Coulter Easel Review

Coulter Easel setup and ready for painting
Coulter Easel setup and ready for painting

My Coulter Easel arrived yesterday, and I immediately took it out for a trial run.  Although I am new to oil painting, I’ve been painting en plein air with pastel for nearly a year.  Having already learned several lessons about painting en plein air, I was ready to try my hand at oil painting.

Choosing an easel was a difficult decision.  Most painters I know have 6 or more.  Having painted with our local group, I was able to see other easels in action and talk about the pros and cons of each.  In the end, I chose the Coulter Easel for the following reasons:

Coulter Easel Review – Compact Size

1) Ease of design – super simple

2) Sufficient palette size for mixing paint

3) Time and travel tested by other painters over many years

4) Few moving parts – minimal chance of failure in the field

5) Sturdy construction

6) The panel holder is separate from the mixing area.  This allows the panel to be at vision height and the mixing tray to be at waist height

7) Easily fits multiple panel and canvas sizes

8) Lightweight

9) Adjustable for standing or sitting.  I’m short in height, so I adjusted the legs lower for my height.  I think it would work just fine for sitting too.

Concerns: My only concern was the tripod.  I wasn’t sure that the legs would expand sufficiently for stability and uneven ground.  Update: After nearly a year of use, this has not been a problem.  The weight of my pack has been more than sufficient to keep everything steady.

For day one, I choose to not make any modifications to the easel, simply work with it exactly as is.  I put my paper towels on the tripod handle, brushes on the left, knives, medium and OMS (Oderless Mineral Spirits) on the right.  I used the wood base as my palette (not inserting glass) to keep it light for backpacking and travel.  I simply brushed on several coats of linseed oil and I’ll clean it and coat it again. Using it today, I found that the paint wanted to seep into the wood.  Over time, I expect the wood to fill and create a very smooth surface. (Update: Wiping the palette clean after each use, the wood has taken on a nice patina and has a nice, slick surface.)

The Highlight of the Day

One of the joys of plein air painting in a public area is chatting with those who pass by.  Today, a group of 10-12 kids trooped over to check out our work.  I love the look of intrigue, rapture and excitement on their faces.  As I was painting the last bits, they gathered around and slowly inched forward bit by bit, getting a little closer and a little closer.  It was so fun!  I wished that I could give them all an easel and spend the day painting with them.

Update

Shortly after purchasing the Standard Coulter Palette Box, I went ahead and purchased the mini size.  I have found that the 9×12 mini provides plenty of mixing area.  I prefer this smaller size for local and international trips.  It fits easily in my carry-on and takes up less backpack space.  The only modifications have been to add a small cup holder hook on the inside of each wing (one on the right for OMS and one on the left for a reusable trash bag) and a screw to hold the optional brush holder.   

Here’s a picture of the mini in action.

Coulter Mini on location in Rocky Mountain National Park

Happy painting!

PS:  Of course, once I committed to this easel, I found this one by Joshua Been…several folks in our group have it and they really like it too.

10 Responses

  1. kevin miller
    | Reply

    Hello Nelia, I am interested in this easel for a backpacking trip in colorado later this year. Do you still favor this easel and how stable is it in some wind and if you are painting more aggressively such as with a palette knife and scraping?

    • nelia
      | Reply

      Hi Kevin,
      After using the easel/palette for the past several months, I am very happy with it. In fact, I have decided to convert my current easel to a pastel box and I ordered the smallest version of the Artbox.

      Here’s what I like:
      Super fast setup
      Plenty of mixing space – in fact the wings might be too much – but I like them for my brushes, medium, etc.
      Lightweight – one of the lightest on the market
      No/few moving parts

      The only challenge with stability is that I have had one of the wings flip up in a big gust of wind. It was my fault as I had my umbrella hooked to the tripod and it hit the side flap. Lesson learned.

      I’m not an aggressive painter, but I have used a palette knife – I like to mix my paint with a palette knife and the palette responds very well. Once in a while, I get a little tipping from side to side. A slight adjustment fixes that and is seems to stay in place after.

      Downside:
      Size – it barely fits in my backpack – I think that’s really personal preference. I’m only 5’2″ so smaller is more comfortable.
      Glare – this will happen with any easel but I do get reflection off the palette on sunny days.

      Easel: The upright is very stable, easy to tighten, easy to adjust and also lightweight. Again, it barely fits in my pack, but I wouldn’t trade that.

      Tripod: My only complaint on the tripod is that the legs only widen to a set point. On unstable or rocky ground, this could be a problem. I haven’t had it tip over, as I attach my backpack to the center ‘strut’ of the tripod to weigh it down.

      Modifications: I did not add glass as I wanted to keep the weight down. I did install 2 cup hooks – one on the inside of each wing. The left side (in the back), I attach a stuff sack for trash and on the right (front) I attach my gamsol jar.

      On the next version, I plan to drill some holes for my brushes and/or use the brush holder he makes. Another painter uses the easyl/guerilla style holder. I got his PVC version, as it will do double duty as a holder and carrier.

      There is a new palette/easel on the market by en plein air http://enpleinairpro.com/pro_series_oil_painting_easel.html You might want to take a look at that too. Michael Chesley Johnson just did a review of it http://mchesleyjohnson.blogspot.com/2016/04/product-review-en-plein-air-pro.html Another painter in our group got the Joshua Been version and is very happy with that as well.

      Bottom line. I’m very happy with it. Will I like the smaller version better for hiking? Possibly. Just because it will fit in the pack better. Do I like the mid-size version for plein en painting? Absolutely.

      Good luck with your decision and happy painting.

      BTW: I like a clean palette. When I get home, I scrape out the paint, pour a little walnut oil on the surface, scrub it with an old brush (hardware cheapy) to loosen up the bits and wipe it out with a couple of paper towels. It only take a couple of minutes and it’s ready to go again.

  2. figuringpeopleout
    | Reply

    Hi Nelia, I have to replace my plein air kit, and I am really struggling to decide between the Coulter and the Daytripper (and easy-L versa, but mostly because of the included wpc’s), and I wondered, if you could do it again, would you choose the day tripper? It looks lighter and more compact because of the folding in arms. But you’ve seen it in person. Is that true? Thanks for the help!

    • nelia
      | Reply

      That is a really tough call. I have been using the smallest of the Coulter (Artbox and Panel) palettes, (exterior measurement is 13.5×13) and I like that size a lot. The day tripper outside measurements are 11×17 vs. 13.5×16.5 for the Compact (medium) Coulter. (I found that to be larger than I needed and converted that to a pastel setup.)

      If you are choosing between the Day Tripper and the Compact (medium) size Coulter, I’d probably go with the Day Tripper, because of the fold-in arms, slightly slimmer design, and it fits on multiple tripods. Also, if you want glass/plexiglass installed, Joshua does that for you. Whereas, with the Coulter, you have to do that yourself. (It’s quite simple). If you are looking for a smaller palette, then the Coulter.

      I actually just added glass to my Coulter. (I’m hoping it will help me see values better when mixing paint. We’ll see how it holds up to semi-rugged travel.) Either way, I think you’ll be thrilled. They are both great plein air setups. My tripod has held up really well. The box is lightweight – not too big for classes/workshops/backpack.

      I highly suggest measuring (make a box or cut out some cardboard) to see if the palette will fit in your backpack/carry-on luggage before you decide. The Coulter is fairly high (thick) when closed.

      I hope that helps. Good luck with your decision! I’d love to hear what you decide to do, and how it works for you.

      • figuringpeopleout
        | Reply

        Thanks for the prompt reply, Nelia! It helped me finally decide on the Day Tripper. I ordered mine without the plexiglass installed, because I enjoyed using the raw wood when I had an Easy-L pochade. I just buffed it up after I scraped it “clean” and it hardened to a nice smooth, mid-grey tone every time. I was curious about your statement that the glass palette would help you see your values better. Why do you think that is? (I totally understand preference for glass, I insist on it for my studio, and I would never work with plexiglass; the scratches make me crazy. But in the field? You must be gentler with your equipment than I am!)

        I have one more quick question: Do you have problems with the sun on your palette? The cons to having an umbrella seem to be that it will eventually carry your whole kit off a cliff – that seems pretty convincing, but I’ve heard complaints that the Coulter system doesn’t shade the palette like a pochade box does. And I wondered about having the UPH casting a shadow across the palette.

        Thanks again for helping this indecisive artist come to a decision!
        -Noël
        noeljoyash.com

        • nelia
          | Reply

          Hi Noel,
          Congratulations on your new Day Tripper! My apologies for the late reply, for some reason, I’m just seeing your comment now.

          I’ve used a wood palette in the field (Coulter) for the past year, but I never got to a nice mid-gray tone… Some areas were lighter, others darker, and the wood kept absorbing the paint, making it hard to pick up and mix. The glass comes clean every time, and it’s so easy to mix paint on the glass. I was hoping the single tone, easy to clean gray would be easier on my eyes. After a week of painting in Sedona, I think it is!

          As far as being hard on your equipment, I used Silicone under the glass and along the edges of the glass (hoping it would ‘buffer’ the bumps). After 2000 miles in the back of the track, not a crack! Of course, it’s a little smaller in size and I haven’t had the chance to really bang it around.

          As for sun on the palette, yeah, that can be a big problem. I use an umbrella as much as possible. If it’s really windy, forget it. I hang my pack on the tripod (with a caribiner) and throw in a rock if it’s windy. The umbrella comes down in the wind.

          I find an umbrella makes a huge difference a)keeping me and the paint cooler b)protecting my skin c)eliminating glare d)not making the painting get too dark. However, a fellow painter doesn’t use an umbrella with her Day Tripper. She has tried various ways to shield the palette with varying degrees of success. Another painter I know has adjusted to his palette in full sun and panel in shade.

          I hope that helps! I’d love to hear how it goes!

  3. Alplily
    | Reply

    Very interesting. I am considering the Coulter, the Daytripper, or the En Plein Air Pro. Each has something I like about it, and each has something that concerns me! I already have a good, solid SLIK tripod. I like the way the PAP palette cover doubles as a palette shade, and I like the side shelves, but the whole thing seems a bit large. The Coulter has similar side shelves, but is more expensive, and the wood seems heavy and might really dry out here in Colorado. The Daytripper looks like it could be a good compromise. Pondering…

    • nelia
      | Reply

      If you find something that is lighter weight, I’d love to hear about it. The wood is quite light on the Coulter, but it seems a lighter weight option should exist. I agree on the PAP, but size and cost??? I haven’t had any problems with the wood drying out. I too am in Colorado. Good luck with your decision.

  4. Elizabeth Allen
    | Reply

    I am trying to decide between the Coulter and the Day Tripper. I have seen both in person because friends have each of them. The concern I have about the Day Tripper is that the side panels won’t hold any weight whereas the Coulter has very sturdy side panels. The Day Tripper side panels might even fly up on the wind if nothing heavy can weigh them down.I
    Iike that the panel hooks on the Day Tripper adjust for different palette heights. I am just not sure that the Coulter palette will be right, since it is not at all adjustable. I would be interested in the Standard size Coulter so these are what I am comparing. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    • nelia
      | Reply

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for your comment. I did have the wing of my Coulter fly up once, in a gale force wind when I was setting up and my umbrella was in the wrong spot! That was not fun. Everything went flying. Once, I hit one wing and poured linseed oil all over my palette. The joys of plein air painting!

      The minimal adjustability was a concern for me when I first bought the Coulter, having used it now for a year, I can say that the tripod and the box have held up very well. And, I’ve been very pleased with the performance and durability. I know several “Day Trippers” that say the same. I haven’t missed out on adjustments, as I prefer to stand when I paint. (I find sitting to be a bit restrictive.) And adjusting the tripod is sufficient. That might be something you want to consider.

      Also, do you already have a tripod? If not, I have been very happy with the Slik tripod that is included in the Coulter package. I tend not to paint on extremely windy days, and I hang my pack off the tripod to hold it down. If something should happen to the tripod, I would certainly buy a similar one again. If you already have a strong tripod that you like, that could be a reason to go with the Day Tripper.

      Since I haven’t used the Day Tripper, my experience is limited to what others have to say. Two folks I know love theirs and have not had any problems with durability. Do keep in mind that the Day Tripper is often at a bit of a slant (downward) because of the ‘hinges’. If possible, maybe you can test out a friend’s setup?

      I know you’ll be happy with either setup. Good luck! And, I’d love to hear what you decide.

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