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I wrote this guide to help my students and other artists find the best plein air easel to match their needs when plein air painting. I also wrote a companion 2021 Buyers Guide to The Best Pochade Boxes for Plein Air Painters.
The guide also contains individual Plein Air Easel Reviews by their owners. If you own one of these easels you can add your own review. We are completely independent of any manufacturer and have a policy of not accepting any referral fees in order for our information to be trustworthy and independent.
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
To learn about specific brands see: all Plein Air Easel Reviews.
If you own a plein air easel, review it here and tell us what you like and don’t like.
There is a sister article on pochade boxes. These serve the same function as a plein air easel, but use a slightly different approach, see my Guide To Pochade Boxes.
The reviews on this website are independent of any manufacturer. Also this site does not contain any affiliate links. This means you get completely unbiased advice here. Beware that most other articles have links the author gets a commission on a sale if you click on the link. We do not do this in order to keep our information unbiased.
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.
- Coulter Plein Air Easel
- Daytripper Plein Air Easel
- Easel Butler
- Guerrilla Campaign Box
- Plein Air Pro
- Sienna Supply/Palette Box
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Sun Eden Plein Air Easel
- Winsor & Newton Bristol 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.
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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Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.
Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy