Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sorg Easel: A Review

Nine years ago tomorrow my Jullian easel arrived. I know the date because my daughter arrived the same day. I'd like to say I'm still using that easel, that I love my Jullian and wouldn't trade it for anything. Unfortunately none of that is true. (For the record I DO love my Jillian and wouldn't trade her.)

Down in my basement:
  • Jullian full box easel

  • Jullian half-box easel

  • table top easel

  • Open Box "M" 11x14

  • Easy "L" easel

  • Stanrite steel field easel

  • Gloucester Easel

  • two home made pochades

  • Guerilla Box

  • 6x8 Guerrilla Thumb box

  • Guerilla Cigar Box

  • One Utrecht Portable Sketch Easel

  • Open Box "M" Palm Box

  • Julian Thumb Box

  • Plus a variety of different tripods, including a surveyor's tripod.
Do I own an art supply store? No. Does my wife think I'm totally nuts? Yes.

For many years I was on a quest for the perfect easel; one that worked hard in the studio, was very portable and could stand up to all kinds of abuse in the field. AND it had to have a reasonable footprint. After nine long years I've given up.

Three weeks ago I bought a studio easel: the David Sorg studio easel. I ordered it from his website and paid $790. That price is one reason I wasn't jumping up and down in excitement. It's a chunk of change, and I wanted to decrease odds it would end up in the basement. So before committing myself I called David Sorg to get some questions answered. I called him in the morning EST, and after dialing noticed the address was in Colorado. Oops. He answered the phone on the third ring.

Questions I wanted answered:
  • what quality wood is used? Italian beech imported to China.

  • will it fit in a room with 7.5' ceilings? Yes, but I won't get full use of the easel for larger paintings

  • how long before delivery? Depends on Jerry's Artorama. They handle the shipping.

  • footprint dimensions? 31 in. x 31 in
Mr. Sorg says under an agreement he has with Jerry's Artorama they handle shipping and inventory. The easel can be ordered from the Sorg website or Jerry's. If ordered from the Sorg website he includes some wax sticks to lubricate the grooves, a beefed-up top bracket knob, and detailed assembly instructions. I asked Mr. Sorg about competing easels. He says the "cadillac" of easels has always been considered the Hughes Easels, but he thinks his is a very close second. Apparently Mr. Sorg has taken all the best ideas from various studio easels and engineered them into his own. He also advised me to cut off the top of the center bracket when assembling the easel because of my low ceiling. We had a long pleasant conversation during which all my questions, and some questions I didn't know I had, were answered. It was apparent to me Mr. Sorg is very proud of his easel and stands behind it.

I was a little leery of having anything to do with Jerry's Artorama due to many past bad experiences. They were only handling delivery of inventory though, so I decided to go ahead. I ordered the easel from Mr. Sorg.

To my great surprise the easel arrived in five days. It probably would have been sooner, but the five days included a weekend. Also to my surprise it arrived on a semi-truck. The rig couldn't get near my driveway. Luckily I've a pick-up and I met the driver on a street corner near the house. The shipping container weighed 160 pounds. I unpacked it in the bed of my truck and carted the parts inside.

Assembly took half an hour, but only because I had Mr. Sorg's assembly instructions. If I'd used the instructions shipped with the easel from China it would have taken...days. The easel fit the space perfectly and I was getting paint on it within an hour.

Before I get into it's features a word about how I paint: standing up on New Traditions Boards, the largest so far 20x24. I'm six foot and I hold a rectangular palette in my left hand with a few brushes. I use OMS as a thinner and have Gamblin's neo-megalip in a cup on the palette. Even though I hold some brushes, I like to have a selection near at hand along with a large container for my OMS.

The easel shelf is at about mid thigh-height. There are two stainless steel containers on either side: one for brushes and one for OMS. The shelf is sturdy and handy for placing knives or a coffee cup. Above the shelf is another grooved shelf for brushes. I keep two stainless steel rulers there. Two grooved "wings" extend from the side of the larger shelf, another place for brushes or miscellaneous tools. A paper towel holder is under the shelf. Very handy. The entire easel is on beefy metal casters; the front two of which lock. They are also adjustable for leveling. The hardware is all-over solid. The wood is solid and nice quality.

The real beauty of this easel is its bracketing system. Top and bottom brackets are surfaced in a heavy grit sandpaper. The bottom bracket runs the width of the easel. The top is about ten inches. I can place a panel in the brackets and have the surface flush, ramrod straight with no jiggle, wiggle or after adjustments. There is no annoying shadow cast by the top bracket. I can paint over the entire surface of my picture at any time. What luxury!

If I had higher ceilings I know I'd be raving about the pulley system for adjusting the painting. With two fingers you can raise or lower your painting surface, without taking it out of either bracket. The pulley system still comes in handy with my low ceiling, but when lowering it I also lower the brush holders and OMS container. They can end up around my shins, so I'm stooping over to rinse/select brushes or grab some paper towels. A word on the paper towel holder: not the greatest. It works fine, but it's plastic and I have to struggle every time to place the roll. Then I use it without thinking. Very minor gripe.

The bottom bracket has two adjustment knobs. If I'm not careful my painting won't be level. For this I have a line level I use, keeping it handy on one of the "wings". A line level can be bought at Lowe's for, I'm guessing, fifty-cents. Definitely worth it. I place it on the bottom bracket, level, and tighten knobs. A few seconds.

So there you have it. Am I going to get all gushy about this easel? No. My highest praise is this: the easel allows me to do my job. It's solid, my surface doesn't move, there are no pesky shadows and I can work without worry. Once the painting surface is placed I can PAINT, in comfort, without interruptions from my easel. High praise indeed. Definitely worth the price.

Now if I can only get my kids to obey our House Rule: "No Talking to Daddy When He's Working Unless There is Bleeding or Something is Broken." Ya, like that'll ever happen.


  1. Hi,
    I'd love to hear more feedback about your easel once you've been painting on it for awhile.

    I had a Julian but gave it away to a friend who plein air paints a great deal in Cap Cod. A friend sold me his soltek for a steal a year ago, but I haven't used it as much as I'd like. It still takes up too much floor space in my classroom so I endup using the art league's less than stellar metal easels.

    I use a Best Santa fe at my house and I like it but it dominates my office/studio.


  2. I'd forgotten about the Soltek! I bought one when they first came out. It was a good easel but I found the footprint (floorspace) comparable to the Jullian. I sold it on ebay after three months.

    School easels are fine imho as long as they dont bug you. When painting I need all my brain cells on painting and have little patience for anything that breaks my attention - esp an easel. I want to forget it's there. The Sorg does that. Right now art supply prices seem to be rockbottom because of the economy. Good for us artists, all this variety and they're competing for our business. The Sorg footprint ( floorspace) is about the same as your Santa Fe easel. If u can afford it I'd do it. Don't make my expensive mistakes of buying every easel under the sun looking for a compromise.

    If u want something to take to class I like the Utrecht portable sketch. It doesnt work well on slippery floors and u need a paintbox with palette, but it will hold an 18x24 no prob. and it's cheap. Like $60. It is however a pain in the ass to setup/takedown until u get the hang of it. It's what I use for Wed model sessions and class.

  3. I don't take the soltek to class because of the footprint. Where I go to classes, they aren't used to the formal placement of easels (staggered in rows/formation) so it's pointless to worry too much.

    I do like the soltek for painting in/around my neighborhood. I love that prices are cheap-utrecht has a 40%off sale atm-I just bought a roll of claessens 13 double oil primed linen for under $180 from them which is obsence-but makes me very happy. I don't know if the sale is still on but I did list the code on the blog.

    I recently bought a house and am still in the midst of rennovation, fixing up so until late next year I won't be buying the easel (I have plans for a small outbuilding/studio). Until then all funds go for things inside.


  4. I had growing back pains from sitting many years so needed an easel to help me stand and sit with routine changes, after exhaustive searches I had nailed it down to the Sorg of Mabef, after much soul searching I chose the Sorg. When it arrived in a box clearly inadequate for this large chunk of timber, I was upset to see it had suffered as a result with digs into pristine surface. I then smelt a rat when I saw that it was no longer a Sorg easel built by Sorg, but now built in China, The wood barely looked like beech, and smelt even less so. Putting it together most had come pre assembled it appeared flimsy and fragile, I wondered how big a canvas it could support without moving as I painted. Two weeks after using it the treads wore out on the canvas head clamp and rendered it useless to a degree. I contacted the company who had had other complaints apparently and agreed to exchange my Sorg with the Mabef, they did not even want the Sorg returned, So if any one wants a cheap Sorg easel, that works after a fashion and needs a thread based screw head replaced call me...I would not recommend paying so much for this easel new, sadly the quality that Mr Sorg first set out to achieve with his original concept has not translated well in the commercial clone. By something else unless the quality changes fast.

  5. In a later post I talk of going in my teacher's back closet and pulling out an old Jullian half-box easel. He studied in France and Belgium after the war. I don't think he brought it back with him (he might have!), but the thing was old - probably 30 years or more. It was the same as today's Jullian EXCEPT everything was better made. The hardware was beefier, the wood more solid, it was built like a tank. Older is better, it's always been that way...I'm sure at the time he bought that easel someone said (probably in french), "You should have seen the easels built before the war, sacre-bleu!"

    Chinese production is a problem, everyone knows that. But I can also remember when the words "Made in Japan" meant cheap, poor quality, plastic, stamped production. Not anymore. In all fairness to China I wouldn't have that LCD flat screen in my living room, or an ipod, or probably half the things in my house if it weren't for Chinese production. My problem with China is that we're financing their government and we can't call them an ally - but there I stray into political territory. Something I said I wouldn't do in this blog.

    The box the easel came in was inadequate. There were no dings in my easel though. The beech was not american beech, but it was beech - just Italian - or so I was told by Mr. Sorg. He said the Chinese aren't allowed to timber their own wood and have to import it. Seems to me I heard something like that somewhere else, so I believed him.

    I haven't had the easel a year yet, but find the hardware to be good. It hasn't broken or needed replacing, but then like I said it hasn't been a year. It IS used every day though.

    Quality is always a concern. A friend of mine buys cheap chinese canvases - because they are cheap. He knows the quality is bad - but they're cheap. Same with studio furniture out of any art supply catalogue. You get what you pay for.

    A point I'd like to make is that after talking with him, I believe Mr. Sorg genuinely cares about this easel and its quality. His name is on it. I don't know for sure, but if this easel were made in the US of american wood I'd bet it would cost four times what I paid for it, and at that price he wouldn't sell many.

    You make some good points. Mabef is a good company. My Jullian full-box is a Mabef. But a few years ago I had the opportunity to lay my Mabef next to a Jullian 25+ years old. My jaw dropped. This artist has painted all over the world with his old Jullian and now it's held together with some wire and duct-tape, yet he still paints on it. The quality comparison was such that I knew my Mabef full-box wouldn't have stood up the way his had - and it didn't.

    Unless money is no object, we all have to make cost compromises. For now...six months after purchase...I'm happy with the Sorg and the price I paid for it.

  6. It's unfortunate that Mr. Apps had the difficulties with his easel. He is correct in saying there was a problem with one of the knobs; those who purchased an easel from me always received a corrected version in advance until the factory was able to install them directly as they are now. Some of his other observations are more difficult to address. It appears to be both "a large chunk of timber", yet "flimsy and fragile". I'm sorry it didn't smell more like beech, and won't be able to fix that. As far as all the innuendo, I would guess that no easel could take care of that.

    Now in defense of Mr. Apps, keep in mind that he purchased his easel in England and his dealer probably charged him almost twice as much as U.S. buyers pay. So he may expect more. But any English reader should take him up on his offer of sale, for a few £'s in a knob and casters they'll have a very nice easel.

    As far as Chinese manufacture goes, I would rather they were made in the U.S., but when I last sold the ones I made myself, the price even back then was $1128 plus crating of $200 plus shipping, which averaged about $150 for a total of around $1,480, -today's price would be over $1700. But artists aren't known for their deep pockets, and hardly anyone wants to pay more than they have to, so making a good quality easel for a very fair price seems like the best answer for the most people.

    Hopefully his experience is the exception that proves the rule; out of many hundreds sold, most artists are at least happy with their purchase, if not delighted. I don't get rich on the easels, never expected I would. But I have gotten a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment getting a steady stream of compliments from a nice bunch of folks, and over half of the easels I sell these days go to artists who are getting one after seeing or using one in a friend's studio.

    Jeff, I hope you don't mind my responding to this post, please delete it if you feel that it's inappropriate.

    David Sorg

  7. Dear Mr Sorg, It was very nice to see that you responded personally to my post of the 4th March. I must make an apology first of all for my innuendo 'Smelling a Rat' not my best effort I understand and please be assured was not aimed at you, rather the preconceived ideal that most of what comes out of China today apart from cheap copies of our own artworks, rarely lasts very long. As was the case here.
    You mention a replacement head section and its screw clamp (Top canvas holder) You stated that you used to send out corrected versions, maybe you could do this one more time for me so that your easel might once again find good use in my studio.
    I will add this also, to redress the balance of disappointment, shipping and the good handling of heavy products arriving in good condition, is not just an issue with the Chinese/shipping companies. I will say that when the new Mabef arrived, still smarting from the disappointment of the Sorg easel, unpacking it, the very same component part, the head canvas clamp was smashed in two parts, so a second had to be ordered and sent from Italy, not without issue, it too was damaged by scratches all over it, by this time I had given up. I sanded out the scratches and started painting.
    So to that end I hope that my comments are less one sided. Though UK buyers will have to dig deeper than their US colleagues for the Sorg, I will also say that for my back pain whilst I used it, it worked wonders with its simple weighted device, and to that end Mr Sorg your easel design is a winner.
    I hope you do not mind my responding to you through this thread, regards Paul Apps

  8. Dear Paul, you should be able to obtain a replacement knob and nut from the customer service department of Jackson's, they have a supply of them. Otherwise, you, or anyone in the States for that matter, should be able to find something that will work in any woodworking supply store. In the U.S., I get them from Rockler's or Grainger's for about $1.25 David

  9. Nice post. The Art easel is great. I love it. Thanks for sharing

  10. I am looking for a good easel and am interested in the Sorg. I too have low ceilings (8') and like to stand when I paint. Will this be a problem? I paint landscapes, usually horizontal, but sometimes vertical. I didn't quite understand why you can't use the pulley system as intended.

  11. Jacki, the Sorg is fine for low ceilings though you'll probably have to cut off the top rails. The pulley system works fine. My comment was that when using it the tray with oms container can end up near my knees. If you have other questions I know Mr. Sorg would be pleased to answer them. Thanks for commenting. JP

  12. Hi everyone, I have a portable sketch easel from Utrecht, which is the one I think you are mentioning JP. I wonder if any of your pros can help me with how I fold it up, I know, its embarrassing. I unfolded it and had it in my back room (aka my very amateur studio) and have never walked with it anywhere and consequently cannot figure out how I fold it back into that lovely shape it came out of the first time. I hope this isn't too ridiculous a post but I am defeated by the puzzle!!
    Thanks, from Lucy


About Me

My photo
Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.