Ok, so why use an easel instead of just drawing on your desk? There are many advantages to working on an easel. I’m going to list just the benefits that I’ve personally experienced, but I’m sure there are many, many more.
1. Avoid the effects of perspective
Basic perspective tells you that objects further away appear smaller than objects close to you. The objects you draw on the end of the paper furthest from you will be affected by perspective. You will unconsciously compensate for this effect and draw the objects at the far end of your paper larger, so it looks “right” to you from your angle. But when the drawing is upright, it may appear “top heavy”. If you’re drawing a landscape, this probably won’t be an issue. But if you’re aiming for realism with portraits, this effect will definitely make a negative impact on your work.
2. Improve your posture
When your work is set flat down on your desk, most people have a tendency to lean or hunch over their drawing. Over time, this puts a lot of unnecessary strain on your neck and upper shoulders as your body is struggling to constantly support your head.
Did you know the average human head weighs 10 pounds?! That’s a lot of stress for your poor neck muscles. Just leaning with your head forward 15 degrees results in your body supporting an equivalent weight of 27 pounds!
I personally experienced headaches almost every day when I was working with my paper flat on the desk. When your drawing is propped up on an easel, you can maintain a proper sitting position to allow yourself to work longer and with less pain. Win-win!
3. Increase your drawing speed
I learned this tip from my first painting class. You want to position yourself so that you can quickly glance from your easel to your reference image. When I draw portraits, I have my reference picture on my computer monitor. I have my desk set up so the easel is slightly to the right of my monitor. That way, as I’m working, I can easily see if I’m using the right colors and drawing in the correct place.
4. An easel is a space just for your art
The best practice is to avoid eating and drinking at the same area that you make art. When your work is on an easel it’s mounted to a surface reserved just for art. There are no crumbs, oil, soda, coffee, etc. on that surface. Your drawing has its own safe space. If there are any accidental spills, your work is at a much better position than if it were lying on your desk.
5. Easel set up = art time
This may just apply to me, but I have mental shift when I sit down to draw. Setting up my easel involves me putting away my keyboard to make room for my easel and drawing. When I do this, it minimizes the opportunities I have to be distracted by browsing the internet or playing video games.
When you change your art setup, it will feel a bit weird as your arm and hand have to get accustomed to new positions. Within a week it will feel just as natural as your previous position. Adjust the angle that your easel is set up to find the position that is most comfortable for your wrist. If you use a cheaper easel that has a tendency to slide around your desk, use a repositionable shelf liner (available at most hardware and home goods stores) to make your easel stay in place.
Now for recommendations! Here are two of the easels I personally use. Both collapse flat in 30 seconds to minimize storage space when not in use.
Tao Bamboo Easel by Creative Mark ($16) – very portable and lightweight. Measures 8.5 x 11 x 1.25 inches when collapsed. Best for drawings letter paper or smaller (anything larger and it will be too top heavy and topple over).
Beechwood book stand ($12 – currently on clearance at Blick). An absolute steal at this price. I really enjoy working with this easel. Measures 17.5 x 14 x 2.25 inches collapsed. Can hold a canvas or board up to 19.5 inches tall.
Where to buy: https://www.dickblick.com/products/beechwood-book-stand/