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Outdoor Art Materials

I was just reading the comments in James Gourney's nice writeup for the Fellowship and realized I learned a lot about materials for outdoor painting during the trip and I thought I'd share.

Outdoor easel setup
Just about everyone was using a paint box palette mounted to a photographer's tripod for their plein air setup. (Some people preferred a light metal easel to mount their canvas and then held their palette in their hand, but there's so much to do with the non-painting hand outdoors - like swat mosquitoes - that I prefer a mounted palette).

Guerrilla Pochade Box
I started out with my 9"x12" Guerrilla box which has served me well on previous neighborhood plein air sketching but I quickly found it is too heavy and boxy for anything beyond a 10-minute hike. Considering I was climbing steep slippery rock steps most days to my waterfall site, I was really wishing for a lighter option. The plus side of the Guerrilla box is that it is extremely functional and sturdy and has tons of room for storing things. And its very cute boxy proportions draw lots of compliments. Emily Lee had the even cuter 6"x8" version and she was really happy with it, but you can see she sometimes had to use a handheld palette because the paint-mixing area is tiny.

Alla Prima Pochade
Everyone oohed and aahed over this nifty, well-designed box when it was shipped to Fellow Dorain Iten. The components are held together with magnets and the nice wood and beautiful design is eyecatching. He really liked using it, especially for the magnet that holds your palette knife while you work. The full version has awesome drawers and there is a "light" option that has separate storage compartments that attach with magnets, but even the light option still seemed a bit heavy for me.

Open Box M
Our instructors all used the "M" and after deliberating quite a while this is the option I decided to upgrade to. It's very expensive, but they offer a less expensive "kit" that includes a shoulder bag instead of the outer wooden box. However, I've personally found it very annoying to hike with a shoulder bag flopping over my arm. A backpack is the way to go.

After spending quite a bit of time on the site I finally figured out you can buy the palette/panel holder separately from everything else. I decided to order that alone, at 9"x10" and $195, and if I really feel the need I'll buy the wet panel carrier box separately later. Those two options even separately are less expensive than the kit that includes the shoulder bag - and much less expensive than the whole set which includes a wooden outer box. In the meantime, I'll use these lightweight "cocoon" wet panel carriers.

UPDATE: Lines and Colors posted a complete and detailed review of all the pochade box options available, be sure to check it out before you invest in one! It seems that Charley Parker went with the Alla Prima Pochade, it certainly looks like an amazing box. I'll come back and post and update later about how I like working with the Open Box M.

UPDATE 2: HRF Fellow Peter Sakievich posted a photo and description of his Open Box M setup on his blog.

Julian Umbrella
We all were jealous of Nick Hiltner's huge white umbrella that shielded him from rain, sun, and even more importantly... curious passersby! Several of us ended up ordering them and having them delivered directly to our location in the Catskills. Nick warned us that every part of the umbrella breaks often, but there really are no other options for white artist umbrellas we could find, and he said the manufacturer is willing to replace broken parts. Sure thing, the clamp contact has popped off, the umbrella has detached from the clamp (both luckily fixable on the spot) and after a week 3 spines had detached from the nylon. I reinforced every spine connection with duct tape so mine is not so pretty any more. All that said, it is a fantastic umbrella - it kept me dry even during one epic 3.5 hour downpour painting session. The white material casts perfect, diffused lighting on my canvas under all light conditions. And the most important feature... only the most brave passersby dare peek under the huge umbrella.


Camp Chair
I started out with the tiniest, lightest, overpriced at $20, 3-legged camp stool from REI, and in about 30 minutes realized it is miserable to sit on and has a bad habit of tipping. I "upgraded" to a folding, armless camp chair for $13 at the local hardware store. But I and everyone else who bought that one found that the seat and/or back canvas tore from the supports after a couple weeks of all-day painting sessions. The most hardcore of our group were lugging around full camp chairs with armrests which seemed like overkill to me, till I saw how nicely their umbrellas clamped to the arms, and how their turp jars nestled in the mesh cup-holders! So I might be upgrading to a fancy camp chair.

Painting Panels
I have been using wooden Art Boards in my studio and Gessoboard panels outside for a couple years now, but recently I'm finding I prefer a fine grade oil primed linen surface for outdoor painting (indoors I'll still use smooth wood for the most detail). I tried these:

Art Board oil primed linen 9"x12": $17.89
I liked the silky fine surface of these panels, but I found the damp conditions I was painting in made the panels warp forwards slightly. They will be fine once framed, but the warping was annoying on a multi-day painting.

Utrecht Master's oil primed linen 9"x12": $9.99
This panel is ok quality for a cheap price, and it's probably perfect for single-session plein air artists who like texture and thick paint. However, for multi-session painting with thin paint and more detail, this canvas has way too much texture.

New Traditions oil primed linen with gaterfoam 9"x 12": $10.17
Our instructors were using New Traditions and although I have not used them yet (just ordered my first batch) I was sold on their texture, lightweight archival gaterfoam core, and non-warping properties. And the price is right! You can choose different support materials and different finishes, but the portrait grade lead oil primed linen was my choice.

I borrowed Dorians' tripod briefly but I loved it and hope to buy my own. The grip to move the ball head in any direction was easy and smooth and the tripod was really sturdy and even a tiny bit lighter than mine. It's the Manfrotto 190XPROB and Horizontal Grip Action Ball Head. It's expensive though, I might be waiting quite a while before I upgrade to this. There are much cheaper and lightweight tripods, and as with all things plein air the choice is between something durable/heavyweight versus something lightweight/flimsy.


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Reader Comments (9)

That is some good info. I have been wanting to make a better experience of painting outdoors.
On another subject...
I have recently taken on the task of color charts. Any advice?
BTW thanks for the info on the Hudson River School application.

August 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGregory Becker

I haven't painted any color charts since undergrad at RISD, but I've recently been thinking about doing it. Richard Schmidt describes in detail a good process in his book "Alla Prima", you can get the book on his website. And if you want to go hardcore, there is always Munsell!!

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

You might want to check out the zippered carriers they have for their wet panel carriers. That's what I used and have found it nice and lightweight. There are plastic walls on the interior and depending on the size, you can fit it in your backpack with your easel.

I'm not sure where my umbrella came from. It was part of a painting kit I received a long long time ago. It's nice because it has different attachments and it seemed to have held up better than the other ones. The clamps are metal.

man...I miss the fellowship already.

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSakievich

I should've added to my post as well, that I typically leave the painting clipped in the easel until I get home, unless I do more than one painting, I don't normally need the wet panel carrier as long as it's firmly in the grips and there's no big globs of paint near where the painting folds down to, then I've never had any problems carrying it that way

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSakievich

That's all about the Open Box M, right Peter? Good to know the palette can fold down with the painting still mounted, I was wondering!

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

Sakievich I just added the link to your post about your Open Box M setup.

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSadie J. Valeri

I don't use an umbrella myself.
Personally if it's raining that hard I'll paint from my car or sketch. If I'm in the woods in the summer, chances are a rain storm is part of a thunder storm which means lighting which don't go well with umbrellas.

I have deep sea fishing hat which is great as it has a long visor and a flap in the back to keep the sun and bugs off your neck. A large straw life guard hat would be my second choice.

I was thinking that a golf umbrella might be better made then the Julian. They come in a lot of sizes and some have vents so they preform better in the wind. If I was going too get one I would look for one of these to see if they can be adapted for outdoor painting.

By the way I really think if your going to use an umbrella you should not attach them too the easel and especially the Pochade boxes as they are top heavy and prone to blowing over even in a light wind.

One other company people might want to check out is Art Work Essentials how make the EASyL which is light weight and well made.

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjeff f

I forgot the other cool thing about the EASyL is that it has a panel carrier built in on the back.
It can hold two panels and is adjustable for different sizes.

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjeff f

Awesome! I really wanted to buy the Alla Prima, its beautiful, but I opted to make my own instead to accommodate 12x16 panels. Plus I wanted the headache of assuming that I have carpentry skills. Ive done quite a few modifications, and it weights in at just under 3 kilos empty. Some of you guys might find it will give you ideas for functionality for your own boxes. I posted some info on my blog.

Last summer I used the half box, but man, I really started to hate that thing towards the end. It took up way to much real estate, people kept tripping over the front leg, and I could never figure out how to assemble it without looking like a complete prat...

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim
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