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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

You can never have too many easels

My super-lightweight pochade box has served me well, but my field paintings have grown in size. What’s next?
Still the best pochade box for intertidal zone painting. (Photo by Ed Buonvecchio)
Four years ago, I made myself a super-lightweight pochade box. The instructions are here; they’ve been viewed thousands of times and I still occasionally correspond with people interested in making a similar one.

I built this box because I had hiked down Kaaterskill Falls with a heavier, earlier kit and developed a Baker’s cyst from the tremendous pressure on my knee. I decided right there that a lighter painting kit was necessary for extreme plein air. When you hike in to your destination, a kit weighing more than a few pounds is uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.

The box when new.
The box I made answered that problem very well. It is compact and at 18 oz., doesn’t add much to the weight of my checked baggage. Between trips, I slide it in a waterproof stuff sack and toss it in the freezer. It has traveled many, many miles with me by car and by airplane.

However, it’s no longer serving as well for my primary easel, because things have changed:
  1. The maximum size it holds without jury-rigging is 12X16, and that’s become almost the minimum size I paint these days.
  2. The incessant wind along the coast causes my box to thrum. (For this reason, I seldom use an umbrella these days, either.)
  3. Because it has no frame, it’s gotten somewhat deformed by traveling in my checked bag on airlines.
It's gotten a little beaten-up from traveling in my checked bag.
Kirk Larsen looked at it in Parrsboro and suggested that I have it copied in carbon fiber. I talked to a boatbuilder last week. He thought that fiberglass would do just as well. He’s going to work one up for me, and then I’ll field test it and see how it works.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Johnson decided to make a box like mine, but her husband ordered the wrong binder. It was a fortuitous accident, because her box is both smaller and stronger than mine. It pairs up perfectly with her Mabef M-27 field easel without any drilling or special machining. Larger canvases might be a stretch, but a clip should hold them steady. Weights can be hung as needed.

Jennifer Johnson's box is in some ways superior.
I’ve had an earlier version of this Mabef field easel for about twenty years. I heartily recommend it to students as best value for money. Adding the $30 paint box is an elegant solution to the problem of a palette.

Or, you can use Victoria Brzustowicz’ simple solution. She hinged two aluminum baking sheets from the Dollar Store together with a strip of duct tape. Open, it’s a paint box; closed, it goes in a plastic bag in the freezer. It cost her all of $2.

Victoria Brzustowicz' $2 solution. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Brzustowicz.)
Meanwhile, I’m packing for Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation 2018. They want us to paint big, so I’m reviewing my collection of older, heavier easels to see what will suit. If you’re in Portland this weekend and want to stop by, I’ll be at Fort Williams Park.

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

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