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What are Easels?

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  • Written By: Katharine Swan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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If you are an artist or intend to be one, you may find an easel necessary for your trade. Easels hold two-dimensional media — a canvas or paper — while you work. They can also be used to display finished work, in an art show or simply as a decorative piece in your home.

Most easels are constructed of three legs, which form a tripod. The legs are attached at the top. The two front legs oppose the center leg, which swings backward to form the tripod and brace the structure. A shelf running horizontally across the two front legs supports the artwork.

Easels have been used since ancient times. Although early versions were probably very crude, the design of modern easels has been improved and can now offer artists many useful features. Large versions are often made with telescopic legs, legs that collapse to a shorter length for easy transportation. Not all easels are made in the traditional tripod style; some have four legs, a sturdy base, wheels on the bottom for increased mobility, or multiple sides on which art can be worked on or displayed.

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These devices are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Child-sized versions are available for your little ones. The smallest ones are used on top of tables, while the largest ones stand on the floor. Easels may simply hold canvas, paper, or a two-dimensional piece of art. More elaborate versions, often called paint stations, may also have storage space for paint, paintbrushes, paper, and other art supplies.

Easels may also be made of a variety of materials. Traditionally, most were made of long pieces of wood. Today they may be constructed of metal, too – particularly those that have special features, such as telescopic legs.

When using an easel, a palette is often used as a surface on which to mix paints. A palette is a flat, thin piece of wood or plastic, either in the shape of a rectangle or a swirled oval. A palette has a hole in which to put one or two fingers of the hand that holds it. While artists’ tools such as easels and palettes may bring to mind picturesque images of a painter selling portraits in the park, many types of artists find them useful, even necessary, tools of their trade.

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