The Easel: Essential
An easel is an absolutely essential piece of equipment for pastel artists, and there are several different types on the market. Soft pastels create dust when you use them, and working from an easel allows that dust to fall away rather than make the painting messy.
I use two different types of easels in my studio. My main easel is an old primary school easel that was gifted to me by a friend. It's a cross between an H frame and a tripod, and my drawing board is supported by two adjustable pegs. I love the fact that this easel is old, and it has a beautiful patina and weight to it. I can be as ruthless with the pastels as I want, and the easel never shifts.
The downside is that it is large—over six feet tall and three feet wide. Although it folds flat, you would hardly describe this easel as portable and sometimes portability is important.
Tripod Easels (or A Frames)
Tripod easels are very straightforward to use and simple to put up. As the name suggests, they have three legs that open out and a ledge for holding your drawing board. They can be made from a variety of materials, but the two most common are wood and aluminum.
Pros: The benefit of an A-frame or tripod easel is that they are very light. Usually, the legs are jointed too, so they fold away to almost nothing; ideal to stuff in a rucksack on a painting trip.
Cons: However, their lightness means that they are one of the least sturdy types of easel around. This can be a nuisance for the pastel artist, who sometimes has to use quite a bit of pressure to push the pastel pigment around the page.
French Easels (or Box Easels)
French easels are usually made very simply of wood and comprise a horizontal box on legs with an easel rest. They come in a variety of sizes and are quite small when fully folded. Mine is roughly 2' by 1' by 6" box depth. This is my 'second' easel, and I often take it to pastel workshops with me.
Pros: Not only is the French easel very portable, but it is also flexible too. It can be used as a tabletop easel if you don't unfold the legs, a short easel if you only half unfold the legs, and a full-height easel if you unfold all the way.
The drawing board support can be adjusted to fit your preferred size of drawing board, and the box part of the easel usually has plenty of divisions, so you can carry all your equipment around with you.
Sketch box easels are also pretty sturdy once put up and so they are ideal for pastel artists, as they don't move around easily. They are also good for painting on uneven ground, as you can fix each leg to a different length, thus keeping your working area level.
H Frame Easels
These are the sturdiest easel of the lot. Almost always made from wood, these easels often weigh in at around 16 to 20 pounds, so they're not terribly portable. Most have adjustable legs and drawing board supports, so you can vary the height of your work and can use large canvases, but really they are best suited to studio work. Some have wheels to make moving the easel around the studio easier.
Which Is the Best Easel for Pastel Painting?
When starting out with pastels, often the French easel is a good compromise because it's pretty sturdy, it saves space, and you can use it on the tabletop if the workspace is difficult. They make good beginners' easels, and I still use mine frequently, sometimes working from my kitchen table while the Sunday lunch is being made rather than holing myself up in the studio.