Seeking Plein Air Easel Recomendations

I would love to find a decent plein air easel for under $150 but do not have enough experience to make a wise choice. What easel do you use when you are out of your studio? What do you love about it? What advice might help me as I consider my options (low quality brands to avoid, features you couldn’t live without, unexpected problems that you wish you had known before selecting a product)? Thank you for your help with this big purchase!

Emily, I love my Cezanne Half Box French Easel for plein air painting, and it’s an excellent value (currently on sale for $53.99 at Jerry’s Artarama.) I bought one to replace my reliable old Jullian that finally gave up the ghost, and I find I like it even better. All of the hardware is sturdy and functions well. I especially like the strong suitcase-style fasteners that button it up. The drawer firmly supports my 12x16 Masterson palette box. The mast holds steady when you’re painting (no wobble) and can support a very small canvas well as larger ones, something my old easel couldn’t do. I prefer to carry it empty rather than loading it up with supplies, to keep the weight down. I give my easel a good work-out and this one hasn’t let me down. I hope this is helpful!

If you are looking for an inexpensive pochade box, I recently bought a recycled cigar box on eBay that I am loving! I was so close to buying a $100+ Guerrilla Painter 6" x 8" thumb box but thought I’d take a chance on the one with a starting bid of $39. I am LOVING this for 6" x 8" paintings; can go larger like 9" x 12" if you bungee cord the panel in front of the lid. For larger works, I have a wooden Mabef #27 field easel with palette holder arms and really like that set-up --Jeanne

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I agree small and agile beats heavy and constricting. I purchased a Guerrilla plein air box and though I still use it… it’s a bulky, clunky beast. Having painted about 60 field studies on mine, I’d reconsider now that I’ve put some miles on it.

I’ve had my eye on something much simpler. Either a gloucester easel with backpack/toolbox, or the Coulter Easel, which I saw in use several months ago at a workshop in North Carolina by Qiang Huang.

I bought an Alla Prima pochade this summer, and so far I have enjoyed using it.These are designed and built by a plein air painter who lives in Montana. The pochade has a drawer for paints, drawinig materials, etc., a self contained easel, palette (although I haven’t used it for that, a place to transport panels, and.fits in my backpack. Its not cheap, but it is comparable to the Art Box and Panel.

Personally I would stay away from anything called a French easel. They are fragile, they can be a pain to set up quickly and they can be quite unstable in the wind. They can also be quite heavy if you intend to hike a fair distance from your car, like a mile or more. I have one and it has been gathering dust in the garage for about six years now. I’ve used various easels outdoors, from Guerrilla type boxes to small cigar boxes turned into a pochade box.

The easel I’ve gone to and still use to this day is the Coulter easel. As a matter of fact, I have two. The large one for taking to out of town workshops, which fits nicely in a rolling suitcase with all the other items I need to work. I also have the medium sized one, which fits in my backpack, with everything I need to do a painting outdoors. I am considering downsizing that one though, to the small version. I don’t really need all that mixing space when I’m trying to paint quick, outdoor studies with a limited palette.

And to be perfectly up front, I’ve never used any easel from companies like Easy-L or Openbox M or Soletek, so I can’t say whether they’re any good or not.