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Old 03-13-2009, 12:45 AM   #1
Marcus Lim Marcus Lim is offline
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Portable easels - reviews and alternatives

Hi everyone,
I've begun to take my students out for plein-airs more frequently in the last few months, particularly with a student who flew in to Singapore to have art lessons with me.
All this time I've been using a flimsy "twiggy" easel all this time, having given up lugging my heavy wooden french easel outdoors on a bus and into deep forests (phew!)

When Soltek Easels (www.soltekarts.com ) first splashed their advertisements on all arts magazines, I was thrilled by the claims of ultra-lightweight and good designs. That being said I never really got around to buy it then, 'cos firstly it's expensive.

So now I have resources to think more seriously with investing one, and hope to hear more thoughts from the floor before i commit to it. At the same time, I'm hoping to hear more other options that other fellow members may be using now, and recommending for use.

This will be a great sharing thread for everyone who's also thinking about investing in a portable easel.
Marcus Lim
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Old 03-13-2009, 02:22 PM   #2
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Mabef - Giant folding field easel


This easel is fantastic. Super sturdy and folds down to a very manageable size and has a handle. Much better, in my experience, than any french style easel.

They make a smaller and lighter version but I like the versatility of this one. I'm tall so this one gets the painting up to my eye level and the extra weight makes it less prone to movement.
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Old 03-13-2009, 03:18 PM   #3
Stanka Kordic Stanka Kordic is offline
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Hi Marcus

I attended a plein air workshop in NM this past summer. I agonized with the research on what portable easel to buy, and finally decided to borrow a french easel that was available for use. It turned out great because I was able to see what other workshop attendees were using and how it worked in the field.

The most popular and practical choice by far were the pochade boxes you screw atop a regular camera tripod. They come in a variety of sizes and can hold a palette, a couple of panels. They also have extenders which were a nice feature (additional purchase). I believe- you'll have to search this- they start at around $50 or so. You can carry the tripod, easel and other supplies quite compactly in a backpack.

In addition, I bought an umbrella which was invaluable with the blazing sun.

Like you, the french easel was way too cumbersome for me. Especially schlepping around mountains. One gentlemen actually stored his in a rolling suitcase with all his supplies. It didn't look like a Samsonite.

A woman in the group had the soltek easel and hated it. She said it was way too expensive and actually too heavy for her to carry. At the end of the workshop, she sold it to a strapping young man and went back to her pochade box.

Good luck and happy painting out there.
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Old 03-13-2009, 07:19 PM   #4
Debra Rexroat Debra Rexroat is offline
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I travel with my W&N watercolor easel, which comes with a case (when packed, it is about the size of a pool cue case). I usually pack it in the spine of my largest suitcase, but I have also carried it on the plane in the past. It is lightweight, but last October on the Outer Banks I discovered that my small one-gallon water jug full of ice water, when hung from the legs, not only stabilized the easel against wind, but provided a handy source of fresh water as well. And as I work in pastels, a couple of very lightweight aluminum camping tables allow me to be surrounded by all of my favorite pigments!

I never could figure out how I was going to fly with my half-French easel. And it was not very handy for supporting my pastels either.

Our work-shop instructor, Jack Pardue, uses and swears by his Soltek.
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Old 05-12-2009, 09:40 PM   #5
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Great thread!

I have a Soltek easel (I had about 2 hours one day when I was feeling flush and decided to spring for it.) I like it a lot, although I am still trying to figure out the allen wrench adjustments. I am not a plein-aire painter, but I think it would be a good choice. It seems a bit too bulky for me if I had to fly, though.

For flying, I got the Winsor-Newton easel; it fits in my checked luggage - in the carry case, the length is 27". The drawback to this easel is that the tray isn't really high enough, at its most stable position, for a 5'5" painter standing. If you sit when you paint it would be fine. I end up having to draw the legs in to get the tray to a suitable height, but the stability is somewhat diminished. Still it was very inexpensive, and very easy to pack. I feel certain that I can figure out to fix these problems, given some time and priority. Or, ask my husband to figure it out since he is better than I at impov. I just need to convince him that it is one of his priorities

Canvas size is something to consider. These plein-aire painters tend to use little bitty canvases, so when you decide what to buy, also consider the canvas size capacity for what you do..
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