The cold winter weather has me thinking of painting outdoors. So I went about the process of building myself a plein air sketch easel. My goals for this easel was to build it to be light, versatile, flexible for different medium and paper or whatever I want to paint on. Also, I really hate cleaning up a palette, so I use the Masterson palettes.  It’s like a plastic food storage container similar to a Rubbermaid or Tupperware container, but for paint. These are lined with a pad of specially coated paper that allows you to mix your colors and then when you are done, tear off the sheet and throw it away. The paper is called Sta-Wet Handy Palette by Masterson. 

The small 8.5 x 7 x 1 inch palette is the basis for my mobile “sketch easel” as well as the Arches paper I like. That one is the Arches 140lb cold press in the 10″x14″ pad, not block. I also use various sketchbooks and loose sheets of toned paper, but the Arches is my go-to preferred paper. If I try other stuff I always feel like I wasted my money. Arches is the best and worth the money in my opinion. At least for water based mediums.

Scott Henderson sketch easelI started with the James Gurney concept of 2 pieces of plywood, attached with friction hinges and a mounting nut for a camera tripod plate. There are a ton of those being built all over the place, so I figured it’s a good concept. Cheap and wood are 2 concepts that don’t really go together these days! So I went to the Depot and bought a piece of 1/2 inch plywood scrap. The scrap pile is denoted by spray painting the wood purple, so it’s incorporated in my design. I am painting on it anyway so who cares.

The scrap was already cut to 10 inches x 8 feet, so I just cut my 12 inch chunks off that strip. I chiseled out a spot for my 2 hinges & screwed them in. Not bad.


James Gurney Sketch Easel

You can find more about James Gurney’s easel here –

sketch easel mounting plateThen I drilled a hole for the T-nut with 1/4 threads for the mounting plate. I mounted mine on the section that holds the palette. Gurney put his on the part that holds the painting. We will see how this works. Really I guess I could just flip it over if I want to change it. It’s so generic it should probably work. I did a little countersink for the head of the T-nut, hammered it in and there you have it.

A little sanding and a coat of my favorite “stain” which is really just polymerized linseed oil. The kind I used I also put on my frames is called Tried & True – Danish Oil.

I love it because it’s non-toxic, smells like art school painting class and has a nice light finish.

Differences from Gurney’s design so far? No magnets yet, maybe in the future but I will need to use it to see if it’s a feature to add. No clip for shade. I do have plans to build a scrim or shade but that will come with updates. Also, my water container is a simple recycled marshmallow fluff jar. I mount everything on the Amazon Basics 60″ tripod. Currently $28, but they always have a deal going. Also get an extra mounting plate, it makes it easier to keep it on the easel. Next I just throw everything in a backpack and go.

I plan to post updates as I use it and make modifications so check back.

sketch easel

sketch easel supplies

Supply List and Links


*Just a quick note, there are Amazon affiliate links here where I talk about my process. If you buy something using one of these links I will receive a small commission. Every little bit helps.

Thanks for your help!