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A Guide To The Best Plein Air Easels: 2020


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What is a plein air easel?

A plein air easel, as opposed to a studio easel, is used for when you are painting outdoors (‘en plein air’) and need something lightweight and suitable for different terrains. They are made from wood, aluminium, or a combination of the two.

What is the best plein air easel?

The best plein air easel has these 4 characteristics:
– is lightweight
– can support a very large palette
– will hold large canvases
– has legs that are adjustable for different terrains.

Plein air easel reviews

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What are the different types of plein air easels?

Plein air painting or (en plein air) is getting increasingly popular both as an art form and as a lifestyle. Here are your choices for plein air easels.

When you are out plein air painting, you need the maximum usability but with the minimum weight. Check out the companion guide: A Guide to Pochade Boxes, for some useful weight comparison tables. That guide covers pochade boxes which you might also want to consider if you are thinking of buying an easel. It also has some guidance for what system might be best for you.

Here are the major types of plein air easel systems:

Camera tripod-mounted systems

These systems use a camera tripod to support your painting in a panel holder, and a palette for you to put your colors on.

These systems have a separate box for your palette that rests on two of the tripod legs. A panel holder attaches to the camera mount of the tripod using a quick release plate.

Box-type plein air easels with integrated legs

These systems have three or four legs that fold out from under a box.

Compact French Easels

Compact French Easels are smaller versions of the traditional French Easel.

The Russian Easel

Russian Easels – a lighter style of easel compared with a French Easel. These used to be distributed in the US, but are no longer sold. You can sometimes buy them second-hand.

Yarka russian easel
Yarka Russian Easel

Aluminium Box Easels

Aluminium Box Easels are similar to the French Easel concept but lighter, since they are made from modern materials rather than wood.

Soltek Easel
Soltek Easel

Gloucester Easels

These systems use a regular wooden tripod for supporting both the palette and the painting.

Gloucester Easels are a tripod easel systems modeled on a traditional early 20th New England design built in wood.

Take It Easel
A type of Gloucester Easel

The principle of the Gloucester easel is quite clever. Because of the top pole that supports the canvas, you can get your canvas into a vertical position. This means that you don’t get light reflecting onto your painting from the sky. The three points holding your canvas make sure it is held firmly in place. From a design point of view it is very efficient in terms of weight and strength. I have not found a better design for a plein air easel.

Aluminum Plein Air Easels

Aluminum Easels are easels designed for painting (and sometimes drawing) made of aluminium. Some have separate attachments for hooking on a palette.

Bristol Aluminium Sketching Easel
Bristol Aluminium Sketching Easel

How to setup a plein air easel

Here are some good videos on how to set up the most common types of plein air easel. The Gloucester easel design looks complicated at first, but I recommend you look at the video closely and learn the exact procedure. I have found the Gloucester easel design about 3 times faster to setup compared with a French easel which has a lot of wing nuts to tighten.

French easel

Here is a video for how to setup a French easel.

Gloucester (Take It) easel

Here is a video for how to setup a Gloucester (TakeIt) easel.

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