artists sketching in the white mountains Winslow Homer
Artists Sketching in the White Mountains”.
by Winslow Homer (1868)
Portland Museum of Art.

PLEIN AIR EASELS – HOW TO PROP UP THAT CANVAS – PART 2

In last week’s Oil Painting Blog, we looked at the Studio Easel.

This week, with summer on the way and the possibility of a relaxation of current Covid19 Restrictions now is a great time to think about purchasing a Plein Air Easel – an easel that will allow you to paint outdoors – “en plein air”.

According to the Tate Modern, “the plein air approach was pioneered by John Constable in Britain c. 1813.”

Prior to this, most artists only did preparatory pencil or watercolour sketches when out in the field.  But from c.1860 it became extremely popular with a French group of artists who later became known as the impressionists and included artists such as Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Bazille. With the introduction of tube oil paints, the popularity of plein air painting increased.  Prior to this, artists had to make their own paints by grinding dry pigment and mixing the pigment with linseed oil. Pig’s bladders were then used to carry the individual paint colours. As artists continued to work in the great outdoors painting equipment including the easel continued to develop.

As always, I am not affiliated with any brands, stores, suppliers, or persons I may or may not mention within this Oil Painting Blog and your use of any of these products, links and the like are your own risk and it’s up to you to do your research/homework before you use them. This is just my opinion and experience and any prices as mentioned are approximate only and may be subject to change.

THE FRENCH EASEL

In the mid-nineteen century, the French or box easel was introduced to the market. This was the first Plein air easel that I purchased.  It comes with either a full or half box as shown below and has three tripod legs that fold up and attach to the main box. The box is handy as it holds your canvas, painting materials and a timber palette. While, it has certainly served me well, both in the field and indeed in the Studio. I’m currently thinking of upgrading it, for a more lightweight system as I have found it quite heavy to carry. Also, setting it up in the field can be quite tricky as you must balance the box with your body as you extend and secure each leg.

full box easel
Full Box Easel
(image from Jullian Paris website)
half box easel
Half Box Easel
(image from Jullian Paris website)

OTHER PLEIN AIR EASELS

Other plein air easels on the market all typically include a set of tripod legs, a small or large painting box or pallet known as a Pochade and an extended grip for the canvas/board.

Some of the main brands as shown below include the Coulter Plein Air System, the Sienna Plein Air Pochade Box, the Strada, the Take It Easy Easel, the Soltec Easel Pro, the Mark Cezanne Half box, the Open Box M and Mabef and Meeden also provide Plein Air Easels.

I’m thinking of upgrading to the Plein Air Pro – Professional Series Oil Package Easel as the palette includes a value scale that would help gauge the paint mix values on bright or sunlit days.

plein air pro

THE MAIN CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE PLEIN AIR EASEL

Before you go out and purchase your easel check that it’s: –

  • lightweight and easy to carry; Especially if you plan to paint abroad.
  • stable and wind-resistant.
  • quick and easy to set up and breakdown.
  • has plenty of storage.
  • umbrella friendly – to protect you from the sun and rain.
  • supplied with carrier straps.
  • able to accommodate your chosen canvas/panel.
  • pallet is a decent size to suit your needs.

The other option is to make your own easel. Many handy artists have done this and have also developed and marketed their creations to other artists.

ADDITIONAL ITEMS YOU WILL REQUIRE WHEN OUT IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Apart from your Oil Painting Materials you will also need to have appropriate clothing and sunscreen to suit the elements. It can get extremely cold when you are sitting or standing in one spot especially when the wind picks up or the rain starts, and you can fry in a matter of minutes when out in the blistering summer sun.

Other items you will require include:

  • a wet panel carry box or system for carrying wet canvases.
  • an umbrella and attachment.
  • a small fold-up stool with a carrier bag attached.
  • a viewfinder.
  • rags/kitchen roll.
  • double-dippers with lids or leak-proof containers for solvents/mediums.
  • a brush case and washer.
  • a bag for rubbish.
  • drinking water and insect repellent.

If you are not set up right its messy business painting outdoors.

When I first started, I was very badly prepared. I had one of those tear-off paper pallets which kept fluttering in the wind, a small sketch easel that constantly blew over and the canvases I brought with me were not up to the job.

People…

The other factor I had to get used to was people.

You become this curious beast when you are out there with your easel and people will stare and stand behind you. They will interrupt you and comment or advise you on your painting. In Wexford town, a few years back, I had a group of men who set up camp behind me. They drank and commented, while I painted. Then in Hook Head, I had a fellow artist whom I did not know tell me my sea was crap and then when I had it sorted to his liking another artist came along and told me my sky was also crap. Lucky enough, from all my years in construction, I had developed a tough hide and took it all in jest. But be mindful when you do venture out. Especially, if you are a beginner. Do not take any notice of others – this is your day out and journey and the more you venture out the better you will get. Another unfortunate factor to consider is always letting someone know where you intend to paint that day and what time you plan on returning home especially given the recent and extremely sad death of Sarah Everard in the UK.

Annual Events and Plein Air Artists

On a final and lighter note, to get you started on your plein air voyage, you could enrol in the following annual outdoor events which hopefully will be running again this year: –

You can also have a look at https://pleineire.ning.com/ a web site for Plein air artists and check out other Plein air artists such as:-

  • Norman Teeling (Irish) he’s published a lovely book “Around the World in 80 Paintings”,
  • Hadidee-Jo Summers (ROI) instagram icon also has a book published “Vibrant Oils” and a demonstration video.
  • Peter Brown instagram icon His Instagram feed is great.
  • Jim O’Callaghan instagram icon While he is a photographer, he has been taking and posting amazing photos of the people of Dublin in lockdown. Orla Ryan of thejournal.ie did a lovely write up on his life. (the oldest street photographer in Dublin on why its never too late to change careers.

Next week we will look at the Canvas.

Emily McCormack
March 2021

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