My little sister Nancy is turning 30 this year, and she's planning a grand bash at a swanky club in Manhattan. Unfortunately, big sis Eve won't be able to attend. But that's not going to stop me from sending along the perfect gift, which, after a lot of thought, I decided will be an easel.

Nancy has painted for years. An oil-on-canvas still life adorns my parents' dining room, a black-and-white Madonna and child drawing hangs in my hallway. A field of flowers done in watercolors sits atop her own mantel. But during a move into her new home last month, her easel suffered a moving casualty. A bookcase crashed down onto it, smashing the easel's leg and rendering it useless. Thus began Eve's latest hunt. And, as she enters her 30s, I want to get my sister an easel that says accomplished artist, not starving art student. The problem is, I can't tell one from the other.

My artistic talents lie in the region of arts and crafts. The hot glue gun, not the paintbrush, is my instrument of creation. I needed some information, and the first bit came from a salesman named Joe at Artist & Craftsman Supply.

"There are standup wood easels, aluminum easels, and tabletop easels," he explained. "Some easels can go completely horizontal, level, so the artist can stand over the canvas and paint, if they are doing fine-detail stuff, or if they are using something really wet and don't want the paint to actually start dripping down. Those easels tend to be a lot more expensive because of the whole leg-rotation feature and actually being able to support weight that way.

"Other easels have cups on them in which different mediums can be put in. So if they are using oil paints, the solvent that is used to thin down the paint can be put in the cup right there so they don't need a tray next to them."What are the tabletop easels?

"It is a box that you would open up and the easel comes out of it. They are convenient if you are sitting down painting something smaller. Or if you want to travel somewhere, go outside with it and you have a little table that you can set it on. It's also really nice because they carry a lot of your art supplies. We carry one model called the T'ang Easel Box [ $63 ], and it has a three-slotted drawer that you can put a lot of stuff in."

Joe added that the tabletop easels also work well for kids because "they are a lot smaller and the kids can actually sit at a table but still have something vertical in front of them holding stuff up and down."

As for standup easels, Joe said, "We have an aluminum easel, Studio RTA Premier Studio Easel [ $65 ], that is on the cheaper price end, but it's sturdy, and it fits up to four-foot canvases. That is one of our big sellers. We also carry an easel called the Chairman Easel [ $148 ]. It's a very sturdy wood easel, it is on wheels that lock, and it can get pretty level as far as rotating the canvas backwards.

"A lot of the easels come with wheels," he said. "Some people don't like having wheels because they end up rolling around even though the wheels have locks on them. I like having wheels because I want to have stuff move very quickly if I want it to, instead of risking picking up an easel with paint on it and trying to nudge it somewhere."

Do the easels come in larger sizes?

"They do. We have one here that stands up to 10 or 12 feet tall and can hold up to a 7-foot-tall canvas. It is called University Easel [ $502 ]."

Nancy likes to paint and draw, and I thought it would be great to get her an easel that works for both activities. I mentioned that to Keith, a sales associate at Blick Art Materials. He responded, "Mostly artists only use easels for painting," said Keith. "For drawing and sketching you can use a drawing and sketching board, kind of like a laptop style. I have heard of some artists using an easel to do the drawing. Because a lot of artists will set up their canvas on the easel and draw out what they are going to do and then paint over it.

"Most standup easels are about five or six feet tall," Keith continued. "The wood easels seem to be more popular. The aluminum is lighter weight, that's why I like using the wooden easels, they have a better feel to them, more solid.

"The big seller in our store is the Mersey [ $114.99 ]. Other good easels are the Winsor & Newton Hamilton Easel [ $119.98 ] and the Blick Studio H-Frame Easel [ $220.98 ], which holds a six-foot canvas. There also are inexpensive easels that start at around $79 ."

Do artists own more than one easel?

"Usually just one," he answered. "I have never heard of anyone having two easels, unless they own a box easel that folds up, and then they have a full-size easel to work on in their home studio."

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