Over the years I have acquired three easels that I use for different circumstances. The testrite easel works well for working on larger paintings in my studio. The wood table top easel is what I use for smaller paintings, up to 18″x24″. The Winsor & Netwon easel is a nice lightweight easel for sketching outside. It’s also great for watercolors. For acrylic painting outside I typically use my Guerrilla Painters box. You can jump to each section by clicking on the links in the Table of Contents below.

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The Testrite 500 Aluminum Easel

I’ve been using the Testrite 500 aluminum easel since 2011. While wood easels look great in the studio, there are a few advantages this easel has over some of the more expensive wood ones.

The Testrite easel is made from aluminum so it’s lightweight and portable. Wheels aren’t necessary because you can just carry it to wherever you want.

It’s fantastic for the home studio because it can be folded and stored in a closet or under a bed when not in use. You could also transport it to an art class in your car. It only weighs approximately 7.5 pounds!

The tray is 21″ wide and it can be adjusted up or down. It can be positioned anywhere along the center column, and so can the top part that holds the canvas in place.

The tray has two arms that can swing out. You can rest your palette on them. If you don’t like the way they look they’re very easy to remove. Just loosen the wingnut underneath to remove them.

The easel can fit a canvas that’s 48″ high. It can fit a canvas of that size but if your canvases are extra heavy you may want to upgrade to a wider and more substantial easel.

There’s an extension that you can buy so that it can accommodate larger paintings. I bought it because it also allows me to raise smaller paintings to a greater height. I like to stand when I paint so this was a good option for me.

If you enjoy sitting in a chair when you paint you could lower the tray so that the painting is at an ergonomic height.

My Thoughts on the Testrite 500

This easel is very popular because it’s affordable, lightweight, and it collapses for easy storage. Very few of the fancier wood easels have these benefits. I’ve had mine for years and it’s still going strong.

Winsor & Newton Field Easel

(Update: I’m not sure if Winsor & Newton still makes this easel, but this watercolor easel looks very similar)

The Winsor & newton field easel is an inexpensive easel that can be used indoors or out. It was designed for watercolor and sketching but I also use it for acrylic painting.

It’s made from aluminum and the clips on the legs are plastic. The clamps on the legs are used for adjusting the height of the easel, similar to a tripod. They’re labeled with “OFF” and “ON” so you can tell if they’re engaged or not just by looking at them.

The top is unique in that you can tilt it to a wide variety of angles, including completely flat. This is perfect for watercolor because it allows you to control how the paint flows on the paper. You can have it completely flat or tilt it to any angle so the washes of color flow down the paper.

It can hold a variety of sizes of paper but the top clamp that holds the canvas in place doesn’t close beyond 15.5″. You can still paint small paintings with this easel though by taping them to a larger board. Then you clamp the board in the easel.

There’s a narrow metal tray that fits into the metal pegs on the legs. This gives the front legs of the easel more stability and it provides a small tray for holding pencils or small brushes.

The end of the tray has a metal utility hook. I hang a rag on the hook so I can dry my brushes quickly.

Add a Backpack for Storing Supplies

I attached a carabiner to the easel and use it to hang my backpack from it. The weight of the backpack prevents the easel from tipping over when it’s windy. Another benefit is that my supplies are always within reach. It also makes it more difficult for people to walk off with my gear.

The Carrying Case

The carrying case for the Winsor & Newton bristol easel.

The easel comes with a carrying case but I find that I don’t use it very often. You have to take the top part of the easel apart to get it to fit into the case. If you know how to put it together it only takes two minutes to assemble. However, I just carry the easel from my car to the painting location. The case comes in handy if you’re storing it or traveling long distances.

Storage Space

One disadvantage is that it doesn’t provide any storage space for supplies like a French easel does.

However, this could be seen as an advantage because that means it’s lighter to carry. The backpack is a good storage solution because it’s cheap and you can carry your supplies by wearing it on your shoulders. The aluminum is lighter than wood and a backpack has two shoulder straps. A typical French easel only has one shoulder strap.

My Thoughts on the Winsor & Newton Bristol Easel

This easel is affordable and lightweight. I use it most for sketching and for watercolor painting outdoors. I like to keep it in the trunk of my car so I can sketch whenever I feel inspired. My collection of outdoor sketching and watercolor supplies work well with this setup.

I wouldn’t recommend it for the oil or acrylic plein air painter who has a lot of gear. A backpack will make up for the lack of storage. However, it lacks a shelf for your palette and containers of solvents. The Guerrilla Painters Pochade box may be a better option for painting outdoors with oils or acrylics.

If you work indoors than you can easily find another table or taboret that will have enough room for your palette and containers.

The plastic clamps may feel a little flimsy but most tripods also have plastic clamps. I’ve had this easel since 2011 and it still works the same as the day I bought it.

Table Top Easel

Another option is to use a table top easel. This easel is great, especially if you don’t have a lot of studio space. I took a chance on this one and I’m glad I did because I love it!

It’s made from solid beech wood and it’s very stable. It weighs roughly 8 pounds which is enough to prevent it from wobbling while you paint.

Here’s a 16″x20″ painting on the table top easel.

I don’t recommend painting in the kitchen, but you can use any other table in your studio for painting. I only used set it up on my kitchen table for demonstration purposes.

The manufacturer states that it can accommodate canvases up to 34″ tall. The bottom tray can extend beyond the table if you position the easel close to the edge of the table.

This is a 24″ x 30″ gallery wrap canvas on the table top easel. It fits but I think it’s a little too thick. A standard depth canvas would fit better.

While a large 24″ x 30″ canvas fits in this easel I don’t think it’s the best easel for larger canvases like this. A thinner standard canvas would fit better. I regularly paint 16″ x 20″ paintings on this easel. 18″ x 24″ canvases fit well too.

The Storage Drawer

There’s a drawer on the right side for storing art supplies, it has 4 compartments. I store pencils, kneaded erasers, utility knives, and other drawing supplies in it and still have room for more.

These are the dimensions of the drawer. They’re approximate. To be more precise, subtract about 1/16″ from each dimension.

I paint mostly while I stand so I built a wood box to prop it up on to get it to the height that I prefer. At first I used a cardboard box for this purpose just to determine which height was best.

You can tilt the easel by loosening the brass knobs on the inside edges of the top part. If your painting is wider than the easel, then you’ll have to remove the painting to get at them if you want to change the tilt. I find that this isn’t a problem because I don’t change the tilt angle of my easel very often.

When not in use you can fold the easel flat and store it. Or you can use the handle to carry it around.

My Thoughts on the Table Top Easel

This easel is a bargain. It’s very sturdy and solid. I’ve been using it in my studio for years and I have no regrets about buying it. It’s very versatile because you can place it on workbench and paint standing up. Or you can sit down at a table and paint. There’s also the option of painting outdoors with this easel. You just need to find a table to set it up on.