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Thursday, June 28, 2018

An easel solution to an oversize problem

I saw a great retrofit of a Guerrilla Painter Flex Easel last year and have been meaning to try it. No time like the present!
A hacksaw and a file will achieve a lot.
The organizers at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation give us 2.5 days to do one painting. In return, they want us to paint big. I like painting big, so I’m happy to oblige. The trouble is, with the exception of the Gloucester easel, most plein air setups are meant for fairly small work. I have a Gloucester easel, but it is missing a part. I can balance a 20X24 board on my pochade box using clips, but that’s the absolute limit. And canvases need better support than do boards.

I’ve narrowed it down to three possible sizes, depending on how intrepid I feel and how the weather looks—36X36, 24X30, or 20X24. I’ve packed my big brushes and lots of extra paint. The only issue was working up a field easel that could accommodate big panels without blowing away.

My easel before I hacked at it. That's an en plein air pro shelf on the tripod. Very useful.
Tara Will is a fantastic pastel painter from Maryland. She works large and loose in the field, using a modified Guerrilla Painter 3001 No.17 Flex Easel. This is basically an aluminum head that fits on a camera tripod. I have one, and it’s a good piece of equipment, but it is limited. It only extends to 20”. Like all Guerrilla Painter tools, though, it’s rock solid.
Hacksawing the easel apart.
Tara sawed hers in half, inserted a piece of steel strip metal in the gap and locked the whole thing down with set screws. Genius! I’ve wanted to do something similar ever since I saw it. The only issue was to find a mending plate or metal strip to fit.

I stopped at two hardware stores, a marine store and a shipyard, with no luck. I went home, discouraged. My husband suggested one more trip, to Rockport Steel, which fabricates huge things like lobster boats and dock ramps. A fellow named Tim took time off and milled me a ½”X24” flat plate while I waited. It turns out that he is a darned good artist, judging by his work hanging in the office.

The steel flat strip fit perfectly.
From there it was a simple matter of cutting the aluminum stem in half with a hacksaw. Two extra screws from a Testrite easel easily locked the flat bar down. The screws were slightly too long to clear the canvas, so I cut them down with a bolt cutter. I think Tara's might lock from the back, but no longer remember.

 It’s a mite wobbly when fully extended, and I don’t know yet how difficult it will be to adjust the set screws on the fly. Only field testing will tell me if it will work.

I have spare screws on hand for my Testrite classroom easels. They fit perfectly in the groove and locked the steel flat strip down securely.
Solid enough for field painting? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Bobbi Heath texted me, “Do you want to use my Gloucester easel?” Well, I thought, I just spent half a day tinkering with this thing and I’d love to see if it actually works…

And then, on second thought, I answered, “heck, yeah!” When the pressure's on, I'd rather use an old reliable tool than a new contraption.

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