JULY 2014: UPDATES TO THIS ARTICLE APPEAR
AS BLUE TEXT IN THIS POST...
Disclaimer: Bryan and I are painting friends. While I am happy to talk about the Strada I want to state I have no connection to the easel. (Aside from being offered one to try out.) I have been using with the Strada for almost four weeks now and believe I can discuss the pros and cons of it in a fair and objective way.
There are essentially three kinds of plein air easels in production today: the classic wooden French easel which originated during the mid-19th century, and its modern day counterpart, the Soltek; the Gloucester easel, which became de rigueur for seascape painters on the East Coast during the early 20th century; and the relatively new lightweight pochade box that can be attached to a tripod. The Strada falls into the pochade box category, which includes the Open Box M, the Easy-L, the Alla Prima Pochade Box, and the Guerrilla Box. (I have painted with all of these easels at some point but currently use the Open Box M.)
UPDATE: A second generation design revision to the Strada offers a shallow bottom rail and it holds a standard plein air painting panel without impeding your brush. Plus, the addition of a small clip at to the top of the T-bar holds a panel tightly along the top edge without casting any shadow across your painting. The second generation Stradas now ship with both improvements and I find they work well in the field.
UPDATE: Due to a manufacturing change it is no longer necessary to bend the T-Bar.Bryan has reduced every elements of the Strada down to its simplest form possible and many elements serve multiple functions. For example, the sliding T-bar not only works as a latch to hold the easel shut it also serves as the top rail to hold your painting while you work. And when the easel is closed the top and bottom rails hold the plexiglass palette in place as you carry it around. So packing up and moving to a new location is easy. Just shut the lid and go.
UPDATE: Since the second generation Stradas now ship with a new bottom panel rail there is no ledge to interfere with you painting along the edge. After retro-fitting mine, I have no need or desire to grind the original rail at all. Upgrading is easy. You just swap out the old rail for the new one and I have kept the old rail in case I ever go back to painting on a small canvas because it can accommodate a 3/4 to one inch stretcher bar.The mixing area and palette:
Pros: Fast and simple to set up and tear down. A trim form that provides a generous mixing area for the size. Solid build quality. Feels good to use. When closed, reduces air flow into the mixing area, which is good because it slows the drying of paint left on the palette. Ideal for rough travel.
UPDATE: Again, the second generation Strada has done away with my concern about using panel supports. The new design (and the retro-fit parts available for the first generation) now holds a medium sized panel securely and does not interfere with edges in a significant way. With regards to my original concerns about mixing on a plexiglass surface, I have found that doing so hasn't turned out to be a problem after all. While I might prefer to mix on glass and use a metal razor blade to quickly clear away areas for fresh color, I've also found that wiping the Strada palette clean while I paint is not an issue either. And it is nice to not worry about breakage when slamming your gear around. As it turns out, if you are worried about scratching the Strada palette Amazon sells plastic 'razor' blades in 100 count packs for about $9.00. (About nine cents each.) While I haven't used them myself I plan to order a pack the next time I make a purchase on Amazon to see if they do actually perform better than a palette knife. But I suspect they won't and will likely stick to loading as few tools in my kit as possible. In any case, I have found that mixing and cleaning on the Strada plexiglass palette not to be an issue. Certainly not a deal-breaker for me. Please let me know if you feel otherwise.
If you own a first generation Strada and like to paint on panels then you should contact Bryan Mark Taylor to get his new bottom rail and top clip and switch out the ones you have. They really are a vast improvement. For those looking to buy a new Strada, his second generation easels are now manufactured with his improved panel system in place. Bryan's drive to produce ongoing innovative and functional improvements are a testiment to his desire to make the best clamshell easel ever. Within one year all of my concerns were addressed in an elegant and simple way and I can now enthusiastically endorse the Strada (and Bryan's new Strada mini) as excellent options for the outdoor painter!
Price: $299, as of April 2013 (Strada mini: $245)
A couple of Youtube videos that demonstrate the Strada can be found here: