From Newsletter 165
An easel for outdoor painting
BY SUE WILD
As a watercolour artist, you collect a range of equipment – palettes, boards, brush holders, bags, even a variety of water containers - and board supports. Revered artists tell us that for best results we need to be at arm’s length from our painting and be able to step back and view it with a critical squint! Indoors you might have it propped on a table.
If you are a keen outdoor painter an easel is ideal. However to get the ideal composition, we often need to clamber down a bank, trek up a hillside, or even bike along a trail. So the equipment needs to be light, compact and portable. But …. too light and the easel is susceptible to the breeze – or gale – and the work lands face down in damp grass. Here are some suggestions from those who have tangled with outdoor easel design over a few years.
You can purchase a field painting box or a light-weight easel from an art supply store. A painting box has a tray, a tilting mechanism, can accommodate different sized boards and has adjustable legs. It will cost around $250. A painting box is heavy and is tricky to fit in your backpack. If you are considering a light-weight easel from an art store, check that it has a tilting mechanism. Many are built to suit an oil painter and do not tilt; a watercolourist likes to alter the angle of the paper at different stages of the painting.
Another option is to purchase a camera tripod and adapt it. These cost about $50. They are light, fold up into a bag and have a tilting mechanism. You will need a method of connecting the support board to the top of the tripod. One option is to adhere the ‘quick release plate’ (square of plastic approx. 5 x 4 cms that screws into the bottom of the camera and connects to the head of the tripod) directly to a piece of gatorboard. Another is to connect the quick release plate to a bespoke aluminium plate with sliding clasp for the gatorboard. This will accommodate various sizes of board.
Further refinements can be added: a platform for brushes and water, and a bag or bottle slung below as a stabilising weight.
Or … a simple alternative might be to find an upturned boat!