Make a portable artist’s easel that will store painting supplies from an old wood suitcase.
An Old Art Case
My daughter had this old case that she was going to get rid of. It had come as a kids’ art kit with things like crayons, markers, and colored pencils. The supplies were well-used and she had outgrown them as an artist. But I have a hard time getting rid of anything made with wood. Wood is so much fun to work with and refinish.
About the same time, I had started researching how to make an easel for my daughter so she could start painting with oil paints. I found this image of an easel that folds up into a suitcase. It’s brilliant! It’s a portable easel that takes up very little space and stores art supplies. Then I realized it wouldn’t be too hard to turn my daughter’s old wood case into an easel just like it.
Supplies for the Easel
- wood suitcase
- 1 X 2 inch board
- 1 1/2 X 1/4 inch hardwood board
- 1 inch hinges
- bolt and wing nut
- liquid nails
Stripping the Wood and Removing the Glue
The wood case had been finished with a very yellow polyurethane that had turned the wood a very orange color. It was easy to strip off. I use Citristrip, and the finish came off easily.
Cleaning up inside the case was a little harder. Thin, moulded plastic had been glued in to hold the art supplies. The plastic ripped out easily, but the glue would not come up and even held on to bits of plastics.
I tried several things to remove the glue, but the same Citristrip I had used to remove the wood finish worked the best. I coated the glue with stripper and let it sit for about half an hour. Then I’d scrape off as much as I could get off, and coat the remaining glue with more stripper. And repeat. And repeat again. It took a while, but I finally got rid of that sticky mess. Then I cleaned it all up with mineral spirits. The glue still left a faint stain in the wood, but since it’s on the inside of the case, it won’t matter
Painting the Case
I recently read about staining wood with watered-down acrylic paint, so I decided to give it a try. I painted (or stained) the outside of the case with a purple acrylic paint. I’m not super happy with the color it turned out (the yellow of the wood gave it a funny hue), but I really like the effects of wood grain showing through color.
I painted the inside of the case a blue color with the same technique. I really don’t like how it looks with the purple, but since this case is going to hold oil paints, it’s going to end up a painted mess anyway, so I didn’t bother to change it.
I painted one side of the case with chalkboard paint. That way the case can be personalized, or have an inspirational message, or just be a place to sketch an idea for a painting. My daughter will be able to use her “chalkboard” however she would like.
Turning a Wood Case into an Art Easel
After studying different art easels, I found that an easel needs three things: a base where the canvas sits, a clamp to hold it in place, and legs to hold up the easel. There are other optional parts, but those are the necessities.
An Adjustable Canvas Clamp
I started with making a clamp that will hold the canvas in place because it seemed the most involved. The clamp needs to be adjustable to hold different-sized canvases. It also needed to be able to tighten onto the canvas.
I bought a 1/4 X 1 1/2 X 36 inch board made of oak to make the slide. I chose to use a hardwood so it would be sturdy. This piece is going to stick up out of the case, and could be broken easily.
I used my Dremel rotary tool to cut a hole in the top of the case for the tower to slide through. First, I drew a rectangle on the case slightly larger than the width of the wood. Then, I used a cutting bit to slowly cut away that rectangle.
You can see that I’m not very good at making a precise cut with it yet, but it was good enough, and looked much better after sanding.
The make the clamp adjustable, I needed a long slot in the middle of the oak slide. I started by drilling holes at the top and bottom of the slot. There are probably several ways to cut the slot. A router would have worked well if I owned one. Instead I used our mitre saw to slice through the center of the slot. Then I moved the wood a quarter of an inch to the left and sliced the left side of the slot and did the same on the right side.Last, I sanded it down the make the slot smooth and even.
I cut three inches from a 1 X 2 inch board and attached it to the top of the slide to make the clamp. I used two screws so the clamp would be secure.
The attach the slide to the case, I drilled a hole in the front of the case and pushed a bolt through the case and the slide. Then added a wing nut to the other side of the bolt. The wing nut can tighten the slide to keep the clamp at the right height.
The clamp sticks out above the case, next to the handle, but there is still enough room to hold on to the handle and carry around the case.
The Easel Base
The bottom of the easel is simply a piece of wood that holds up the canvas. I cut a piece of 1 X 2 inch board a little shorter than the width of the case. Before attaching it to the case, I gave that side of the case one more coat of chalkboard paint.
I taped the board onto the bottom of the case so it would stay in place while I screwed it on. The screws need to be screwed in from the inside of the case, otherwise they would stick out inside the case and possibly puncture oil paint tube.
I used two screws that were slightly smaller than the thickness of the base board to attach it to the case. Once the screws were in place, the tape came off, and the board is ready to hold a canvas.
The easel legs will hide inside the case while it is stowed away, so they needed hinges to fold down. I cut the two legs from a 1 X 2 inch board and made them about an inch smaller than the height of the case so they would have room to swing in and out. I attached 1-inch hinges to the top of each leg.
To attach the other side of the hinge to the case, I couldn’t use the screws that came with the hinges because they would stick through to the outside of the case and be dangerous. Instead, I covered one side of the hinges with liquid nails and taped the legs down onto the case to dry completely.
The legs can now fold up inside the case or swing out and be propped against opposite edge of the case to hold of the easel.
The Finished Artist’s Easel
The easel holds small canvases. Here it has an 8 X 10 inch canvas, clamped on, with the legs propped up, all ready for my artist daughter to sit down and paint. The easel will hold up to pressure of sketching and painting and hold the canvas in place.
When she’s done painting, she can pack up her supplies in the case, fold down the legs, and the case is ready to store.
I’m going to fill the case with painting supplies for my daughter for her birthday. I’ll post about what’s going in her artist kit soon.