A How-to post: Small works easel

I got an email the other day from one of my followers, asking about my small works easel. She had been thinking of getting something to use for small canvases and panels, but was hesitant to spend a lot of money on something. I’ve seen some of the tabletop easel out there that are specifically for small panels and prices can range from $25 to over $100. I’m sure they are nice and all, but I can do better than that. I’ll show you what I have and how you can have one of your own for about what you can probably find in the sofa cushions. 

First off, here is my easel in action.

Small works easel with 6×6 gessobord panel

I can comfortably sit at my desk or art table and this is the perfect height to work on.  It has adjustment knobs to tilt the easel forward or backward to whatever angle works best for you.

Two adjustment knobs on the side of the easel.

I bought this easel at Michael’s, but this kind of easel can be found almost anywhere.  I’ve seen some on Ebay for $12-15.

Now, straight out of the box, it just wasn’t working for me.  The lip on the tray stood up too high, making getting at the bottom of the panel a chore.  What to do?  I got it!  Popsicle sticks!  I took two popsicle sticks and glued them together.  You have to make sure this is done very carefully and the two sticks are lined up perfectly.  This is the surface your panel will sit on and if the sticks don’t line up properly your panel can slip off.

Popsicle stick lower canvas holder

Then I marked two spots on the sticks, one at each end, even with the middle of each upright that you will screw this holder to.  I then drilled holes through the sticks.  A word of caution here:  Popsicle sticks are not all that strong when it comes to the abuse a drill can impart.  I used my electric screwdriver to drill the holes.  That is assuming you have an electric screwdriver and the kind of drill bits that can just slip into it instead of screwdriver bits.  It spins slower than a drill and is easier on the sticks.

Also, I drilled the holes in the sticks larger than the screws I was looking to use.  If you drill the holes smaller and you try to run the screws through the sticks you WILL split the wood.  There is a 100% chance of doing this.  So drill the holes slightly larger than the screws so that they will just drop right through the holes.

One other tip here.  Getting the holder perfectly level on the easel is essential.  You can’t imagine how irritating it would be to have that holder off by even a 16th of inch, thus having your panel crooked in front of your eyes.  To get mine straight, I set a wooden ruler on its edge on the tray and then placed the holder on top of the ruler.  Then holding them tightly together I marked the holes for the screw holes on the easel.

Then, having marked your spots on the easel uprights, use the same electric screwdriver, but with a smaller bit because this is where the screws will do their gripping.  Drill the holes and it doesn’t really matter if you go all the way through or not.  There shouldn’t be anything in the way when you drill.

After drilling the holes, slip the screws through the holes on the popsicle sticks and then screw them to the easel.  Carefully!  Now is not the time to go all Terminator on this easel.

You should now have a somewhat functional small works easel.  I say “somewhat” because there are a couple of other mods to make here before it will be perfect.

First, that upper canvas holder has a pretty large lip on it too, just like the lower tray did.  The fix is easy.  Loosen the knob on it, slide it up and off the middle post, flip it over and put it back on.  The top of the holder, which is now the bottom, isn’t much thicker than the panels you will be using, so now it does not block access the very top of the panel.

Upper canvas holder, flipped over.

And the final mod that I made had to do with lowering frustration with the easel.  These easels usually have a flat, wooden bottom on them and they will slide across your table if you even breathe on it wrong.  So, a quick trip to Home Depot to pick up some of those little rubber dots you stick on the bottoms of things you don’t want scratching up your furniture.  Get the softest rubber ones you can find, which is usually the clear rubber ones.  Stick one of these on each corner and you reduce the sliding easel problem by about 90%.  If you tend to get a little heavy handed like I do sometimes, you will have to hold the bottom of the easel with your free hand.  But, for most applications, with the small brushes this easel will sit solidly in one place.

Little rubber feet on the bottom of the easel

And that is all there is to it.  When I sat down to put this easel together it took me about thirty minutes, start to finish.

Now I know that burning question you have on your minds is, “how much did this cost?”  Start looking through your sofa right now, because I did this whole project for less than $10.  Michael’s had these easels for about $14, but I had a 50% off coupon in my smart phone so it cost me about $7 plus tax.  Check Michael’s website because they always have some sort of coupon.  The only other thing I spent money on was the rubber feet and a package of 12 of them was about $1.50.

Of course, if you need to buy a couple of ice cream bars that adds to your cost, but certain sacrifices need to be made in the name of art.  Get cheap Fudgecicles or splurge and have a couple of Dove bars.

I think that’s all.  This easel works perfectly with everything 8″ or smaller.  I work mostly with 5×7″ or 6×6″, but it will work with 6×8″ or 8×8″ just fine.  I did try an 8×10″ in landscape mode, but it was a bit heavy and kept wanting to tip the easel over backwards.

If you have any questions, just add them to the comments below and I’ll try to answer them here.


About D Glenn Casey

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This entry was posted in 6x6, fruits, grapes, oil, painting, still life. Bookmark the permalink.

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