How to Construct a Large Easel for Making Murals

When we’re talking about murals, bigger is often better. But constructing and carving those murals is very labor intensive and even back breaking if you are kneeling on a cold, hard cement floor for several hours at a time.

It doesn’t have to be! In today’s post, an excerpt from the October 2013 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Barbara Stevens explains how to make a giant easel to get that clay up and in front of you. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Carol Urban, a Cloud County Community College alumni, designed an easel to hold a large quantity of wet bricks for carving. The easel has helped many of my students build large-scale murals in my brick carving workshops.


To build your own brick carving easel, start with individual easel stanchions (the upright legs for each side) cut and mark each board with the appropriate letter so there is no confusion.




On the Wall

Wall pieces are the perfect solution for those who enjoy sculpture but have no space; they fulfill the same function as a picture while being much more dynamic and three-dimensional. Current wall pieces vary enormously from simple tiled works to huge installations, and Dominique Segurado’s Wall Pieces looks at the huge variety of work being made, as well as all the problems, solutions and diverse approaches to this creative genre of clay.




BOARD A—BACK LEG: Cut one 6-ft-long straight board.


BOARD B—FRONT LEG: Make a 10° angle at the top (1), lay the square across the bottom of the two legs and mark the front leg at the same angle so it will sit flush with the floor (see 2). This is a two-person job; one to hold the top angle together and one to mark the front leg. Once you have measured and cut the first 10° angle, you can draw and cut out a template for this angle that will make the measuring much faster and just as accurate on the next three cuts (the other end of the first board and both ends of the other front legs). We used poster board for the template, but any heavy-weight paper would work.

BOARD C—BOTTOM CROSS BAR: Using the left over board from the 6-foot cut of the back leg, lay this board across the two legs (A & B) about 6 inches from the bottom of the legs and mark the front angle on the cross board to cut. This will be the brace for the bottom of the stanchion (2).


BOARD D—TOP CROSS BAR: Using scrap wood from the first cuts of legs, cut the cross beam for the top of the stanchion, marking the front angle from the front leg (3). A template can be cut after the first board D is measured and cut. Make sure you are marking each set of boards with the appropriate letter for easy assembly.


BOARD E—CENTER CROSS BAR: The middle cross beams will need to come out of a new board (you should get 2–3 from one board.) This beam will hold the easel box so it needs to extend past the legs the same width as the width of the bottom board of the box frame—so if you are using the 2×10-in. board for the bottom, then the middle cross beam needs to extend 10¾ inches past the leg (the ¾ inch is the thickness of the plywood). Measure 24 inches from the bottom back of the front leg and then mark a 90° angle using a square. Then line up the ruler on that line and extend it across the back leg and mark it. That is where the E cross beam will lay across the two legs to hold the brick easel frame (4–5).



Building the Upright Stanchions

Lay out one set of each of the boards using the template for the 10° angle to begin constructing the upright stanchions (6). Lay the cross beams on the appropriate marks, then drill two torque screws into each beam to attach it to each leg—use four screws per cross beam.


You will make four of these upright stanchions and on the fourth one, the cross beams will need to be on the inside of the leg. Reverse the layout of the A and B legs. C and D are attached as usual, but the E cross beam will need to have the 90° angle transferred to the opposite side of the board or it will lay at the wrong angle.


When all four upright stanchions are completed, prop them up against a wall, spacing the two outside legs at 8 feet
apart and the two inside legs approximately 30 inches apart. You will need another set of hands to help hold the boards up and keep the stanchions straight and in place. Screw a full 8-foot board across the front of the four legs, directly underneath the E cross beams (7). This will help support the easel frame when loaded with clay.


Structural Variation

Leave two inches extra length at the back of the cross beams, so you can just lay an 8-ft. board on top of the C beams and another across the D beams and another across the E beams and screw them into the back legs. Throughout the process, continue to make sure the legs remain square. The upright stanchions are now complete.


Building the Box Frame

Lay out the box frame components using one 8-ft. 2×6-in. board for the top, the 8-ft. 2×10-in. board for the bottom and cut the other 2×6-in. board so that together with the thickness of the top and bottom boards, you have 4 feet in height. You cannot just cut the 8-ft. board in half because the plywood backing board will be too small and will fall through the opening of the frame. Screw this framework together. Now lay the plywood on the floor and lay out the piece of heavy plastic so that it covers and overlaps the edges by several inches. Make the top several feet longer, as it will need to be pulled over the top of the frame and completely cover the front of the bricks or tiles when the easel is full. Do not skimp on the plastic. It is needed to keep your brick or tiles moist enough to carve over several work sessions. Staple this tightly to the plywood so there are no wrinkles.


Lay the plywood on top of the frame and use the L brackets, two to a side, to attach the plywood to the wood frame.


Assembling the Easel

Lift this whole box frame onto your stanchions and screw them together. You are now ready to fill the frame with bricks or tiles and begin carving (8). Remember to spray your brick or tile several times (misting only) while you are carving and to mist it before pulling the plastic down at the end of the day. Tip: If you are going to be away from your carving project for several days, use a thinner plastic to press right on top of the clay. When the bricks or tiles are misted, the thin plastic sticks directly to them. Then pull the heavy plastic down over the whole framework and the project will stay perfect for carving. When I pull the heavy plastic over the top of my brick-carving projects, I press it into the groove at the top of the brick and lay heavy metal yardsticks on it to keep it in place before dropping the rest of the plastic down. This keeps the top row of bricks from drying out.




For fabulous forming techniques, be sure to download your free copy of Five Great Handbuilding Techniques: Variations on Classic Techniques for Making Contemporary Handbuilt Pottery.



  • Michele S.

    Agreed! like keith said …. I agree, I am so excited to see this project inhancer! My back was not happy about the murial endeavours I have planned… now… well, I can’t wait to get it started.
    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!

  • keith b.

    Wow! Serendipiteously (new word required for new experience!) this article arrived at excatly the hour of my need. My students are keen to work on Clay Tile murals but we were going to work very small because of storage limitations. This looks great, I’ll try a few of these as they are and then I might adapt it to tilt like a quilting stand.

    I was stuck only doing little ones I could fit in a mist and loose bag on a board on a drying shelf before. This is so much better!

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