View Full Version : Time for New Easel (or other solution)?

learning to paint
09-23-2014, 12:43 AM
Iím not starting from scratch. Iím an experienced pastel en plein air artist, and Iíve been using my Julian Half Box (original version) for more than ten years of field work. Iím now starting to see that my repair (both left and right sides) where the upright painting surface meets the horizontal box is beginning to fail (on both sides). I will try to brace it once more.

Mean time, I have been diligently considering options. One is a pochade box (I own a good sturdy photo tripod), and it seems as thought Alla Prima is the right way to go. Another seems to be a Heilman box, but I tend toward half sticks and I donít mind keeping one set of 120 Sennelier halves and one set of (roughly same number) of Unison halves in their original boxes, so I may not be shopping for a more expensive set of boxes (but if there are other options, Iím open to suggestions). The third seems to be another French easel. The full box is too heavy for me, so Iím back to the half box (heavy enough, but I will happily remove the draw to get rid of some weight). Seems as though Mabef and Jullian (the best of their several models) makes sense, but I keep reading about quality issues with modern versions of the Jullian (is that internet nonsense or a reason for genuine concern?)

Iím not in love with the Soltek design, and Iím just okay with Anderson (but could be swayed). I keep looking at the OpenBox and Easyl and the like, and think these seem like oil painterís boxes.

I should mention that I rarely travel more than a 1/2 mile from my car, that I am happier carrying than wheeling (but I could wheel, I suppose), that I tend not to be hanging off cliffs or bushwhacking on my way to a site. Mostly, itís landscapes, preferably on Wallis 12x18 paper and a suitable piece of hardboard for support (masonite, etc.) I use a very lightweight L.L. Bean backpack to carry both boxes of half-stick pastels (or a bunch of original Girault boxes) and related stuff.

So: several questions:

1. Are the Jullian boxes as good as they were a decade or so ago? Any direct experience with their best half boxes re: durability, parts staying together, wood not splitting, etc.?

2. Opinions about whether the Alla Prima plus photo tripod is suitable to my needs?

3. Thoughts on Anderson or other alternatives?

4. What am I not thinking about; where am I not thinking clearly?

Always grateful for your good advice and guidance.

Thanks! (Again!!)

Donna T
09-23-2014, 10:08 AM
I only have experience with the Easyl Pro which I modified for pastels. Here is a thread where Marc Hanson shows how he modified his Easyl box (the larger Versa version) for pastels. I followed his directions and have been happy with the result.


You said you are happier carrying than wheeling but this looks practical:


This is from Loriann Signori's blog (http://loriannsignori.blogspot.com/). If you go down the page you'll find information about who made this and how it was modified. I would love to give this a try!

There are so many options out there ... good luck!

09-23-2014, 10:47 AM
I haven't tried the others but I bought a used Anderson Swivel Easel from Deborah Secor and love it. I miss it terribly. The sketch box is more like a half French Easel than a full box one, and it's very sturdy. The lid folds out into two shelves that help for spreading out what's inside it. The big deal for me is the swiveling itself, that I can turn it with the sketchbox to the side instead of in front of me and get closer to the painting.

Now that may not be a problem with yours if you're used to reaching over the pastels, but I do like the Anderson and once I learned how to open it, setup and fold-down were very easy.

What I have now is a little feather type metal easel, very light weight, and a walker that I use for a seat. I'm looking to get a folding table this month or next, inexpensive one, so that I can spread out pastel boxes on it next to where I'm working. Most often I don't actually use an easel but juggling both the pastels and the pad in my lap gets tricky, so the big thing to me is having the pastels sitting on something next to me.

I always loved the idea of French Easels, everything being that self contained. I am pretty sure my Rembrandt half sticks box will fit inside the Anderson sketch box when I get my easel back from Arkansas and that'll be great. I've also got 18 Sennelier sticks in little six color cardboard boxes that can go in it too. In the mean time what I have is the walker and a backpack I got from Sierra Club that turned out to be useful and easy to handle albeit large enough to seriously overpack at times.

With a table the big boxes of 120 Unison half sticks or a Paris Collection box would fit fine. These are like the 18" square ones wood or metal, found one for about $20 that I'm looking forward to getting.

Actually, I checked on Amazon and they had the same kind - 20" from the ground, about 18" square or thereabouts, in wood, for under $15 so I'm getting it there instead of Walmart online. I didn't like shopping at Walmart anyway and have Amazon Prime so that cuts the cost quite a bit anyway.

09-23-2014, 11:05 AM
1. Are the Jullian boxes as good as they were a decade or so ago? Any direct experience with their best half boxes re: durability, parts staying together, wood not splitting, etc.?

The consensus in other threads is no.

2. Opinions about whether the Alla Prima plus photo tripod is suitable to my needs?

Most of these setups seem to be designed with oil in mind, and adapted to other mediums later

3. Thoughts on Anderson or other alternatives?

I have not seen the Anderson in use. I have seen the Soltek in use. It is usually used like a french easel in the McKinley stly. Meaning, a heliman box is placed on top of the box of the easel.

4. What am I not thinking about; where am I not thinking clearly?

I get out quite a bit. The hands down most common setup envolves either a Heilman or Dalota box. Mounted on either a tripod, or a Soltek\french easel.

Barbara WC
09-23-2014, 12:06 PM
I recently got a Heilman double sketchbox, which is extremely lightweight and holds enough sticks for me- about 140 half sticks. The box is extremely well made, and fit on a tripod we already had. I bought the easel top attachment- and have mixed feelings about it- it is a little awkward to carry, mainly because the bottom horizontal piece that holds my masonite board, doesn't fold to vertical- so I'm carrying around a "T" piece. The easel itself also isn't as stable as I'd like it to be, although okay (but only just okay). The other thing I don't like is to hold a 18" masonite (I got the 18" easel top), the horizontal support comes down quite far over the pastel sticks, and since the easel attaches about 1/3 from the edge of the box, the stick behind the horizontal support are hard to see and get to (I mostly work indoors at portrait sessions with not very bright lighting like outside- I can see the sticks better outside, but it's still annoying that a few of the sticks are behind the easel support). I know not a lot of this makes sense if you don't have a Heilman and easel attachment, but if you look at the Heilman website, perhaps you can get a sense of what I'm talking about.

I am currently looking at the Easy L Versa.

09-23-2014, 04:02 PM
Barbara, I am not sure if we have the same easel or not. I think I got the medium Heilman. If I loosen the bottom screw on the easel almost all the way, I can rotate the lower easel shelf to to vertical and it fits in a tube.

I agree no system is perfect. I like the pochade boxes too. So many artists have a collection of these outdoor set ups in search of the perfect one!

09-23-2014, 04:12 PM
Donna, thats a creative set up that you shared. My biggest issue with most of the pochade boxes is that I like to have my painting at eye level, but not my pastels or oils. I like to look down at the colors to see them. In your photo, that set up accomplishes both things!

Barbara WC
09-23-2014, 04:22 PM
Julie Thank you for telling me the shelf on the Heilman easel attachment can be rotated! I tried that when it first arrived- but it didn't rotate. Just tried again- duh! It worked- I didn't loosen the screw enough the first time! I've been carrying it around as a "T" and annoyed by it! LOL!

I love Wet Canvas, keeps my stupidity from getting the best of me! ;)

Equus Art
09-23-2014, 04:32 PM
I use the Heilman easel attachment on my tripod quick release and use an Easel Butler to hold my Dakota Traveler. I have had no problems folding down the easel where everything is vertical like Julie mentioned. Just loosen the bottom screw and turn it vertical. It folds down small enough for me to slide it into a tubular side compartment on my back pack. The Easel Butler also folds into a tubular nylon carrying case that also slides down into the opposite side vertical compartment. This set up has been perfect for me.




09-23-2014, 07:17 PM
Similar to what you are using Cat, I knew a few artist's several years ago thatwere using the Sun-Eden setups.


09-24-2014, 10:55 AM
Mike I just clicked your link to Sun Eden. The artists shelf looks great! It would be so useful as a standalone set up with pastel box on the shelf or with any medium, or box on top of the tripod and use it for an extra shelf. Nice to have extra counter space when working. It's flat so would not take up much packing space too!

Barbara WC
09-24-2014, 11:33 AM
Does anyone know how much weight the Sun Eden artist shelf can hold? Can it hold a Heilman box okay? I have a double sketchbox that weighs about 4.5 pounds with my pastel sticks packed in. That setup looks great!

SAS Designs
09-24-2014, 06:28 PM
I don't do much plein air, mostly outside very near my house, and LOVE the Mabef "mini" 27, with the arms which hold my Heilman Backpacker. Easel seems sturdy to me, and the "little wooden table" Rob wants is probably still at IKEA. Very inexpensive, folds, sturdy.

09-24-2014, 07:46 PM
The Artists I saw using the Sun Eden shelf were using the Heilman Backpack box.