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  • Writer's pictureAlan Linquist

Dealing With Easels

     Because I’m a plein air painter, I need equipment that will work outdoors.  When I was very young, and painting portraits, I used a broken chair as an easel.  That may sound rather desperate, but it worked, and I got some of the work I painted on it into some juried shows.  But once I started painting plein air, I didn’t have to do much work indoors.  Any touch up or undercoating work I had to do was accomplished simply by setting up my plein air easel in the basement.  But at some point, I did buy a fairly professional easel to use in the basement whether I still needed touch up or correction work and I still have it.

     The story of my plein air easels are something else.  When I first started working plein air, we still lived in a world without much internet access, and there were still places you could buy art supplies, including easels.  My dad bought my first plein air easel as a gift to me.  It was a French easel.  He said that there were not many types out there at that time.  I certainly wasn’t going to question that comment, so I don’t know.

     What I do know is that I had that easel for several years.  I took it all over southeastern Wisconsin in all four seasons.  I kept it in my van, and stopped where every I could after work.  I took it to art fairs, and used it in marshes, fields, parks, downtown sidewalks, beaches, along the side of roads,  and on occasionally, even in the house.  I had a few problems with it, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t fix.

     When it finally broke down, I shopped for a new one.  The one my Dad had bought me was a Julian easel, so this time, in order to avoid some of the strain from the weight of a full size Julian, I bought the half size pastel plein air box.  It was a nice idea, but it had problems, primarily the hardware.  This was at a time when we moved away from Milwaukee, and my work hours were making it more difficult to paint.  The pastel box may havehad its share of problems, but I wouldn’t need it for several years.

     When I started painting again, in 2022, I hauled out the half size Julian and struggled with it, before my wife and I treated myself to a new easel.  It had been several years, so I really didn’t know what brand to buy.  The web was now in full force, and you could buy a number of brands, but which one?  Art stores had disappeared, so any hands on investigations into the quality of the easel would be impossible.  And you know, I really miss art stores.

     So I shopped on line, looking at the numerous brands, and reading the faceless reviews, which could be from anyone.  I bought a model that was highly recommended by a number of quasi-reviewers, and it has been the easel I’ve used outdoors for the past two years.  It was also a disaster.

     The first thing that I wondered at the time was why did they need to stain these easels as if their were furniture?  I suppose some people use them indoors, but they are an outdoor easel, and they do get paint on them.  Wouldn’t it be easier for them to save the money they are wasting on stain, and use it to put in better hardware?  I had to replace screws and latches on this easel, in order to properly shut the lid and latch it, with out pounding a bit on the side of the lid in order to align it properly.  Screws came undone, and a spring broke and damaged one of the support arms for the top of the easel. Finally, the screw that held the mast to the lid came loose and disappeared.  The mast is the part of the easel that holds the canvas.

     By some miracle, our local office supply shop got a French easel in today, just as I was ready to drive around southwest Wisconsin looking for an art shop.  Is it good?  I hope so.  I have my doubts about the hardware, but we’ll see.  It reminds me of the Julian easel, but it is an off brand.  If this one doesn’t work out, I’m surrendering the idea of a French easel, and going with a highly recommended but expensive tripod easel.  I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.


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