The 10 Best Art Easels
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in July of 2015. Art easels are primarily used by painters to prop up their works in progress, but are also often employed by curators as a display stand for art shows. Our selections for this category include portable options with convenient collapsible designs, as well as some attractive models intended for semi-permanent installation, either in a studio or to showcase a favorite piece. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 24, 2020:
During this round of updates, while we did retain the bulk of our previous selections, we decided to do away with the US Art Supply Cardiff, Step2 Easel For Two and Melissa & Doug Deluxe – observing that these models were all clearly geared toward children. Since this wiki was originally published in 2015, we’ve added a separate ranking for children’s easels. And, since the needs of this of this demographic are now being serviced by their own wiki, it only seemed sensible to thin the children’s options out of these rankings, as they’re not suitable for the bulk of artists shopping. Our new additions this time around were the SD Studio Designs Deluxe – a metal model with a telescoping tilt, the SCZS Tripod Display – a budget-friendly portable option with a convenient transportation bag, and the Meeden Studio – a handsome beechwood offering that's guaranteed against defects for life.
A few things to keep an eye out for in this category:
Portability: For the nomads among you, many easels are available with convenient, portable designs. The Martin Furniture Original-Style has a collapsible design and a leather carrying strap, plus its own backpack-style carrying bag, and the SCZS Tripod Display can shrink down to be just 21 inches tall, and also comes with a transportation bag.
For those of you with an established studio space, where an easel might make a permanent home, sturdy models like the Meeden Studio and U.S. Art Supply Malibu Heavy Duty come with locking casters that can alternately provide your easel with stability and mobility.
Storage: While selections like the Royal & Langnickel Artist Set and US Art Supply 21-Piece Table Set – which, in there defence, are both intended for tabletop use – have no practical means of storage, many options out there will have some provisions to accommodate your art supplies. On the basic end of things, models like the U.S. Art Supply Malibu Heavy Duty and Art Advantage Masters Beech Studio have shelves situated on their fronts, allowing you to keep a few things between you and your work. Other designs, like the Art Alternatives Ravenna and US Art Supply Coronado, are more intricate, and include integrated drawers for long-term storage.
Capacity: This can be a severely limiting factor, especially if you’re planning on doing some larger pieces, so make sure that you pay attention and pick an appropriately sized option. While models like the US Art Supply 21-Piece Table Set aren’t intended to hold anything much larger than its included 11-inch-by-14-inch canvas, The Meeden Studio and SCZS Tripod Display can accommodate pieces that are nearly six feet tall, and the U.S. Art Supply Malibu Heavy Duty is large enough for canvases that are 90 inches tall.
Types of Art Easels
Finally, multipurpose designs attempt to capitalize on the best of both worlds.
An art easel stands upright and is used to support or display artwork such as paintings, sketches, watercolors, and drawings. They are generally built to accommodate small to large canvases so the artist can easily work or show off his creations. Most are made of wood, but some children’s easels are made from plastic or other child-friendly material.
Art easels are commonly produced in three basic designs: tripod, H-frame, and multipurpose.
The tripod design, as its name suggests, is supported on three legs. Crossbars are placed between the legs to help the structure remain stable, and they often fold for portability and storage while the height adjusts to accommodate the artist.
The H-Frame design uses posts that are parallel to one another so that the base sits in a rectangular shape. It generally holds a horizontal crossbar on one or both sides creating the “H” design and allowing for a seat on which to rest the canvas.
Finally, multipurpose designs attempt to capitalize on the best of both worlds. They are intended to be more versatile and allow for more adjustment options so that paintings can be positioned according to the artist's whims. Some of these art easels rest on a tabletop and can be folded to the size of a briefcase for easy portability. These easels generally allow the artist to work faster and more efficiently and are often a favorite for being used in studios or outdoors.
When shopping for an art easel, you are generally going to encounter either the versatile artist easel, paint stations, or children’s easels. Artist easels have many moving parts and are designed for flexibility. Paint stations are just what they sound like - they are generally stationary and have amenities such as shelves and slots for paints, brushes, and other accessories.
Assess Before You Buy
If you are shopping for a children’s art easel, there are only a few things you need to consider such as your child’s age and whether or not the easel will grow with him. You will want him to get a lot of use out of whatever you decide to purchase. Children’s easels are made to be durable. They are generally equipped with a chalkboard or dry erase board and sometimes have rolls of paper and included storage buckets and trays for crayons, paints, and other art supplies. Some come with dry erase boards or chalkboards and are two-sided so more than one child can play.
If you work on large canvases with heavy brush strokes, you will need something sturdy.
However, if you are shopping for an art easel for yourself, you will want to consider your needs in a bit more detail. In order to decide which type of easel is best for you and your art, take the following four factors into consideration.
First, consider your medium. Do you work with paints, acrylics, oil, watercolor? For instance, if you work mainly with watercolors, you will want something that allows you to paint in a mostly horizontal position. If you use mainly acrylics or oils, you will need something that stands vertically or tilts slightly forward to keep the dust away.
Second, consider where you plan to work. Will you be staying in your art studio, or do you intend to travel around and work en plein air? If you will be working outside, an easel that folds into a sketch box and is easily portable is going to be far more convenient than a standing tripod easel.
Third, consider your work space. Do you have room for a large easel that stands on the floor? If you generally work with large canvases or have a lot of studio space, a standing tripod easel would work for you. However, if your space is limited, a table easel or sketch box might be your best bet.
Finally, think about how you like to work. If you work on large canvases with heavy brush strokes, you will need something sturdy. The H-frame easels are often best for this type of work, but keep in mind that they tend to be more expensive than their less sturdy counterparts. If your style is much more gentle and delicate, a table or tripod easel will suffice.
A Brief History of the Art Easel
The art easel appears to date back to the ancient Egyptians. They originally displayed their hieroglyphic art on elevated platforms. Pliny the Elder referenced the first easel as a “large panel” in the first century.
These often date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were designed with ornate decorations.
There is some evidence of the easel being used in China during the eighth century through depictions by the artist, Wang Wei. However, even though easels existed for some time, murals and other wall paintings dominated the art world until the thirteenth century. Canvas paintings increased in popularity as less people desired murals. The renaissance increased the need for easels as art became more commonplace.
During the renaissance, commissioned art became more in demand. This meant that the easel had to be modified in order to meet the growing needs of artists. The portable easel was invented in the fifteenth century led to an increase in landscape art. Artists could not only transport their easel but their materials as well.
Some antique easels are still hugely popular among dedicated artists and are considered works of art in themselves. These often date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were designed with ornate decorations. Modern day easels are much more practical with less focus on aesthetics and more focus on functionality.