After what happened to me in Pewaukee, given the high winds and rain that blew down my gear, I decided to take some of the money I won in that event and invest in a more stable easel. After looking at different options, I wanted to get something that allowed me to bring my painting up to eye level, had a wide base, and was relatively light weight. I had been looking at the Anderson/Gloucester easel for some time. When I saw the more modern copy of this on sale, I jumped at it. The Beauport Easel is a modern version, unfortunately not as good as the original, but close enough to modify quickly. I found this for $75 or so on ASW Express (the original goes for $200+).
Here is my current set up. I’m still breaking this in, haven’t tried this with all of my usual size panels yet, but I’m working on it. I followed the link listed above, to my friend Daniel’s blog, where he lists some modifications that can be made to make this thing much more field-reliable. In the process, I also added a few of my own modifications, listed below. Overall, if you get a chance to get this thing for under $100, I’d jump at it. The fixes are pretty easy, you basically need a set of pliers, a drill and a screwdriver.
Since using this a few times, I’ve taken to hanging my turps can from the left cross piece, now that is below my palette, out of the way. This is my larger briefcase palette, which I made early this year, but hadn’t used until recently. I love it. There are handles on the outside edges, which fold together and clasp shut. It’s effectively water-tight, so I don’t have to worry about paint leaking from it during transit. The inside surface is lexan, which can be replaced by taking off the top edge on either side. I’ve got it set up with a lot of colors, only because I plan on using this in still life, portraiture and figurative work, in addition to being out in the field.
I was pleased to find that the addition I made for my French easel works perfectly with this one. This is the part that holds the four metal containers on the front of the easel. I keep my medium in these (lately a mix of refined linseed oil, stand oil and a touch of poppyseed oil). My cane and brush carrier are hanging from the front as well. You can see my panel carrier on the ground below. I am thinking I will simplify the number of brushes I take with me, putting all of that in my bag, to reduce the number of things I have to carry. Hanging from the top, you can see the green bungi cords I use to tie the whole contraption together. These have a loop with a ball end. Very simple.
Here are my initial observations:
First, it’s quite large. Using the leg additions, assuming you had level ground to rest it on, it would be the tallest and widest easel I’ve used.
Second, it’s not light. With one of the leg extensions, not including the small panel holder or any of the pegs, it weighs in at 10 lbs. With everything included, it’s probably between 12-14 lbs. The wood is of excellent quality, and it is by no means flimsy.
At the top of the easel are two holes drilled through the front uprights which are designed to accept the panel holder (hooked stick) or an umbrella. My easel came with these holes drilled to too tight a tolerance, the stick will not slide further than a few inches in. I suspect this has to do with the finish they used on the rod, some light sanding of the hole with a slightly rounded file fixed the problem. I didn’t want to sand the dowel, as I know these dowels have a tendency to warp in high humidity.
With regards to performance, the first thing I noticed is that this is not an easy easel to reposition. Glare was an issue. I had a leg extension on the rear leg, to get my support to be as upright as possible (not a fan of having the top slant away from me).
- Overall the construction is pretty rugged. The weight and massive footprint make it quite sturdy, even in strong winds. However, this would not be an easel to take into a packed figure drawing studio.
- The height is quite acceptable. I’m 6’1″ and like to have my panels at eye level.
- The width of the uprights is wide enough to accept my large briefcase palette, which is about 26″ wide opened.
- It’s made of wood, largely, which means it’s less likely to attract lightning than my Italian steel tripod easel.
- There sure are a lot of free-floating parts. This always makes me nervous. Fortunately, most of the parts are made of wood, and so could be easily fabricated if need lost or damaged. Some of the modifications make this easier, but there are still 5 pieces carried with the main body of the easel which are important to how it functions.
- The set up time is not any faster than with a typical french easel, in fact it may take a bit longer, with all the parts. I think my steel Italian easel has the record there. The real down side of this is the take-down time. I can foresee, after a recent such experience, the need to immediately take down your gear, when the weather goes from something that the easel can handle, to suddenly something much stronger, in terms of high winds or sudden downpours. Fortunately, once you get the panel or canvas off the easel, there’s not much for the wind to push around.
Here are some close ups of the fixes that Daniel Corey recommends. These greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to set up or take down this easel. The first modification is to add a permanent attachment for one of the springs on the rear leg. This easel comes with one spring on either side of that leg, you will be moving them both to the front of that leg. I had a bracket that used two screws, it works well here, tilting them slightly upward in the back.
The second image is of the screws I used to replace the brass rods that come on the far end of the stabilization slats. In total, I removed two of the three brass inserts from each of these slats, replacing one of them with these screws. The screws will point down to the floor when the slats are in place. By sliding the front-most C-spring to the close end of the slats, the slats will hang in place on the eye-hook that came with the easel. When I set up, I need only unhook this, slide the spring down towards the far end and drop the slats into place on the front crosspiece. I was able to find some wood screws that fit the diameter of the hole for the brass inserts, which meant I didn’t have to drill a pilot hole (whew!).
Here you can see the rubber bands I added to the ends of the stabilization slats. This just helps to keep things from sliding off the ends once it’s set up. I basically took half a dozen bands and twisted them together over the end. This also pads the piece during transit. I noticed that the brass hardware tends to gouge the wood if the easel is bumped around a lot.
After my first trial run, with this thing in the back of my truck, I found that the nut that holds the front cross piece onto the easel had fallen off. I tried to find another nut of the same size, in order to tighten them against one another, but I couldn’t match the threading and the diameter. Instead, I opted for some electrical heat-shrink wrapping. This allows me to keep the nut loose enough for the cross piece to move freely, yet not fall off or loosen further. A simple fix.
Here is perhaps the most important modification I made, the addition of a slat of wood to the rear piece of the small panel holder attachment. Since I typically paint on 1/4″ panels, I needed a simple groove in which to seat the bottom of the panel. I found a 3/8″ x 1/4″ piece of oak that I sanded down and glued into place. I also added two washers to the carriage bolts holding this attachment together, to hold panels that are thicker than 1/4″. So far this has worked very well.
Last, I added a couple of heavy rubber bands to the right leg. These serve to keep the front crosspiece from falling down until I decide to place it. When not in use, they drop down to where the leg pieces join (see the first image in this post).
Overall, I think this easel and I will have a long and productive relationship.