I designed a portable easel out of two pieces of luan (1/8" to 1/4" plywood). I originally intended to sell them, but decided I didn't really enjoy making them in production levels. The time vs. cost factor didn't really pan out.
Either way, this is a design that might make an artist loved one happy. It is fairly quick and easy and has a bit of style to it, I think.
I added some molding at the bottom to act as a sort of pencil or brush holder. Just some metal rings to hold the two pieces of wood together and a SWEEEEET woodburning on the front with my name--feel free to put someone else's name on yours!
What you don't see in the photos is a leather strap with a small dowel at the end that fits into two notches--one for holding the two sides of the wood from splaying apart when it's in easel mode, and another for when you want to keep it closed for carrying it.