View Full Version : Configuring a French Easel for Pastels

08-30-2006, 04:52 PM
Many of you may remember that I was looking for a new palette for my french easel, which is a full size, Jullian-compatible model. A very kind member of the Plein Air forum had an extra Jullian multi-box drawer, which comes with a palette, and he sent it to me. In addition to being overwhelmed with his generosity, I was so impressed with the quality of the box that I couldn't stand the thought of putting paint on that gorgeous palette! The lid of this box slides into a groove on the drawer so that the contents can't fall out. That led me to think that perhaps my ideal plein air pastel solution was about to be born.

This easel has a chrome liner in the drawer, which divides the drawer into three equal sections. I measured length, width and depth, and made trays out of foamcore to fit into each of those sections. First I cut the bottoms to size. Then I cut strips to make the sides, and glued those together with Elmers white glue, holding them in place with small pieces of packing tape:

I glued the sides down to the bases, and affixed them with just enough tape to hold them snugly:

Once dry, I put packing tape around all the sides and seams to hold the box firmly together. I was surprised by how strong they were. The top tray has the tape around the sides; the bottom tray has just the pieces that were initially put on while the glue was drying:

Here are the finished trays, with one set into the easel drawer:

(see next posts................)

08-30-2006, 04:58 PM
Once all the trays were made, I cut foam to fit the bottoms. The foam came from the original boxes of pastels:

Next came the fun part.....Going through about 1,000 pastels and choosing an assortment that I felt would work well for both landscapes and some figure work. I always break my pastels into pieces before using them anyway, so I was able to fit a wide assortment into this small space. It's mostly Giraults, Mt. Visions, and Unisons, with some Senneliers and Rembrandts:

The filled trays were then covered by another piece of foam to cushion the pastels on both sides:

I cut two pieces of matboard to the size of the full drawer opening. I hinged them together with packing tape to create an envelope to store paper or paintings:

By cutting a piece of glassine to the same size and placing it in between the matboard pieces, I could store two pastels, each facing the piece of glassine:

08-30-2006, 05:03 PM
The matboard pieces get laid on top of the drawer with the pastel trays:

The palette cover slides into the grooves in the drawer, holding the matboard firmly against the foam and pastels.

The lid, when slid all the way shut, can latch in the front. Everything is held in tightly.

This drawer can be stored in my car as is, with no fear of escaping pastels! When I want to switch from oils to pastels, I can just remove the drawer in the easel that contains my oil paints, and slide this one in its place.

I can't wait to take it for a test drive!


M Douglas
08-30-2006, 07:14 PM
Looks good Jamie, you've given me some good ideas, I never would have thought of foamcore.(something I can safely cut without hurting myself) :evil: Thanks for the photos and instructions, very helpful.


08-30-2006, 07:34 PM
Looks good Jamie, you've given me some good ideas, I never would have thought of foamcore.(something I can safely cut without hurting myself) :evil: Thanks for the photos and instructions, very helpful.


Melodie, I'm so glad you found it helpful! I'd love to see what you come up with too.

I'm hoping to test it out within the next few days. I'll take some pics of it set up on location and post them to this thread.

I forgot to say that the reason I made the trays is because when a french easel is all set up and the drawer open, it can sometimes be hard to reach whatever's in the last drawer. With the trays, I can remove the back tray and lay it on top of the ones in front, or switch them around as I wish. I thought about just making a tray for the very back section, but decided to do them all for versatility's sake.

Also, the matboard clipped to the wood palette makes a great drawing board.


Bill Foehringer
09-01-2006, 10:21 AM
Excellent Demo Jamie!!!! :clap: :thumbsup: :clap: BillF

09-08-2006, 08:10 AM
Thanks, Bill!

Well, I finally got to take it out for a test drive yesterday and I have to say, it by far exceeded my expectations. I think I have the pastel easel of my dreams. I clamped the matboard sheets to the palette to use as a drawing board, and taped my paper to it. Everything I needed fit right into the Artcomber on wheels, so I even had a chair with me on which to set paper towels, tape, etc. (I don't usually sit when I paint unless I'm doing watercolor.) I had all the colors I needed and everything fit perfectly. Pastel heaven! Here's a pic with the full setup:


09-08-2006, 08:38 AM
This is just wonderful. You have given me the idea of a lifetime.

I am in a wheelchair, and my pastels take a beating when I go out. They all slid due the location in my backpack. But with this it looks like a good way to transport.

Thanks again. I am going to print this one out and apply it.

09-08-2006, 09:09 AM
Great set up Jamie!! :wave:

09-08-2006, 10:38 AM
wonderful, thanks a lot for the demo. james

09-08-2006, 11:11 AM
Jamie, thanks for such a great demo and pics. Wow, you must be tall! I would have that board right near the box (5' tall here). I still can't decide between French Easel or pochade, but this makes the French easel look a lot better. Which brand do you have, is it a Julian?

09-08-2006, 12:36 PM
I am in a wheelchair, and my pastels take a beating when I go out. They all slid due the location in my backpack. But with this it looks like a good way to transport.

Oh, Midge, what a nightmare. I've had that happen too; in my old pastel tote they slid around a lot, and I also had no way to support it. These didn't slide at all. I'm so glad you'll find this helpful. Please do let me know how you make out with yours, okay?

Thanks, Tres!

James, you are most welcome! If you make something along similar lines, I'd love to see it.

Shari, I've considered a pochade box many times, but I think overall they are very restrictive. I like to work very large and very small. Many of the boxes are configured to only allow one size, or a small range of sizes. By the time you add the weight of the rest of the supplies plus a tripod to support it, I don't think a french easel is so much heavier. Plus, for oil painting, I can easily paint 24x36 with the FE. Since it slips right into the Artcomber and then it's on wheels, the weight isn't a significant factor. If I'm going to have to hike rough terrain, I take a pochade box with just a few tube colors for oils (no tripod), or a lightweight aluminum folding easel.

This Jullian Multi-box has D rings for a shoulder strap, so you could even just take that and a folding chair, using the wooden palette as a drawing board, and leave the easel.

My easel is a Creative Mark, Jullian-compatible one. I must have lucked out, because it's lasted me years and years and it's still intact. I initially got the Jullian compatible one just in case I wanted to make use of the available Jullian Multi boxes! I'm so glad now that I did.

Note: I think only the Jullian multi-box drawer has a palette that slides into grooves to lock the box shut. The others, the palette just lies on top of the drawer. In order for it to work for pastels, you need a box that closes shut tightly, like the Jullian. Even if you get a Jullian french easel, check to be sure that the box closes like this one!

Oh...and I'm not that tall....5'5". But I like to have my work at eye level; otherwise my back starts hurting after awhile. ;)


09-09-2006, 11:38 AM
I have been checking out french easels, but here is my question: I already have a wonderful Heilman box full of pastels that I can take with me on the go, so I would only be putting some extra things in the easel if at all. Is the french easel sturdy enough to hold a heilman box laid across the opened drawer while painting?

09-09-2006, 12:19 PM
Shari, I'd be reluctant to guess the answer to that one. I don't have a Heilman box and I know there are different sizes, including that newer, small backpack size. Perhaps someone who has one can answer it better for you!


09-10-2006, 02:34 AM
FYI, the MABEF french easel does not fit into the ArtComber. Much to my dissapointment. I believe all others do. Beachwood made easels are better made, then Elm. Get the best you can, it will last longer.

09-29-2006, 10:56 AM
Shari, re using the Heilman box with the French easel - if it is the big box, and it is fully loaded, I'd be very worried about tipping! Also, to point out the obivous: The Heilman box, even when empty, is not light; the french easel is not light; when all is said and done you'll be carring around about 20 pounds of wood!

09-29-2006, 11:16 AM
Thank you Marie for the reply. I went ahead and ordered an Anderson Swivel Easel, but they are out of stock for awhile.

09-29-2006, 11:59 AM
I'd be interested in knowing what you think of it once you've had a chance to try it out. I'm in the market for something myself. I tried the Sun Eden set up, but I found that there was too much side-to-side wobble on the board when I was working out toward the edges. Don't know why, but wobble really annoys me. But I had only used it in doors for a day, and they were very good about allowing me to return it.

James or Jimmy Jim
10-01-2006, 05:25 PM
Very nice, Jamie. Very functional - looks good too!

It was just lying around, gathering dust. Now it's being used ... gathering dust! :D :D

I'm glad it worked out. I still don't understand how it didn't fit in a "Jullian plein air" French easel.

10-01-2006, 10:23 PM

You did a wonderful job solving a problem that is common to us all. And, you explained it beautifully. And (best of all), it worked!

One minor thought: over time, the foam core is going to absorb humidity. You might consider somehow sealing the foam core, maybe with some sort of spray varnish, or even spray paint (certainly you should test before you treat the real thing). I use clear Con-Tact paper as a kind of laminate (I use it on the big black Unison boxes, and it works well). If you decide to rebuild, you might use Gator Board, a plastic equivalent of corrogated cardboard that's easy to cut and assemble. You might also consider Plexiglas, which is a bit heavier, but very durable. I remember, when Plexi was the rage, cutting and gluing plexiglas, so I know it can be done, even by one whose skills are as limited as mine.

Again, fabulous job. I hope it lasts forever.

10-01-2006, 10:33 PM
One minor thought: over time, the foam core is going to absorb humidity. You might consider somehow sealing the foam core, maybe with some sort of spray varnish, or even spray paint (certainly you should test before you treat the real thing).

That's a great idea. I'll bet painting it with acrylic medium would do the trick. Maybe that'll be a winter project. Until then, it lives in my car! ;)

Jimmy, that's amazing that it didn't fit in a Jullian easel. How strange. Haven't you left yet?


10-05-2006, 05:59 AM

I noticed this article, and I have a Jullian french easel with interchangeable drawers. I liked the foam core boxes, so I made some with some extra foam core. I glued and covered the boxes with Mod-Podge decopage medium because I thought - if I use that, I could possibly clean off the boxes with water if I need to. I applied it in several layers, and sealed up the cut edges of the foam core. I haven't tested to see how waterproof it is, but probably anything is better than nothing. That seemed to seal the ends well. The drawer itself almost looks sturdy enough that you could just take that without the easel. This should do until I am able to get an Anderson easel. Thanks for the tips! :)