170: Mini Cat Easel

Lately I’ve been following Little Free Galleries on Instagram, thinking how cool it would be to have one close by! Free little art galleries work on the same principle as free little libraries do; you can take a piece of art and leave a piece of art for all to enjoy. In the beginning of June, a mini gallery in Seattle posted an image of their newest easel, a weasel easel! I laughed, scrolled on, but that silly thing just stuck in a strange corner of my brain. And when a friend told me her daughter wanted to be a museum curator and had her own mini gallery of cat art, it all came together. I needed to make her a cat easel.

Store bought mini easel on left, finished cat easel in middle, and my hand cut chip board prototype on the right.
One of my favorite bits – little toe beans holding up the art!

A simple easel is usually made up of two front legs, a rear leg, and then a horizontal platform to act as a ledge to rest the art on. I have made stands in the past that I designed with only two parts – a front face with a single platform / low rear leg that easily is pulled apart and packs flat (great for traveling craft show displays!) While functional, the cat easel needed three parts – what’s a cat without a tail? But I still wanted to try the “flat pack” idea, so these stands could be easily packed away if needed.

The final design’s three pieces were the body (the front of the easel), paws (the horizontal platform for the art) and the tail (the rear leg.) One unique element to this design for us is the T-shaped connection point. Here I was able to slot in two pieces, the vertical (tail) and the horizontal (platform) with no wasted cut space. The horizontal piece slides into the space I needed to get the vertical join in, and locks it into place, making a sturdy connection.

Another important design feature is that the horizontal art platform extends through the body and slots into the tail. By slotting into the tail, it keeps the platform from wiggling up and down like a lever. On the first prototype we neglected to put a corresponding slot on the tail for it to nest into, which caused the platform to dump the art off as soon as you put it on!

Without the slot in the tail to hold the platform, any weight made the back pop up, and sent art tumbling.

One aesthetic design challenge I had was that I didn’t want the rear leg / tail to attach at the top like traditional easels. I wanted to make sure the cat face was unmarred. I also didn’t want to make a slot in the neck to connect it – I just wasn’t keen on the idea of a hole and bump at the top of the art. So I decided to hook the tail in at the bottom of the piece, under the brace for the platform. I think works visually, but that does mean the top of the tail is not connected at all. Because we only used 1/8″ thick wood, it can wiggle back and forth at the neck. I think the easel works fine if you aren’t planning on moving it around too much. If you need the extra security and don’t want to disassemble it, a little spot of glue would keep the top of the tail place in nicely as well.

One thing we did that was a little trial and error was getting the lean of the easel right – otherwise your art can easily pop off! In the end, we settled on a 12 degree lean. Lasers cut flat pieces, and flat pieces little to join together at right angles. Even though we cut the tail at and angle to promote a lean, it wasn’t until we angled the connection point from the body to the tail did it really work. We also lengthened the legs on the body to give the last bit of height we needed for a good angle. I’m sure a good mathematician and / or engineer could have figured out that from the get-go, but this is why I love prototypes!

I wanted to easel to accommodate different sizes of art, but I think if I knew the art was only going to be 2×2 (which is roughly the sizes of the pieces in the photographs), I would shortened the body. I like the idea of the cat peeking out over the top, with his little paws peeking out under the art. Right now, though, I can put pieces up to 2.5 inches on it easily. (And yes, if you are curious, I did create the “Cat Art Pop Art” meows; they are watercolors we laser cut). Maybe someday I’ll create a little free art gallery of my own. If I do, you know there will be fun easels!


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