View Full Version : Plein Air pastels dilemma.

the drover's dog
01-08-2010, 12:55 AM
Hi Gang,:wave:

I haven't been around for a couple of years due to family health problems, but am slowly getting back into painting. Currently sloshing acrylics around but as soon as this one is finished I'm jumping back into the pastels. I really love using them and still have a lot to learn with this medium. I've missed you all. The Pastel Forum is a special place to hang out.

I'm looking for a method for carrying around pastel painting. Preference would be for a pastel sketch book interleaved with glassine, but I can't find one here in Oz. If I could find some heavy watercolour sketch books that are interleaved, I could slosh on some colourfix primer on each page and turn it into a pastel book.

We will be travelling in our caravan and I want to do plein air paintings. No spare room in the van for big sheets of Colourfix papers. I still haven't worked out how my pastels will travel, but probably nestled in foam lined boxes in the back seat of the tow vehicle to give them the smoothest possible ride. The excruciating bit will be deciding which sticks will stay home.

We moved 12 months ago and the unframed pastels were clamped between mdf boards with glassine between each painting. Unbeknown to me, these parcels were stood on their edges for the trip. The result was that most of the pastel fell off the Colourfix paper despite being tightly clamped. All are ruined. :crying: Lesson learnt: Always travel them flat.

All solutions greatly appreciated.



01-08-2010, 02:10 AM
I've been thinking of making a pastels sketchbook by priming every page of a watercolor pad, a spiral bound one. The glassine would be a nice touch. If you cut your glassine and hinged it to the bottom of the page with tape, you could fold it back over and flip it up over the art once a piece is finished. Just cut the pieces to fit the watercolor pad.

Thank you for mentioning the glassine! I didn't think of that when I first got the idea, but as soon as you mentioned it I could visualize how to do it. Just cut it the same size as the page but a hair shorter so it's not caught in the coils. Then use actual strong tape across the back of the pages (both glassine and watercolor paper) with them butted together end to end. Then fold it back against the back of the page and mark off a painting area with some nice margins so there's room around the painting if I want to take it out and frame it. Then prime the painting area with a half inch or quarter inch to spare around the crop marks for the painting area.

Do that to the whole watercolor pad and I'll have something very handy for pasteling. Charlie has a wonderful blog entry about pastel kit for plein air painting too, I just read it a few days ago. Charlie = Colorix. She took a foam slotted box for 30 pastels and put about 100 pieces into it that were pieces, not full sticks, so she had this huge palette of colors in a pretty small box about like an A4 pad, plus A4 paper to paint on.

I'll see if I can get the URL to that entry, it was a great article.

Got it -- searched her blog and found the link. She has a great minimal plein air setup. http://charlotteherczfeld.com/blog/12176/Plein-Air-in-stealth-mode-bare-minimum-of-supplies

01-08-2010, 07:43 AM
hello. I've made pastel travel boxes with two Kleenex boxes.
With one, I reinforced the ends with packing tape, then cut away the top where the tissues feed out. This is the base/bottom. I set it bottom up on my worktable, centered a piece of pre-measured string, and taped it down.
To make the Lid, I double reinforced the ends of the other box, then cut away the top and along the sides. I flattened out the box, then put a straightedge just a bit outside of the folds, made a new crease by scoring the cardboard with a butter knife. I put the straightedge over the old crease,leaving the new crease showing, and lifted the flap and folded it completely over. I set this altered box over the base, folded the sides down, tacked them with scotch tape, then used the packing tape to reinforce. Inside this lid I put some scotch tape along the new seam.
Inside the bottom, I put 3-4 cm of uncooked rice, then the pastel sticks, a layer of old cloth (I used socks), then some wadded plastic grocery bags, the top, then tied it off.
The rice nests the pastels and keeps them clean.
I've also made boxes from scratch with flat cardboard and/or foamcore. More measuring and cutting involved.
If you want to skip all this, an office supply store should have shallow file boxes that you put together yourself.
Happy travels. :) E

Kathryn Wilson
01-08-2010, 09:44 AM
I have a travel sketchbook put out by Dakota, but there's no reason why you couldn't make your own.

It's a 3-ring binder with either Wallis or Colourfix paper interleaved with glassine.


Donna T
01-08-2010, 10:52 AM
Hi Dale, I hope you find a sketchbook that works for you. I'm getting ready for a move and I thank you for mentioning your experience. I'm so sorry your pastel paintings were ruined and I'll be sure to find a way to keep mine flat. I would have thought that they would be fine as long as they were clamped tightly together but I guess gravity and motion must take a toll.

01-08-2010, 10:58 AM
There have been several threads on this forum about plein air setups if you do a search. I get out about 1 Ė 2 times a month and have stumbled on a method that works for me. I use Crystal Clear bags. I originally got these to solve storage issues at home. Iíve found they work great in the field as well. I carry a piece of Gator Foam as my drawing support and several sheets of stock (cut to size) in the Clear bags. Each sheet in itsí own individual bag. Once I pick a spot, Out comes a sheet and I tape it to the board. When Iím finished with a sheet, it goes back in itsí own back for transport back to the vehicle\home. I carry everything in a day pack and the system has been holding up fine.

As an aside, you may want to look at either the Heilman box or Dakotaís version if you get serious about this. Keeping your sticks in one piece back and forth from the vehicle is the real challenge.

01-08-2010, 12:19 PM
I'm looking for a method for carrying around pastel painting. Preference would be for a pastel sketch book interleaved with glassine, but I can't find one here in Oz. If I could find some heavy watercolour sketch books that are interleaved, I could slosh on some colourfix primer on each page and turn it into a pastel book.
Hi, Dale! Welcome back!

Few suggestions:
-- The Daler-Rowney Pastel pads that I have are nice and have a glassine-ish sheet interleaved. Here is the Dakota listing. (http://www.dakotapastels.com/pages/paper-dalerrowney.aspx) I took mine out to Kinkos and had them spiral bound (http://fedex.com/us/officeprint/storesvcs/copyprint/finishing.html). And then coated the back (smoother side) of each sheet with some Colourfix primer. These are serviceable sketchbooks for pastels. (Do you have Kinkos or equivalent in "Oz"? I imagine so.)
-- You could cut and prepare your own paper and interleaved glassine sheets and take the whole stack to Kinkos to be spiral bound. In this case you'd also have to bring sturdy cardboard pieces for the covers, as Kinko's covers aren't rigid enough for hand-held sketching.
-- Cut your own paper and use the Rollabind (http://www.rollabind.com/) or the Koolbind (http://www.komtrak.com/catalogpage12.shtml) systems to make your own sketchbooks. Again, the tricky part is finding good rigid cover stock. If not, you can always carry an extra piece of foamboard and lean on that.

I hope these help. If you come up with something novel, be sure to let us know!


Kathryn Wilson
01-08-2010, 12:49 PM
One thing to keep in mind if you go with a binder - the koolbinder is spineless, so that you can lay the paper flat and the sketches can rotate totally around on clip, so paper can be floated to the back. (hard to explain)

01-08-2010, 12:50 PM
Jealous... I want to be preparing to do this type of painting as much as you are... Go for it! Send updates!

Heilman boxes are the best. The back pack size (smallest) will serve the purpose nicely and the memory foam that cushions the pastels keeps them clean between use. I use it as my "everyday" box of pastels. I find that i can put about 250 1/2 sticks in there and if I don't have it, I must not have needed it.


01-08-2010, 02:10 PM

This idea would work for a few pieces of paper or a few finished paintings;
I just got a SunEden tripod type easel systerm for PA.
Instead of using a board to attach my paintings to, I took two pieces of
gator foam board, a little larger than the size of the paper I tend to use for
PA's. I attached these two boards together along the bottom edge with clear packing taper on both sides. Now I can put several sheets of paper between this sandwich to go out painting. I include pieces of glassine.
I can carry the paintings back home the same way with the glassine between. I use from bullnose clamps on the three sides that are not taped, to and from PA's.

I have been looking at those Koolbinds at Dakota, too. That would be great for travel where I was not able to take my SunEden and just could use that on my lap.

Deborah Secor
01-08-2010, 03:46 PM
All these ideas are great. But I keep it much simpler. I buy a pad of newsprint that I clamp shut with binder clips that flip flat, and tape finished paintings between two clean sheets. I carry pre-cut paper in the front, and when they fill up I clip the bottom and slip it away.


01-08-2010, 04:47 PM
All these ideas are great. But I keep it much simpler. I buy a pad of newsprint that I clamp shut with binder clips that flip flat, and tape finished paintings between two clean sheets. I carry pre-cut paper in the front, and when they fill up I clip the bottom and slip it away. Deborah
Good! Simple and good!
Few Q:
-- What size or sizes do you like best/use most often?
-- Do you also use the whole clamped-shut sandwich as the support while sketching?
-- Is it rigid enough?


the drover's dog
01-08-2010, 07:51 PM
Thanks for all the great suggestions. :clap: I did try a forum search on this topic before I posted, but nothing at all came up under "Plein air pastels"! I know there have been some good threads on the topic, but the search engine was spitting the dummy. I've had a look at all the products everyone mentioned and am green with envy that I cannot get any of them here in Australia. Some of the home made suggestions using butcher's paper and foamcore, I already use to store painting at home, but I felt them too bulky and fiddly for travelling.

Barb, I've drooled over those Heilman boxes for a couple of years but I'd have to rob a bank to get them to Australia. They are so-o-o expensive to start with, even before postage.

Glassine paper is very hard to find in the country areas of Australia, and only comes in pre-cut sheets and not in rolls, so is too small for the largest Colourfix sheets. I was delighted to find some in stock in a town we passed through before Christmas, but it cost me $3 a small sheet. Nearly as expensive as the Colourfix itself. Last time I had 10 sheets posted to me it arrived with a big hole punched neatly through the mailing tube by something else in the mail. Mangled the glassine. Sometimes I use tissue paper (shiny side against the pastel) or butcher's paper, but they are not as good as the glassine. I've even used greasproof and baking paper over small paintings.

Liked the nifty Roz canvas pastel totes Dakota had. I see you can get them via Amazon too. Hideously expensive here compared to your prices in the US and there's only 10 cents difference in our dollar right now, so it's hard to see why we are being ripped off here. Freight and excise doesn't total 250% of US retail price. Does anyone have any experience with these totes?

If push comes to shove, I can use my current wooden boxes but we are trying to keep the weight down in the caravan as much as possible. That's why I left the acrylics at home last trip and just took photos to use at home later. I seem to need everything including the kitchen sink when I travel with acrylics - about 100 lbs weight not counting the mdf boards I paint on!

The Dakota Koolbinds seem very loose and likely the sheets might move and rub. Is this the case? I'm trying to keep all this as compact as possible, so the sketchpad-type thingy (whatever), can be shoved under a mattress or a seat.

Jan, thanks for pointing out the Daler-Rowney pads. Those are what I remember being around here a few years back and what I was looking for and not being able to remember what brand they were. Can't find them at the moment and the colours are very unsuitable for Australian Landscapes, but beggars can't be choosers. I'll still grab a couple though if I see them. I can always coat them with Colourfix Primer. Maybe another Aussie member might know of an local source for these?

We can get things spiral bound at a chain of stores called Officeworks. Plenty of A4 stiff covers available, but not many at A3 size. I could buy the smallest sheets of Colourfix and guillotine the glassine sheets to fit. Could even punch holes myself and just buy binders if I can find ones to fit the 9"x12" smallest Colourfix. This is not a standard Aussie size - 1/4" longer than A4. Should squeak them in a binder though.

I may order one of the Koolbinders from Dakota and pay postage. Then I could include some different pastels and some Wallis paper to try and.............

Mike, we don't seem to have Crystal Clear bags here alas. I had a look at them and was amazed at all the types and sizes available. Unless one bought a whole ream of them, I can't see them travelling internationally without scrunching. Do you have any trouble with them building up static and lifting the pastel off the paper? With our very dry climate, that can happen here with any cellophane-like product.

Thanks again everyone. Do you realise how lucky you are in the US to have so many choices of different products?



01-08-2010, 08:10 PM
Barb and Mike, question about the Heilman box vs. Dakota's version -- is the Heilman really a lot better? Or would the Dakota one do fine?

01-08-2010, 08:24 PM
For limited portable storage, I devised my own container.


It is foam board, glue and masking tape. For this container I put two narrow strips of foam board on each side between the wide ones. I made another container for oil pastels with a single spacing strip that worked as well. This would not take the place of a pad but I think would travel easily in a trailer. It is light and I store them upright. I use hard pastels on Wallis so there is little dust. Soft pastel on some other papers might be a little messier.

Regards, Gary

01-08-2010, 08:29 PM
There is this thread here in pastels: Plein Air - Best Practices for Setup? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=422309)

IMO, the Heilman box (http://www.heilmandesigns.com/pastel-boxes/) is head and shoulders over all the others. If you need something seriously portable, it's the best. If you only work at home on a table, then no, there are more economical solutions.


01-08-2010, 08:49 PM
I have several of all three sizes of KOOOL binders from Dakota. They are wonderful for both working in, carrying, and storage. I keep fresh paper in one and the maybes in the other. Works well.

01-08-2010, 10:17 PM
robert, IMHO there is no comparison. I live close enough to know the folks at Dakota pretty well but I have to say, the Heilman box is still a better product.

There are toggles that keep the "covers" on compared to velcro which I'm pretty sure is what Dakota is selling. I had one of the velcro boxes before... "Cassatt box" and it was never secure enough for me and if the velcro failed it made a terrific mess.

The Heilman's are just this great couple who produce a fabulous product and there is just no comparison - as Jan states.


01-08-2010, 10:55 PM
Here is another plein air pastels thread: Pastel plein air?help tips hints and ideas how to paint outdoors? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=513878)


01-09-2010, 09:42 PM
Newbie here. I'm sure I'm doing it wrong but please tell me why I should not put my papers in a clear holder in a file folder? Should I at least put a layer of glassine on top first?

01-10-2010, 10:30 AM
Newbie here. I'm sure I'm doing it wrong but please tell me why I should not put my papers in a clear holder in a file folder? Should I at least put a layer of glassine on top first?
By "a clear holder" do you mean something like the Crystal Clear bags (http://www.clearbags.com/crystal-clear-bags/protective-closure-bags)? If so, I think that's just fine. They are designed to protect photos and artworks.


01-10-2010, 11:20 AM
Maybe it is called something else. I use clear pockets (transparent) with attached holes to fit into a binder and it is open at the top for slotting in sheets of music score, letters etc. As I am just doing small practice pastel pieces, it fits nicely to store them.

01-10-2010, 03:47 PM
That sounds pretty good Sukye.
I have a portfolio/binder with similar clear sheets. To be honest I haven't used it yet. But I think it should work just fine. Not sure how well it compares to clear bags as far as static goes though.


01-11-2010, 10:58 AM
Dale, I've had no problem with static and the Clear bags. I use them to store my work at home as well. There are several members on this forum using them.

the drover's dog
01-11-2010, 11:19 PM
Thanks Mike.

I've cruised around online with Aussie companies and have found some polypropylene bags, but they don't state that they are acid free, nor is there much choice of larger sizes. I think most of them are for greeting cards and clothing.

I do have some polypropylene bags (6x10") in the cupboard that I've had for about 10-12 years and they are now all brittle and yellow despite being in their original packaging box of 1000 bags. Obviously not archival quality! I do wish one of the art supply places here would import a stock of them, but pastellists are not given much thought by most of the retailers. Not worth importing for myself when my output is so small. Maybe if I lash out and buy something else from Blick's, I'll include a few bags in the order.

I had hoped to do some work today, but it is just so hot. Hottest night on record last night. Today, in your figures it is 112 degrees F., or 44.6 C. Air conditioning is cranked up to max., but fingers and everything else still all sticky. Poor birds outside are all camped under the sprinklers I leave running for them. Counted them around just one spray and there were over 50 birds of assorted species. Some are playing like kids at the local swimming hole. Many of them laying on their back or sides with a wing in the air to allow the water to get under all the feathers. They look a hoot. Like Victorian ladies hat ornaments strewn all over the ground.


01-12-2010, 08:25 PM
I'm late to this thread but I'll still put my two cents in. I also travel a great deal and use a kind of mixture of what has already been said. I usually paint 6 x 8 or 9 x 12 studies when painting plein air. I use my own paper that I make myself and cut the paper to size. When done, I put the finished study in a large 11 x 14 spiral bound sketchpad. I tape each corner into the pad and place a piece of glassine over it. Doug Dawson told me that he uses a large roll of butcher paper instead of glassine. In a pinch, you can use wax paper but only temporarily. I also use clear acetate bags but only if the piece is already covered with a piece of glassine. Have fun on your travels and happy painting!

01-12-2010, 11:04 PM
Jan and Barb, thank you for letting me know about the differences between the Dakota box and the Heilman box. I might do better waiting and getting one later on but getting the best one right off.

Anything that makes things easier or more organized is well worth iong for me, since I do at least hope to go out plein air painting someday. Especially when I am strong enough and skilled enough at riding that the horse can do all the walking to get me to the site.

It's like what people say about other supplies too -- the best supplies make it easy for a beginner, while an expert can make the kid's version perform. I'm a beginner when it comes to painting outdoors, that's for sure. The closest I came to it was hauling a wheeled grocery cart with all my supplies a couple of short blocks to the place I set up for street portraits.

Weight makes a big difference to my getting it up onto the horse too.