they are, not more than a few meters. Some models come with castors and locking mechanisms to secure them in position.
They are practical for serious artists who work on a large scale and have plenty of space. The top models are very expensive.
These are 5 well-known brands that supply quality easels. They’re worth checking out:
And these are notable outlets:
There are many more and I’m not suggesting for one moment that you are confined to these brands. I’ve told you how to choose an easel and the most important considerations to look for, the rest is up to you.
I’m not going to try and BS you that I have tried and tested all of these easels, and you should assume that none of the other reviewers have tested them all either. That’s not how it works.
The reviewers are directing you toward a good easel paying the best commission. Nothing wrong with that, and full disclosure, I have some affiliate links paying me a small commission too. I’m simply recommending 5 types of easels from respected brands. That’s all.
I don’t know if they are the best or not. I think the top brands are so similar that, price apart, it makes little difference which one you choose.
How Much Do Easels Cost?
Bottom line, do you get what you pay for? On the whole, yes it rings true, but the price range is extraordinary.
Hughs Easels are probably the most expensive easels money can buy, they range from $3799 to a whopping $6599. They are almost works of art in themselves and totally out of reach for most artists.
At the other extreme, the cheapest easels can be found on all the usual discount sites, including:
They start from about $20 for the cheapest field and tabletop easels. You pay your money and you take your chance.
In my opinion, there are times when buying a cheapy makes perfect sense. I’m not going to say don’t buy cheap, I’d be a hypocrite. I’ve bought garbage and I’ve been delightfully surprised. I do know that it’s best to physically examine a cheap easel in person. Everything looks great online.
I’ll use the Meeden Range as an example of value-for-money easels.
- Tabletop easels range from $27 – $75
- A-Frame easels range from $70 – $93
- Field easels range from $40 – $70
- Box easels range from $115 – $135
- H-Frame studio easels range from $97 – $460
Meeden also has a neat Pochade box with a tripod for $190
Best Easel for Drawing: Final Thoughts
The best easel is the one you can afford.
Let’s cut to the chase, you can improvise an easel or support. It’s not make or break purchase, and nor is it a game changer. Your art is not dependent on buying the fanciest easel on the market.
Everyone values craftsmanship and the pleasure of using something that’s well-made. Yes, it’s pleasing, but not essential. Simply ask yourself if the easel is fit for purpose. If the answer is yes, it’s good enough. The rest is a bonus.
If you use the advice in this post to inform your decision, you can’t go far wrong.
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Before you leave these articles will interest you:
- Is Drawing From Reference Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?
- Best Drawing Pencils For Beginners: How to Choose (2023)
- Best Pastel Pencils For Beginners: 7 Top Brands Review (2023)
- What Do Pencil Numbers Mean? Pencil Grades Explained + Charts
- How to Scale Up a Drawing: 4 Easy Ways to Save Time
- Can You Copy Art and Sell a Painting of a Painting? I Found Out
- Can Anyone Learn To Draw? Are Artists Born or Made?
- How to Trace a Drawing: 12 Ways to Get Results – Fast!
- How Do Artists Get Their Ideas? (It Might Surprise You)
- How to Plan and Compose your Art (A guide for beginners with examples)
Are you are interested in selling your art? My guide will show you how to start a business from scratch
Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy