Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's Plein Air Season! Looking for an Easel?

Recently I have received many questions regarding supplies and gear for painting en plein air.  Your first big investment will be a portable easel. I'm not talking about one of those little three-legged jobs that can barely hold a display poster. I mean a "big girl (or big boy)" easel or "pochade" panel/palette box with tripod that can withstand at least a little wind and many years of use.

The difference between an easel and a pochade box or panel/palette box is basically this... an easel is a stand-alone thing based similar to equipment you might find in your studio but typically smaller, collapsible, and portable.  A pochade is a panel holder and palette in one that needs some sort of additional support for its "legs" (such as a tripod with camera quick-release plate). The top "lid" portion holds your panel while the hinged lower section is used as your palette.

Rather than show images of all of these here, I am including some links to a few examples. If for any reason these links do not work, just do a search online and I'm sure you will find them. The standard French easel and it's little sister the smaller half-French easelSoltek; Anderson Swivel easel; Guerilla Box; Artwork Essential's EasyL; Open BoxM; Coulter Plein Air System; *Beauport Large Format Easel; The Stonefield Easel; the Alla Prima Pochade; and many, many more! There are even websites with building plans so that you can make your own. With so many choices, it can be totally overwhelming.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering which easel to purchase:
  1. Will I be walking more than a few feet with my easel and plein air gear?
    This is important to know because the weight of all of your supplies adds up really quickly. Think about carrying a big wooded box (like the French easel), paints, mineral spirits, brushes, sun screen, water, painting panels, extra mediums, your camera, a sketch pad, snacks... you get the idea. Unless you plan on painting within a few yards of your car, pay particular attention to the overall weight of the easel or pochade box.
    (Note: As long as I'm talking about French easels here, if you DO prefer this style, consider a Soltek instead. Wooden easels are sometimes prone to swell in humid environments making them difficult to close when you break down at the end of the day.)
  2. Will I be traveling by air to painting destinations?
    If so, everything will need to fit into a suit case for air travel. That is different than just throwing it into your back seat and trunk! Think about the outside dimensions and consider how many other things you may need to do without in order to pack a large easel. If you choose a pochade, you will also want to make sure that the tripod collapses short enough to fit as well.
  3. Will I paint larger than a 9x12 or 12x16?
    This one is super important because there are painting size limitations to each of these easels. If you are pretty sure you will never paint large, however, there is no reason to super size your order. If you see yourself tackling enough canvas to sail a boat, take a look at the Beauport.
  4. Are you a backpack person or a roll-cart person?
    Keep in mind that you cannot roll everywhere. Think of your roll-cart the same way you do a piece of luggage. While it may be easier on your back, you will find some painting locations will not work for you. But if backpacks or satchels are not your style, you may want to look into a Fold Away Cart, Rolling Plein air Packer, or even this combo roll-cart-chair called the ArtComber.
  5. What is your budget?
    Notice this is not the first question because, although cost has to be considered, it is not the most important answer. A good easel will cost a good penny. The great news it it should last you a life time. So rather than buying several cheap versions that fall apart quickly, go ahead and bite the bullet and put a little extra money into your easel.
What do I use and why?
Although I have tried many of these or friends of mine have them, it seems I always come back to my Open Box M. I have two different sizes. The smaller one works well if I know I am flying with limited packing space. I can still paint up to 16" wide on it so really, I'm not sure why I have a larger one except that I bought the larger one first.  The larger one is called a 10x12 and will accommodate panels up to 18" wide. The palette/mixing area is 10"x12" (hence the name). Just for the luxury of the extra mixing space, I use the 10x12 most of the time. 

The Open BoxM is light weight and it fits into my back pack with all of my other gear stuffed around it. After I attach the palette/panel holder to my camera quick release plate on my tripod, I can tilt the palette at an angle (see image below). Also see that the palette (bottom portion) is not very deep. I much prefer both of these attributes as opposed to paining on a horizontal surface or into a deep-lipped lid like some other brands have. Tilting the palette helps me keep the sun off of my mixing area (which tends to mess up the accuracy of my values). Unlike the Soltek, Anderson, Beauport, Coulter Plein Air or Stonefield, there is no open space between the panel holder and the palette so no extraneous light seeps through (again... messing with my values and color mixing ability). 
So, that's a lot to chew on and you need to know that for every product out there you will find an artist who loves it and and one who hates it. I realize that isn't much help, but my opinion is all I can offer. 

If I could add an additional easel to my collection, it would be one that would allow me to paint slightly larger. Maybe I'll get one of those when I grow up.


*Since this post, I have had a prototype of a new type of paintbox made. More on that as it develops.  Also, I have been been contacted by someone who would like to submit the following for your consideration... Thank you Tobin!

Please consider posting a link to my website, www.takeiteasel.com (maybe even replace your Beauport link with a link to my site!) I build the Take It Easel, after which the Beauport was terribly ripped-off/copied overseas! please take a minute to check out our site!

Happy Painting!

Tobin Nadeau
Owner, Builder, Take It Easel
802-999-7123
tobin@takeiteasel.com

 

    9 comments:

    Linda Nickles said...

    This is so helpful for us "newbie" plein air painters. Thank you for taking the time to share . . . great post!

    Debbie Denstorff said...

    Fantastic write up! I have the open box m and just love it! I have been using it for several years now and I agree it is light and easy to carry. I'm curious, type of backpack do you have that it fits in. I have a messenger type bag, would much rather have a backpack that it would fit in, but haven't seemed to find one. Thank you for just a wonderful post.

    Debbie Denstorff said...

    Fantastic write up! I have the open box m and just love it! I have been using it for several years now and I agree it is light and easy to carry. I'm curious, type of backpack do you have that it fits in. I have a messenger type bag, would much rather have a backpack that it would fit in, but haven't seemed to find one. Thank you for just a wonderful post.

    Lori Putnam said...

    Thanks Linda.
    Debbie, Either of my sizes (the 10x12 or the 8x10) fits into my small backpack. It is one of those that is only about 21" or 22" tall I think. I can put the OpenBox, a roll of paper towels, my brush holder, and paints inside. My OMS can and a water bottle fit in a side mesh "water bottle" pocket. The other side mesh pocket holds incidentals and a front pocket holds my sunscreen, bug spray, sketch book, view catcher, and a small camera. In a pinch, I can even get one "Panel-roo" (which holds two panels) if it is a 9x12 or less INSIDE with the OpenBox. If I am painting larger than 9x12, I have to carry an additional canvas tote bag. The strap on my backpack has a loop. I loop a carabiner that is attached to my tripod via the goodie pouch loop. I'll do a post in the next few days and show pics of all of this. It's a little hard to explain without the visual.

    Carole Abla said...

    Lori,
    I too have a 10 x 12 OBM.... and have difficulty finding a backpack to fit it in.... and has been sitting in my studio since I purchased it. I hate the bag it was shipped with! please tell us more about your backpack... (brand??? )

    Lori Putnam said...

    Sorry I have been so slow to get a new post regarding this. Seems my gear is either flying or shipping one way and I'm driving the other. My backpack is a pretty standard size Eddie Bauer plain 'ol backpack. As soon as I get my gear unpacked from California tomorrow, I'll take some pics of how it all loads up. Thanks for your patience!

    Lori Putnam said...

    Ok folks... new post regarding how it all fits in my backpack! http://loriputnampaints.blogspot.com/2011/06/gear-up-sequel.html

    Easeler said...

    Hi Lori,

    Please consider posting a link to my website, www.takeiteasel.com (maybe even replace your Beauport link with a link to my site!) I build the Take It Easel, after which the Beauport was terribly ripped-off/copied overseas! please take a minute to check out our site!

    Happy Painting!

    Tobin Nadeau
    Owner, Builder, Take It Easel
    802-999-7123
    tobin@takeiteasel.com

    Lori Putnam said...

    Hi Tobin, Thank you for sending the link to your easel. It looks wonderful. As time goes by, I change my equipment likes and dislikes quite often and I think a lot of us do. We see someone in the field and try their gear and decide to add one to our gear. I have often thought of buying a Beauport. Now that I know yours is the AUTHENTIC one, I'll be sure to put it on my want list instead.