How to Choose a Plein Air Easel

Recently, I gave a presentation at the Plein Air Convention in Monterrey for the Basics Course. The course covered things about equipment and the process of painting. My presentation was about equipment, what you need and don’t need. I think choosing an easel is probably the most difficult piece of equipment to choose, certainly it can be the most expensive. It seems that every month their are new easels out there.

Rather than tell you what I like and don’t like, I thought it was best to give you some questions to ask yourself when choosing an easel. We all have different needs and preferences. These questions will help you determine what would best fit your needs.

  • Where do you like to paint? City, backcountry? This could determine size and weight, carrying or wheeling.
  • Will you be using a backpack? Make sure it fits in a backpack.
  • How far will you be going? The farther you go, the lighter in weight it should be.
  • Will you be painting from the trunk of your car? You can have almost any easel if you are not carrying it.
  • Will you be setting up on even surfaces or rough terrain? Make sure your legs adjust independently.
  • Will there be a lot of people around when you paint? Make sure it isn’t too large of footprint that people will trip over.
  • What size canvas will you be painting on? Will it adjust large enough?
  • Is it a variety of sizes? If you paint only a few sizes you may not have to worry about the adjustment
  • Do you like to hold your palette or have it as part of the pochade box? Which is more comfortable. What do you do in the studio?
  • Are there very many parts to the pochade box that could get lost or take too long to set up?
  • Do you need to restrict the weight to carry it? What are you physically capable of doing?
  • Will you be traveling by air? You should have it as light as possible
  • Do you want a tripod or all inclusive easel? Personal preference.
  • Does the tripod fold up small enough for airlines and weigh less? Make sure it telescopes down enough to fit in luggage.
  • Will you want to carry a couple panels in your pochade?
  • Do you want your brushes in the pochade box? or in a backpack or container separately
  • Do you need extra compartments to hold supplies, paints or will they be stored separately?
  • If you are using a backpack will it fit? Make sure all the supplies you want can fit in the backpack
  • Are there parts on the box that may get hung up on the backpack? It could be an irritation for you if the box gets hungup on the backpack.
  • Does your easel adjust to a comfortable height for you? Some do not go high enough
  • Do you like your palette up high with the painting or lower on the tripod? Some people paint with the palette at counter height, some like it with the poschade box.
  • Will you be able to get consistent light on your painting and your palette? The painting and palette need to have consistent light
  • Do you like to paint with your palette down at the same angle as your painting? Some artists like the position of the palette to be at the same angle as the painting making light always the same.
  • Will you at times work with your box on a table or on your lap? Can it be used without a tripod?
  • Is there enough mixing room for your paints? Do you need a large area for the way you work?
  • How many paints do you lay out? More paints need more room.
  • Is the pochade sturdy when you paint? Something to think about if you paint pushing on the canvas, but should be sturdy and not shake or wobble.
  • Are there any awkward parts, clips, etc to set up? Is it difficult for you to handle small parts?
  • Do you like the palette part to feel open, not restricted? Look at the construction. Will it feel like painting inside a box?
  • Can you easily paint to the edges? Clips should be small and not cover much of the canvas.
  • Is there a side storage tray for brushes or palette knives? Or do you put them in a separate hanging container?
  • Can you store the wet paint in the pochade box by closing the lid? There might be a few that wouldn’t be deep enough for the amount of paint you would lay out.

Think about how you use your equipment in the studio, have the plein air easel as comfortable as you can. You may find that one easel doesn’t fit all your needs. Or you may modify your box to fit your needs. I would say the majority of artists make changes of some kind to their easels.

For the rest of your equipment you will want to take a minimum of things with you. I have listed some essentials and some extra things that I carry in my car. These supplies will also vary with each artist to some extent.

Essentials Sunscreen
Pochade box & tripod
Wet panel carrier
Solvent ontainer Extras
Paint Duct tape, clamps, bungee
Brushes Can of clean & dirty solvent
Garbage Bag Bugspray
Paper Towels or Rags Umbrella
Sun Hat with wide brim

I hope these questions will help you in your search for an outdoor easel that will fit your needs and wants. The most important thing is to have a pochade box that is lightweight, sturdy and easy to set up.

What supplies have you found useful in your outdoor painting trips?

Becky Joy

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