(No financial affiliation with any palettes or easels mentioned in this post – I don’t make a dime from them, I just like to share what works for me)

“Has Michael Schlee finished the ‘Happy Painting’ palette?”

“What is your plein air setup?”

These are two frequent questions I get from Master Oil Painting Members. I’ll answer both questions in this post.

I talk in-depth about this palette and easel and other plein air setups in an earlier blog post (read the past post HERE). This post is for those who simply want to see what I use and how to get them.

My Favorite Plein Air Easel and Palette

I’ve tested so many plein air easels and palettes over the past 30+ years and I think I’ve finally found the perfect combination for my particular style. Now, in saying that, it’s important to understand that what’s perfect for me may not be a good fit for you.

The top factors I’ve been concerned with over the years are primarily durability and functionality. You, on the other hand, may be more worried about portability, aesthetics, brand recognition, or a number of other factors.

My hope is that this will help you find a good starting point, but you’ll likely still need to do some of your own experimentation. Don’t worry though, it’s fun!

The Happy Painting Palette

The answer to the first question is yes!

The palette design is ready.

Schlee palette

The Happy Painting palette by Michael Schlee for plein air painting

Michael was holding off until I ran the palette through several plein air adventures. It needed to be put through the wringer and survive before he was comfortable sharing it with others. The palette survived 40-50 mile per hour winds, rain, snow, blowing sand, heat, direct sun, and even scarier – airport luggage handlers.

stacking bags on runway

Along the way, I would talk with Michael about what worked, what fell short, and what seemed inconvenient in the field.

After two years of tweaking and adjustments, Michael and I feel confident the palette is easy to use and weatherproof (and probably airport-proof – they’re destructively talented though, so no guarantees).

Plus, have you ever seen a more beautiful palette in your life? That’s a big deal for people as visually stimulated as artists.

He even innovated a special holder for it so that it can be used with a camera tripod.

The Happy Painting palette tripod holder for plein air painting

Palette Pros:

1. Huge mixing area – 13×23 inches – almost as much mixing area as my studio palette.
2. Beautiful craftsmanship. It looks amazing – like fine furniture – and it is built to last a lifetime!
3. Side shelves hold brushes, palette knives and whatever else is needed.
4. Easy and quick to set up and start painting.

Palette Cons:

1. Carry weight – 9lbs for the palette and 3lbs for the tripod holder.
2. Length for travel – It’s too long to fit in an airplane carry-on bag.

Want one of your own? Purchase information is available at the end of this post.

The Leder Plein Air Easel

The Leder Easel is light – just over 1lb! Add a pound for the crazy cool attachment I use and 3lbs for my tripod and the combo beats my French easel by 7lbs (the French weighs 12lbs).

It can hold panels up to 24 inches high and sets up super-fast. It’s built of steel and hardwood instead of cheap plastics.

Ed Leder really designed the perfect plein air easel.


The LederEasel for plein air painting


sioi Z tripod

The Sioti Z-shape tripod attachment is excellent for angling and moving my LederEasel forward or back without hitting the tripod!

The palette holder is also ingenious. It’s small, weighs only 1lb as well, and is strong enough to handle most palettes – as long as they are under 5lbs.

I have even used it to hold my Happy Painting palette for a few plein air trips.

demo at Kiawah

Oil painting workshop on Kiawah Island using the LederEasel and the Happy Painting palette.

For some reason, I originally thought my palette was 4lbs when I talked to Ed and got the go-ahead to use it with his palette holder. Incredibly, the holder actually held up for two days of painting with my 9lb Happy Painting Palette before the wood split.

leder easel split

The LederEasel palette holder that I put too much weight on.

Easy fix though!

Once I wrapped some metal around the ends the palette holder worked beautifully- like at San Francisco during the Plein Air Convention.

painting in San Francisco

Bill painting at the Plein Air Convention in San Francisco with the LederEasel and the Happy Painting palette.

Easel Pros:

1. Holds large canvases up to 24×36 inches.
2. Made of incredibly strong steel and hardwood.
3. Inexpensive – $119 for both the easel and the tripod palette holder (and a nice bag to carry them in).
4. Super-fast and easy setup and takedown.

Easel Cons:

I haven’t found any yet! Really – it flat out works like a charm.

Purchase Information – Palette, Easel, and Tripods

easel setup

The LederEasel and the Happy Painting Palette in my studio

1. Happy Painting Palette and palette holder – $285 + shipping – Michael Schlee is the genius behind these and he can be contacted using his cell (308)-750-4169 or his email mgschlee@gmail.com.

Keep in mind that Michael is a master craftsman who creates each palette individually so it may take a few weeks. He is also able to tailor palettes to your needs if you want to change the measurements a bit.

2. LederEasel – $119 for both the easel and palette holder. You can find amazingly detailed info on his website.

3. Sioti Z-shape tripod attachment for angling the easel – $34.99. I bought it on Amazon.

4. The Geekoto tripod – $79.99. I bought this tripod because it had excellent reviews and can reach up to 77” high, but will shrink down to 19” for traveling. It is perfect for plein air painting!

Note: Neither myself or Master Oil Painting is financially affiliated with any products I’ve mentioned above. I just really enjoy using them in my plein air travels and figured you may enjoy them as well. That also means we don’t accept any responsibility for warranties or guarantees of any kind. However, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have based on my own experiences.

Plein Air Palettes and Easel Conclusion

The Happy Painting Palette is one of my all-time favorite painting tools. It allows me to mix my paints without scraping everything off every 15 minutes.

Finding the perfect plein air setup is a matter of experimentation and individual adaptation.  Check out what other professional artists are using and decide what will fit your unique needs the best.

I suggest exercising a bit of skepticism if they’re recommending a sponsored product, but just because they are getting paid to endorse a product doesn’t mean it’s not at least worth looking into.

The important thing is to use an easel and palette that will motivate you to get out and paint! Outdoor painting is a joyful and educational experience – especially when we have great equipment that makes life easier for us. Have fun discovering your ideal plein air painting setup and let us know your experience!

Have you found something awesome that we should tell the Master Oil Painting community about?

The East Coast Plein Air Course

Plein Air, or outdoor painting, has become one of the fastest-growing and most exciting segments of the art industry, and for good reason – a photograph will never replace nature.

One of the most common requests we get here at Master Oil Painting, from our community of artists, is to help them grow their skills as Plein Air painters. They may not want to paint outdoors full time, but most artists would love to escape into nature periodically to enjoy a day, or even a few hours, of painting in the great outdoors.

However, getting away from the studio and painting Plein Air presents some unique challenges for aspiring artists.

For instance…

Scouting out the optimal spot to paint
Purchasing the right supplies and packing them to the site
Quickly changing light and color
Unpredictable weather conditions
Working around the inquisitive passersby
Finding an experienced and skillful teacher

That’s why we spent six months creating the East Coast Plein Air art training program.

Now you can drastically increase your skill level as a Plein Air painter – You’ll gain insights and skills from watching Bill’s approach to painting that will help you break down barriers and accelerate your progress as a fine artist. It’s just like you’re joining Bill on a Plein Air outing – but better because you get to watch it over and over.

You can learn more about the Plein Air course here: www.masteroilpainting.com/east-coast-plein-air/

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