Friday, 22 January 2010

En plein air

En plein air or outdoor painting is a subject of some disagreement. Some like to do it and some don't, much like the controversy often raised  about painting from photographs. I love painting outdoors and get a real buzz, but the UK weather often frustrates this ambition. The Gloucestershire painter Judi Whitton promotes painting outdoors and does so even in inclement weather.  Judi's reply, when asked what happens if it's raining, was "you paint from the car". The stunned look on some students faces was a sight to behold! The sight of three ladies from my local art group painting from inside a small car, on one of Judi's Cornish courses, caused considerable amusement but they did it! The subject was a derelict former lead mine and some decent paintings emerged.

Actually this post is about equipment, or rather my equipment, arrived at after several years of trying different things, much now redundant. I am one of those people who like to have maximum options and just having a small 6" x 6" sketchbook and a pencil doesn't appeal. I do have various sized sketchbooks and all sorts of drawing tools but I like, and I realise it isn't always possible, to go the whole hog! This overkill does cause problems unless you have everything in the boot and can get the car very close to where you plan to paint. This isn't always or often possible so portability becomes a priority. Travelling abroad creates  a much bigger problem.

Where am I currently  after years of sometimes lugging director seats, metal easels, and the whole paraphalia of paper, paints, water and other sundries like brushes and brush cases? My essentials are:

  • A Portable easel
  • A lightweight chair or stool
  • A decent sized block - I prefer "16 x 12" Not
  • A variety of pocket brushes
  • Two or three propelling pencils, 0.5 and 0.7 
  • A small water pot(s)
  • A large bottle of water
  • A palette with either half pans or pre-filled with tube paints.  
  • An eraser
  • A spray bottle and penknife
  • A large lightweight back pack deep enough to take the above.
  • A painting umbrella (optional) Too large for backpack.

The easel I've settled on is one I saw in Spain in 2009 when on a Charles Reid course organized by Angela Barbi of EPC Art Courses    This easel was in use by several of the students. I was offered one prior to going but foolishly opted to take my own. As we were obliged to travel by Ryannair this was a problem. Don Glynn, a professional painter who lives in Scarborough, is involved with EPC and makes them. It isn't a commercial operation, basically small scale - just Don in other words - and I ordered one. The easel costs around £90 with carriage and consists of three parts. The main parts are a lightweight photographic tripod and a metal piece, with two adjustable brackets, three and a half inches wide and nineteen and a half inches long. It slots into the holder on the top of the easel, not the screw in type, and holds either your block or painting board. The final piece is a wooden shelf  with two largish circular holes for a drinking cup type of water container, which fits over the front legs. The whole thing weighs very little, can be lifted by one finger, and assembled and dismantled in a flash. I gave the unpainted shelf  several coats of clear varnish. It is basic but it works and does impress fellow painters when they see it in action. `The Artist' magazine, Feb 2010 issue, has a supplement `Art Courses and Holidays 2010' , with an article by Peter Robson in which he mentions the easel. He calls it an `Alvaro Castagnet easel' and gives Don's details. This  description is new to me and I assume it is the same one. The easel is not cheap at around £90 including carriage, but does the job if you want a really lightweight, ultra portable one. Don, a great character who in early 2009 did a spell in Helmand province as official war artist to the British troops, can be contacted  at .

What's next? Ah yes  - brushes. I have a selection of travel/pocket brushes made by Rosemary & Co Escoda and one from Isabey. Cheaper options are available from Pro Arte but fewer sizes. There are also very expensive brushes made by Da Vinci. Escoda, Da Vinci and two Isabey travel brushes are available from Jacksons . Sizes I carry are  6, 8, 10, 12 plus a Rosemary R5 rigger.

My travelling palette(s) include a Craig Young Sketcher Box, e-mail , with 16 half pan or tube wells. Mine is for tube paints - possibly a mistake. This is hand-made from brass and very expensive but will last forever. I noticed Judi Whitton had a version with twenty wells which was specially made for her. Craig is receptive to special requests. My other travelling palette is a cheap metal one filled with half pans. These are sold by most art dealers as empty palettes in a variety of sizes.

Finally, as this is becoming rather long, my backpack is an NP Highpoint bought from the high street retailer Millets. I wanted one that could accomodate all the above and it does. I found most smaller backpacks inadequate and the very large ones tend to have a series of smaller separate pockets and lots of padding, as well as being expensive. This was cheap, light and basic, with just two extra side pockets. It works! Loaded with all the above it is fairly hefty and not for everyone. I'm happy with it though and I'm not a big person.

I haven't described the Swedish Walkstool which I think is worth a separate piece. There is also the issue of half pans or tube paints which I will turn to later. Neither have I mentioned my alternative easel system which is the Charles Reid one. I like that a lot and will describe it at a future date.


Anonymous said...

`Alvaro Castagnet easel'

Where I can buy this model of easel, please.

Peter Ward said...

This reply is rather late as I've just picked up the question. The answer is Don Glynn- see the e-mail address above - who lives in Scarborough UK.

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