How can I create a DIY plein air easel ?

In terms of working en plein air, I’m definitely at the embryo stage.  I’ve only made one painting outside before.  But it’s summer, and I want to get outside and make paintings !

My one and only painting was made using a pochade box, which was balanced on a table, with me sitting.  Pochade boxes have a drawer for paints, a top level for a palette and a hinged lid to hold one or more wet paintings.  So far so good.  But I want to stand; “fencing stance” it’s called.  And I’d like to paint sight size, so the painting surface needs to be near my eye level, not down at table height.

Soon I will be going on a painting trip, to paint exclusively outside for a few days.  So I need a solution sorted out. 

What is required ?

To successfully paint outdoors, one needs to carry (in the rucksack) :

Surface – held independently on a support,

Paints, on a palette – ideally held for you on a support,

Brushes – these could be held in the hand, though some pochade boxes have space for these.  I normally hold both my brushes and palette when painting so I think I can manage with this.

Also other miscellaneous essentials of course, like solvents/mediums, rags/loo/kitchen roll, rubbish bag, bottle of drinking water, stool to sit on when you’re resting!

Also, a “wet panel carrier” of some sort to transport your work home afterwards without smudging the paint and getting the car messy – that will have to be another blog post !

Commercially available options

I read reviews, and looked at some of the easel options available on the market.  All of these require a separate tripod to take the weight of the equipment and keep it steady.

Edge Pro Paintbook

https://www.edgeprogear.com/paintbook

This laptop-lookalike is so lovely it would be hard to use it I think !  It is mostly magnetic which means even a turp jar can be safely anchored against winds.

New Wave u.go Plein Air

https://newwaveart.com/collections/u-go-plein-air-anywhere-pochade-boxes

This is mostly wooden and is gorgeous too.  I’m sure I’d find it hard to keep it looking pristine.

Strada

https://www.stradaeasel.com/collections/strada-easels

This looks more rugged – metallic rather than wood. Very nice.

Prolific Painter’s DayTripper

https://www.prolificpainter.com/

This one I like the best as you can separate the palette from the painting surface. The palette does not sit on the tripod top, rather it hangs in front of the tripod legs. So when standing and looking directly at the painting, the palette is not under your chin! Also I think the fact that the whole weight of it is not going straight into the tripod could mean less wobbling.

However…like most of these, this manufacturer is in the USA, and the Postage and Packing charge is eyewatering on an already somewhat pricey item.

So in the meantime, I thought I could put something together by good old DIY, at least to practice with !

Painting Support

I do have a tripod but alone it does not stand high enough and has nowhere to attach the painting surface.  But I do have a lightweight black metal easel.  It’s a Winsor and Newton Watercolour easel (‘Bristol’ I think).

The trouble is a) it slants at the top – you can’t get it perfectly upright, and b) the grips for the painting support do not close together enough to hold small paintings.  The last thing I want is to have a huge board there, liable to blow over in the wind. 

The slanting I will have to put up with for now.  My small painting board I will support at the top using the top bracket, securing it underneath with some multipurpose clips I have.

Palette

One of my favourite painters, Marc Dalessio, suggests a cigar box for this.  Apparently, he used to use them in Florence.  Now I don’t smoke myself but I know someone who used to – my Dad – so that was easy.

I lined it with a piece of grey palette paper, secured with blue tac in the corners.  At the end of the session, I can dispose of it easily, rather than trying to clean out the cigar box, which could be very hard to do, and messy.  Also I like to mix on a neutral grey surface.  I also used a bottle top upside down to hold a tiny amount of Liquin (Winsor and Newton) – useful en plein air as it dries fast.

I secured it against the lower bracket of the easel with a piece of elastic and a strip of black Velcro which I found in my sewing stash.  The palette sloped precariously downward, but I thought this would be good outside as it would avoid glare and its aspect would also be closer to the picture plane (so better for colour and value mixing).

So, here is the whole set-up.  I tried out a very rough sketch on a 7 x 5” panel with a “chromatic” palette of just two reds, three yellows, two blues and white.

On a windier day, I’d be looking to hang a rucksack underneath to stabilise the whole structure, using a caribiner or something similar.

What is your favourite plein air set up ?  Please let me have your comments.

Thanks for reading !

Sara

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