View Full Version : easels?!

01-11-2006, 01:06 AM
i am normally in the pastel forum, but the idea of doing some plein air this spring has gotten me lurking into your forum here. not only that, now i've gone and bought stuff to plein air too! but now i have the first of probably many questions, and would love your experienced opinions...

i went on the advice of a couple ppl already, and got a full french easel, which i think will work ok for me. now i see in another catalog other brands with much lower costs! (i got a mabef) for now, all i am wanting to know is, do i send this one back and get one that costs less, or is this a real case of 'get what you pay for'. :confused: my budget doesn't allow for soltek, either! i don't plan to go trekking for miles to a painting site, just a bit from the car. i plan to use mainly pastel, maybe once in a while a little watercolor study. any and all feedback here would be greatly appreciated, this is a whole new deal for me!! thank you much.

01-11-2006, 01:56 AM
Hi Chewie,
First welcome to the plein air area. I think you should be alright with you're full french easel as a start. Its all just doing, i mean go out and try. Time will tell you what kind of easel you like the most. You also can use the advanced search mode and look for a pochade box (panel holder) or other easels. I just made myself one, it's not hard to do and very rewarding to go out with your own tools.

Good luck!

P.S. Do show if you made something!!!

Shelley Grund
01-11-2006, 10:04 AM
Yes, do search the archives for more info on equipment for plein air... but the main thing to remember - it all comes down to what is comfortable for YOU. There are many excellent artists doing plein air and they all have slightly different set-ups that works best for them. The first few times you go out things will most likely feel awkward, no matter what your equipment. Just get out there and do it.... time and experience will eventually help you settle in with what works best for you. Here on the forum keep an eye out for the pastel artists... often you will catch site of their equipment when they provide on sight photos.
Good luck and I look forward to seeing your work!

01-11-2006, 04:15 PM
yes, i do believe i'll be checking out this forum now too! i was just worried i paid more than i needed to for the easel, but now i am seeing that the cheaper easels are made of cheaper wood. so now i think i just need to fill my drawer, and take off for a lovely place! (or maybe even my backyard to start with! :) )

01-11-2006, 04:26 PM
.... (or maybe even my backyard to start with! :) )
That a good idea! you can get a little use to it that way.

Have fun!! :)

01-11-2006, 04:34 PM
There is no doubt that the cheaper french easels are of lower quality and if I were you I'd stick with the Mabef since you already have it. I would get one myself if I could afford it.
I will say this though, my super cheap (made in China) full french easel has lasted me now for about 3 years. I am careful with it and I think that is the main thing that has kept it going. You can get them extremely cheap now (I've seen $69) and I think they are a bargain for the money even if they only last a couple of years. I think they are perfectly fine for the beginner or someone who only does plein air occasionally. They will also get you by until you can afford something better.
I guess what I'm saying is I think they have their place.

Welcome to the plein air world. I look forward to seeing your work. :)

01-12-2006, 10:42 AM

Maybe you'd like a little background:

The collapsible paint tube, invented in 1841, made on-site oil sketching an easy reality. It replaced the traditional leather (pig's bladder) pouch, which was difficult to maneuver. John G. Rand, a minor American artist in London, devised the first collapsible paint tube. After that there was an explosion of outdoor painting equipment: the artist's folding chair, for example.

Cezanne, Manet and Pizzarro used a plain wooden easel and the wooden paintbox you see around, carrying it in a backpack.

The idea of putting collapsible legs on the paintbox was first thought of by Juilian, I think his first name was Robert, and he made the original French easel which is still being sold. He recently died. There are now a lot of reproductions. Mabef is a good knockoff. I've seen really cheap ones for about $80.

Simultaneous with the wooden paint box was something called a pochade box, a pochade is a quick color study done outside. It was usually used standing up holding it. There was a thumb hole like there is in a wooden palette but it was a box. I think it must have originated from the palette but to include a holder for canvas and tubes of paint. Someone thought of combining this pochade box with a photographer's tripod, putting a nut on the botton of the pochade box so that it could be attached to the tripod. This was many decades after the French easel which was the only thing around for a long time.

What distinguishes pochade boxes is that they are easy to make, boxes being the first thing one is taught to make out of wood in shop class. The French easel is impossible to make without a lot of equipment.

The problem that you will have is a requirement to two additional pieces of equipment: an umbrella and a box for wet panels or canvases.

As far as the umbrella issue is concerned: there are many around on the market for artists. Some even have the same features that rain umbrella have so that the wind will not cause they to take off. The French easel has one that clamps on it. There are also devices used by photographers in the field which are very sophisticated clamps, rods, and flags, screens, etc. as well as umbrellas of all sizes specifically made to clamp to something. These do not tend to be used by painters but, if you've ever been at a photo shoot or a movie set, you will see several truckloads of this equipment much of which would be worthwhile for painter's to look at. I think what puts painter's off is that this equipment is built very solidly. It's worth going to a professional photo store or looking at a website.

Wet panel carriers are easy to make since they too are boxes.


01-12-2006, 05:01 PM
I bought the jullian econmy model several years ago for about a 100 bucks but I dont know if they still offer it. It was basicly the same as the expesive but lacked all the shiny hardware stuff. If I bought another one though I would get the half size because I never carry the supplies in the easel because it makes it way to heavy. If you want to work small on location however I dont think anything is beter than the open box m pochade box
Mike Clark

01-16-2006, 09:33 PM
thanks again for the responses! i did keep my mabef, and in a year or so, i will be able to tell you if that was a good idea or not! i esp. loved the history richard was so kind to take the time to post! i do need the larger one i think, simply cuz that is how i will transport my pastels, my main meduim. i have since filled the drawer, and one small tote bag with the extras, and had already gotten an umbrella--a larger 'patio' style that is still portable, mostly because i need to also be in shade as i burn terribly, and get heat rashes. all of this can be easily schlepped a bit, and i am really looking forward to warmer weather!

02-02-2006, 01:35 PM
As with most plein-air painters we go from one easel to another until we find the one that's "just right!"

Others have mentioned using what you have first. I concur. Try it out, give it your best shot. Whatever shortcomings you may find it has look for the next easel to satisfy your needs. I have gone from a home made box to the light-weight pack easels to the heaviest of high-end easels.

For 4 years now I finally landed on my favorite and am glad I went through all the effort to discover the best combination for me.

It was wise to ask your question here as so many of us have spent hundreds of dollars over dozens of years hunting.

Wishing you all the best as your search goes on!


02-03-2006, 11:21 AM
I've had my mabef 1/2 french easel for many years - it has worked great. As a pastelist, I store my pastels in a Heileman box (you can buy a less expensive box at Dakota). You'll need something to carry your finished painting unless you just put it in the back seat of your car for travel. I just mount my pieces on foam core with tape and when finished cover with glassine and place in a thin cardboard box. The pastels I use for that painting are stored inside the French easel for use when I touch up the piece. Also stored in the French easel are pencils, business cards, sharpener, ruler, paper towels, brush (for eraser), etc. The only other thing you'll need is an umbrella. Have fun!

02-23-2006, 09:00 AM
Several years ago (maybe 8-10) I bought the Winsor Newton high end french easel and have never been sorry. I have used it soooooo much!

I decided to buy a cheaper one that was on sale one time -- to leave at my cabin so I did not have to always carry my main one. Boy, it is cheaper. It does not have the same supports, it seems to lean forward (the drawer when you pull it out). This means that I have to adjust the back leg -- which makes it quite short -- not bad for me cause I am very short! But, I always feel like it will blow over.

I have just bought a new one -- the Anderson swivel easel. It has telescoping tri-pod legs like the black Winsor Newton that runs about $60 -- which I like -- ease of setting up. It have the box where you can store stuff/transport stuff or set your box of pastels. The back easel part folds down against the box, stands up so you can tilt it back or forward, it swivels 360 degrees so you can stand on any side of the box. It was not a cheap ease -- paid $119 at ASW (had a $10 coupon) -- Dakota had it for $149. It has a few little design flaws but nothing can't be coped with. And I am sure it will evolve.

Anyway -- enjoy your french easel -- and it is definitely one of those you get what you pay for!