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I recommend purchasing a good portable easel, especially one that is light and easy to open. There are several styles available from very cheap to very expensive. Every artist has different needs and preferences. Knowing what each set-up offers can make the decision easier.
A French easel (also called an outdoor easel) is a complete painting environment made specifically for portability. It consists of a paint box with adjustable legs that stores paint and a wet palette, with a canvas holder for safely carrying two wet paintings. However, when loaded they can be a little heavy and awkward to manage. For this reason I prefer a half-box French Easel instead of a full box. The smaller version holds almost as much, but is significantly lighter and easier to handle.
In years past, I had to warn students to stay away from lesser brands and recommended only French easels made by Jullian. Although a bit more expensive, they were the sturdiest and most reliable. There are many new ones to chose from these days, but make sure all you check them over very carefully.
A half box easel should have a folding palette that is well built and lies flat when opened. Make sure that one side of the palette has “separators,” something that keeps the two halves from hitting when closed to keeps the remaining wet paint clean. If you purchase a full box easel, make sure the palette and the drawer closes efficiently and materials don’t fall out when it is carried.
If you purchase a new French easel, become familiar it. Open and close it a few times and become acquainted with how everything works. Damp weather causes wood to expand so don’t turn the screws too tight! Put Vaseline on the working metal fittings from time to time to keep the parts moving easily in any kind of weather. Carry a small pair of pliers in case something sticks. (It is also helpful with a stubborn paint tube!)
Practice packing your easel to make sure everything fits in. I can pack all of my paints and palette knife into my half box easel. There are lots of new gimmicks to make carrying mediums and other stuff light & compact. I use film canisters to carry medium such as linseed oil, driers and still have room to stuff in a lot of paper towel off the roll.
Some artists like to attach knapsack shoulder straps to their easels so they can keep their hands free while walking. You can attach a small canvas bag to the side which can hold additional tools, such as a brush-washing jar, sketch pad, etc.
If you do not want the expense of a French easel, aluminum easels are an inexpensive option. They are designed for portability, are easy to set up, but they are not as sturdy as they should be for painting outdoors. You may need to carry something extra, such as a table or shelf to lay a palette, brushes or turp can. That can really be a nuisance. In addition you will need a satchel to carry and store wet paintings, paints and other gear. With additional items, it may turn out that the cheaper product is not such a bargain.
I recently encouraged a student to try an "Anderson Easel" found at Jerrysartarama.com. It was light weight, sturdy and had similar qualities to a wooden french easel. At Jerry's, I have also found a 'half box' french easel, which weights much less than a full box which makes it easier to set up. Whatever you buy, keep the box until you have made sure everything works at home and all screws, etc are in tact.
Another option is the Soltek easel, which you can check out and purchase at its website at www.Soltekarts.com. It is extremely easy to set up and compact enough to be carried on a plane. I really like its convenience, but I find it to be a little heavy once it is filled with paints. But if you “weigh” the facts, its advantages are that it is portable, extremely simple to set up, and very, very sturdy. (Sorry for the pun!)
If you plan on painting very large canvases out of doors, many artists favor a heavy-duty wooden tripod called a “Gloucester easel.” It is excellent for holding really large canvases and is extremely sturdy and wind resistant. For pastelists, it easily holds a few trays of pastels. See it at www.takeiteasel.com. This easel is beautifully made, but it will require a separate carrying case for all of your supplies and wet paintings. This will add extra weight, especially when you are trekking through the dunes.
POCHADES AND TRIPODS
Last but not least are Pochades. These are small boxes designed to be contained painting stations. The lid of the box has slots to hold two panels for painting and carrying them safely. Pochades have a built in palette, which slides to access a drawer that holds supplies.
Pochades come in different sizes, which range from 5x8 to about 11x14. However, the size of your painting is limited to the size of the pochade.
Small pochades can be hand held so that you can paint while standing. You can paint holding a pochade of any size on your lap. As they get larger, they can be attached to a tripod. Buy a tripod that has a detachable clip in the headset that secures to the bottom of the pochade. Because it snaps into place on the tripod, it takes only seconds to set up instead of spending time having to screw the pochade into place.
An alternative to a pochade box is a PALETTE/PANEL holder from The Open Box M. Their website is www.openboxM.com. Open Box M makes a magnificent beautiful pochade, but you can order the palette and panel holder separately. It is very compact, lightweight, and it folds to protect the paint. I like its efficiency, but you will need an additional item to carry wet panels and the rest of your supplies. Their website offers a variety of items including carrying cases.
Other alternatives in the pochade line-up are made by Guerilla Painter, Easyl Lite, and The ArtAttack Painting system. You can find them at www.pochade.com and www.artworkessentials.com, and www.artworkessentials.com.
The last words is that there is not one set up that is good for everyone. All artists swear by their favorite equipment. What is most important is that you find a set-up that accommodates your needs and strength.
I do not get any remuneration by recommending any of these products, but please mention my name when ordering from the private manufacturers.
PAINTING TRIPODS AND QUICK RELEASE HEADS
There are hundreds of tripods and quick release heads available. I used to recommend a few, but now there are so many that it would take up pages. Look for a tripod that is lightweight (although you will pay for this), very sturdy, and depending on the size of your back pack or what you plan to use for transportation of your gear to a location, also check the length of the tripod when closed.
The quick release heads come with their own attachment for your pochade. Get one that rotates comfortably. Many good on line camera stores, such as Adarama .com, B&Hphotoandvideo.com have extensive lists of tripods and releases, in varied prices, with their specs.
Even if the sun doesn’t bother you, it is a good idea to have an umbrella to block the glare on your painting or palette. Art catalogs sell professional white artists umbrellas that attach to French easels. I use a cheap beach umbrella that can be easily adapted to my easel with bungee cords or clips. Avoid umbrellas that have overly bright colors because they influence colors in the painting. Light colors and patterns are fine.
A terrific new umbrella on the market is called ShadeBuddy. It has a wind resistant umbrella attached to an extension pole that easily sinks into the ground. Although it is too large to pack in a suitcase, this is the umbrella you want when you are painting near home. You can buy it from www.windriverarts.com.
Paper Towels - We are all concerned about ecology and don’t like using paper products unnecessarily. However, no matter how hard I have tried, I find that rags do not absorb oil paint adequately. Within minutes into a painting, the cloth is saturated and my hands are covered with paint! I use Viva paper towels and no, I don’t have stock in the company! They are however, the only really good paper towel to use because they are really absorbent. I end up using much less of them than any other cheaper towel which helps alleviate my guilt about using them!
Litter - I save plastic bags from the A&P or small brown paper bags for my used paper towels. They can easily be tucked into a pocket or my easel, allowing me to leave the location as clean as I found it.
Mirror - A hand mirror is useful for giving you a new point of view of your painting. When we work, our eyes get used to the painted image, and it is hard to see areas or colors that need adjustment. By looking at your painting in reverse, you see in with a fresh perspective and can make necessary changes before it is too late.
The Sun - Sun screen or lotion is a must if you’re not used to working outdoors. Even if you are, the sun on Cape Cod in the summer can be more intense than in other parts of the country. Try to avoid wearing sunglasses when you paint unless they are a neutral gray. If you work with even slightly colored glasses, the only way a viewer can objectively look at your painting is by wearing the same glasses. A broad brimmed hat or a sun visor is a better solution and is an absolute must when painting outdoors.
Bugs - Insect repellent can prevent a lot of annoyance!
Notepad - I do demonstrations and offer a great deal of information during the workshop. Please feel free to bring notepads for note-taking, and cameras if you wish to photograph the demos.
Painting Clothes - When deciding what to wear, avoid bright colored shirts, jackets and sweaters. They reflect into your wet painting, (especially on sunny days) and can make accurate color mixing difficult. Gray or neutral colors minimize this problem. And once again, don’t forget a hat or sun-visor!
Air travel prohibits the taking of turpentine onto a plane (the small amount in a medium is OK) If you plan on doing some painting on your own, and need turpentine for your brushes, you can buy a can when you get to Provincetown . I provide the workshop with paint thinner in order to clean palettes and knives, (and sometimes ourselves!) at the end of the day.
Cobalt drier sometimes can be a problem because the ingredients listed on the label look suspicious and the security people might not let it through. There are a couple of solutions. The first is to tape a label over the ingredients and write something like Painting Medium on it. The other is to get an empty bottle of a familiar substance like Robitussin, fill the bottle with drier and include it with your shampoo and toothpaste. Metal objects such as pliers also make security people nervous, so you may want to put items like these in your check-in luggage rather than carry them through security in your paint box.
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