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  • Antique Easel(s)

    Last weekend I bought another antique easel, an F. Weber crank easel.  I now have three of them.  They are not easy to find, so I thought I would do a blog post explaining how I’ve been going about getting them.  Also, I thought it was worth putting a few pictures online for folks to check out (there is very little real information to be found on antique easels online)  Here is a link to a previous blog post on the first of these old easels I found, back in 2012.



    I call them the three graces.  Just kidding, that’s silly, they’re ‘the nice easels’.


    For the past few years, I have been buying used easels, antique and not, because I always need extra easels for my classes.  First, a few words on the cheaper new h-frame model easels out right now-

    Click here for a link to the Winsor and Newton ‘Shannon’ model H-Frame easel– This is a fine easel.  It is sturdy enough, lightweight, and folds up smallish- it’s rack and pinion, so clicks into place and stays there.  It doesn’t go up super high, and the mast is tall, so you will need a tall ceiling.

    Click here for a link to the Best Richeson ‘Dulce’ Lyptus easel.  This is another good h-frame- especially good for sight-size and smaller ceiling heights as the tray goes way up, and the central mast can go down independently.    I do have a problem with the ‘best’ model easels though- the central shelf is fastened with a plastic knob that comes loose, and the whole thing comes slamming down like a guillotine.  That really sucks, so I keep a heavy clamp underneath them to keep them a bit more sturdy.

    Blick is now selling a studio h-frame that is inexpensive, and basically identical to the W&N shannon.  While it is identical in size, it is far more rickety, and entirely unstable.  I would save your money and get the shannon if you can.

    My favorite ‘new’ studio easel is the Mabef 06 this is a medium-size easel that can accommodate both huge and small pictures.  Sturdy.  I have three of them.

    An easel should really last a lifetime, so I don’t mind buying them used, even one of the newer models above.   That said, I love finding old easels like the above because they have features you just don’t find today- this antique easel was in very rough shape.  I took it all apart, sanded and oiled all the wood, glued and screwed everything back together, and had to have a friend custom build a bunch of new parts for it in his machine shop.

    Here’s what I know about it: The good folks at Martin/Weber helped me out, and I can say with confidence that this is a very early version of the Number 20 ‘Rembrandt’ Winding Studio Easel produced by F. Weber Co from 1903-1919.  (Number 20 was the only one with drawers).  I am guessing that it is much earlier than my other two as there are some major differences- the casters (wheels) are made of wood, not plastic/rubber.  The tray length is different, and the design of the base and frame of the easel interlocks differently (weakly, but beautifully hinged, instead of bolted).  The pegs on the mast are all wood, with a metal washer, rather than all-metal.  All three of them have to have been produced before 1919, as after that date the company name changed to “F. Weber Co, Inc.” and the nameplates would reflect that.   The other two are either the Number 17 or 18 model Rembrandt easel.

    If anyone has access to the Getty Archives, they have the weber old catalogs, you might be able to find more information:



    IMG_6864 IMG_6865

    Look at those drawers.






    Like my other Weber Easels, it has the unique spiral cast-iron peg mounting crank rather than threaded rod that was already popular at the time.



    Beautiful solid base for storing a drawing board or canvas, and ornate hinges



    Embossed ‘F. Weber&Co. Artist & Draughtsman’s Materials, Philadelphia’ nameplate, clearly older than my other two models



    compare the above simple nameplate from one of my newer Weber easels



    The easel has a simple system for doing small canvases up at eye-level


    As I said above, the easel was lacking some pretty major pieces- I had my friend and neighbor Todd Cahill of Steamachine Sculpture make them– he had to make 3 new pegs for the crank, thread a new piece of rod for the clamp that holds the canvas down as it had stripped, and invent a new tightening Knob mechanism for the mast support.  Todd does incredibly precise work, functioning steam engine kinetic sculptures and works with old belt-driven metal lathes and all sorts of wonderful machines I can’t pronounce.  Here is a video of Todd showing what he does, and clicking here will bring you to another video, which shows a bit of our studio complex and surroundings.  Todd has been very helpful to me with my odd studio projects (he saved the day on a couple of my sculpture stands I built back in December), but the guy is a fascinating artist.  He just had a show of his drawings and process at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.  Todd’s drawings are beyond impressive, and you should see them in person to appreciate the meticulous linework.



    My number 20 Easel was missing one of these cast-iron knobs- if the early model even had them



    Todd built me this in wood, and i stained it to match. Metal detailing on the other side.


    So- the reason I go to all the trouble and expense of restoring these antique easels is because they just function better than new ones tend to.  They have a sturdy crank system, and they are seriously built to last.  They are also beautiful, the last time I did a blog post on them in 2012 I had a string of designers write me trying to buy them.  There is a trend of putting Flat Screen TV’s on antique easels, and though they would have paid me good money, I am a romantic and can’t imagine parting with them.  You can’t help but daydream about who has used it before you.


    Here is my advice on easel searching:

    This is the hard part- learn to recognize (often from bad photos) the basic easel designs you are interested in.  Is it an H-Frame?  Does it have casters?  Does it have a crank?  Compare, for instance, an Anco-Bilt antique studio easel to the pictures of mine above.  One hundred percent of the times I have bought an easel online I know more about the easel than the person selling it.  There are little elements of the design that give away what it is, and photos online are almost always terrible.

    Patience.  There are not a ton of them out there.

    I have a search set on craigslist to ‘easel’.  Any other keyword is too specific.  You will need to wade through tons of ikea kid’s easels, plastic easels, and presentation easels.  That said, it’s the way I have ended up buying nearly every used easel in this room.  I use this each particularly if I am traveling to another area and I will have room in the car.

    Freecycle.org works pretty well in Boston, check it in your area.

    The antique shops will have easels.  Sometimes overpriced, sometimes not.

    I search on Ebay for ‘antique easel’ or ‘vintage easel’.  This has turned up some nice ones.  Try to find one nearby though, that can be hard.

    If you end up shipping one, use a trucking freight company.  It will save you literally hundreds of dollars.

    Also, I have gotten good at inspecting the easels when I go to buy them- I ask myself,  ‘how much work will it be to get this thing working?’  Will it just need some glue and a couple of screws, or something more?

    When you get the easel, decide if it needs to be taken apart and repaired (it usually does, whether new or old).



    See the tiny nails coming out of the tray and clamp?  That allows you to paint all the way to the edge.  I love those.


    If anyone finds anything out there, leave a photo in the comments.  And designers, just buy one of the Restoration Hardware reproduced crank easels, and hire an artist to use it for  a few weeks 😉  Leave the antique easels to people that will use them.

  • Painting on the Move

    *disclaimer* This post will only be interesting to you if you’ve tried to travel with your painting gear and/or like to paint outside.  Or are interested in that sort of thing.

    Packing your painting kit for a trip away painting is never ‘easy’.  Generally speaking, easels are unwieldily, paint tubes heavy, things leak, and finished paintings can arrive scratched or damaged.  That said I’ve gotten used to it over the years, and come up with systems that work for me.  This year though, things have changed a bit- we have a 7-month old, and he requires a lot more gear than I do.  Traveling with a stroller and diaper bag puts things in perspective when you’re packing. So I needed to put a bit more thought into my kit this time.

    We’ll be away for a month and I was able to bring with me my whole portable studio- paints, brushes, medium, palette knives, 24″ brushes, spill proof turp jar, rolled canvas, canvas panels, canvas pliers, canvas tacks, tripod easel, cigar box, palette/canvas lights.  Without overage fees.

    About the easel first- If I don’t have the space to bring a box easel I use what is often called the Italian Field Easel.  It’s a steel tripod easel that is inexpensive, lightweight but very sturdy, and most importantly gets up to my eye level.  As long as you buy the steel version, these are very long-lasting easels, and have a sturdy middle portion from which you can hang your backpack or a bag of rocks from if it gets windy.  They make aluminum versions, I broke a new one 7 days into a 10 day painting trip in Spain years ago.  I always buy the steel one now.  The only steel one I’ve ever broken while painting was from thermal shock high in the alps.

    Here’s a link to Blick – they’ve started making a version of the tripod I use.  I got one on sale the other day for 29 dollars.  You really can’t beat that.  It’s slightly lighter weight than the version by Richeson, but I’ve used the Richeson ones for years-  That’s probably the one I would recommend, but it weighs a pound or two more.  Either are slightly too large for my suitcase, so I cut the mast down an inch or two with a hacksaw to get it to fit.

    I like the design of the pochade box/tripod systems I’ve seen, though to be honest, I don’t really like being limited by the tripod.  I paint standing most of the time- At my height, to get the painting up near eye level either the tripod mast or mounting starts to wobble.  It’s bearable but annoying, especially in the wind.  What I really dislike is that when you raise a pochade box on a tripod you raise the mixing area as well.  In short, what I want is to have my palette area near my hand, and painting near my eye.  I hate painting hunched over.  Makes sense, no?

    For years, my smallest/lightest kit has been my cigar box setup- just a reinforced empty box of cigars that you can get for free from a tobacconist.  Someone figured out how to attach them to the tripod easel in the studio, and there it was, a cigar-box-easel setup that costs nearly nothing, and worked better than the very expensive pochade box I had just bought.  Marc has a nice in depth post about his on the blog, with pictures of how they attach to your easel or how it looks on your lap.  My friends and I all built them in the old studio in Florence, and they’re a great piece of kit as they are long lasting and only cost your time and the price of hinges and screws.  I built my first one in 2009 and it finally got half crushed during my trip to Russia last year.  Here it is:


    As you can see above, my old box setup worked fine, but I never liked having such a small mixing area- even for small sketches.  Also (like the modern pochade kits), this limited how large I could work outside- besides the mixing area, the painting size maxed out at 16×20″/40x50cm.  That’s a good size, but I do paint larger than that outdoors at times.

    Below is my new cigar box- its smaller than the old one, but has a much larger mixing area as both the box bottom and lid are used as a palette.


    This is the whole new kit put together– the lights are the Mighty Bright Duet 2 lights, with 2 LEDs in each stem



    Here’s the new box, hand for scale.  The tape covers the outside edge of my palette cups, which I cut a hole for and put through the box.

    As you can see bottom left in the photo above, this box has a different mounting system- my friend Joe Altwer had them made, it affixes to the easel with a winged screw like the easel’s mounting brackets.


    Closeup of Joe’s box mounting bracket glued and screwed into place


    This new small box design leaves double the palette space for mixing and frees up a lot of space on the mast- it can hold 24×30″s as easily as as 8×10″s.  I really like Joe’s solution- super simple, and probably inspired by the trucks on his skateboard.  Here’s a link to a clip of Joe skateboarding (that is not Joe with his tongue out), and here is another link to Joe’s website.  I think he may end up selling similar boxes on his site at some point, I know he was selling his boxes in Florence last couple of years.  Write him an email and ask.

    This is much more about finding a functional, lightweight kit that works for me than being frugal or anything else- and there are some beautiful lightweight kits on the market, they just don’t exactly measure up to what I want.  It is still worth mentioning though- this new box setup cost me in parts less than four dollars at home depot the other day, and maybe a couple hours of my time.


    Some of the panels I brought with me this trip.


    The other thing that weighs down your bags is your supports, of course.  To find a lighter solution, this fall I bought a used dry mounting press for making canvas panels.  Having your canvas mounted makes travel a lot easier – for years, I had been making them with LineCo acid free glue in the states or ph-neutral wood glue in Italy, but often you’d end up with bubbles or the canvas adhering the the table.  It’s not a perfect system.  Dry mounting canvas solves those problems- making them myself offers me a lot of options: I can mount to acid free Foamcoare or Gatorfoam if I need to pack light, and Aluminum DiBond if I need something that could survive a nuclear blast.   Some of the panels in the above picture are foam core or lightweight birch, and altogether that stack weighs much less than my gesso panels.  This system also quickly uses up all the spare odd shaped pieces of canvas around the studio and the panels I had laying around unprimed.

    The only thing that I was concerned about was the amount of paint I was bringing and if anything was going to put me overweight it was those- also, I’ve had them take tubes before.  As usual, I got one of their notes stuffed in my bag and they ripped apart my bag of paint, though thankfully I haven’t found any paint on anything.  Yet.


    Links to this sort of stuff-

    This is a link to Vincent Giarrano’s cigar box pochade boxes.  Different than what I wanted, but very nice design/build.

    Here is another link to someone making a modern pochade/tripod setup out of a cigar box.

    This is a YouTube video on dry-mounting canvas.

    BEVA 371 is the glue that restorers recommend for mounting canvas to rigid supports.  Make sure to get the 2.5mm glue, not the 1.0.

    David Gluck and Kate Stone’s post about making mounted panels.  David was nice enough to answer a couple of questions about what size press to get last year.


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