View Full Version : Plein Air Painting

04-25-2010, 12:08 AM
I am trying to get organized for plein air painting, here at home and overseas. I'm not sure whether to use an easel or just a board to support my paper, has anyone any tips on this? The easel would have to be small and lightweight. Also, can anyone recommend a REALLY LIGHT WEIGHT box for transporting pastels as I have arthritis in my wrists and need very light equipment. I have a heilman box but it is quite heavy when full of pastels.

04-25-2010, 11:38 AM
Obviously, this depends on how many colors you want to carry. Here is a cigar box solution you might want to look into. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/Articles2/47843/611/page3.php)

For something really lightweight, you could use a rigid food storage container with a clip-on lid, like these (http://www.containerstore.com/shop/kitchen/foodStorage/leftoversPlastic?productId=10025860). Fitted with some memory foam, it would do fine.

Or a fishing equipment tackle box. Like these, maybe. (http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/family/index.jsp?fbc=1&f=Brand%2F3230%2F&categoryId=2291566&fbn=Brand|Plano&view=all)

And my trusty Altoids w/Polychromos box is below.



04-25-2010, 05:04 PM
Julie - do you have the aluminum easel attachment for the Heilman? That way you only need a tripod, your box and the easel. You can place them all in a bag and pull it along on a luggage carrier if need be. I'm facing the same issues and trying to figure out what the best set-up is. If I have access to my car (i.e., not flying somewhere) I do like painting on the pastelboard and have a Ray-Mar carrier that holds 6 boards quite nicely.

Recently we flew to Phoenix, AZ from Chicago and I took my Heilman/tripod/easel set-up which worked pretty well. I packed a pastelboard or two, and various papers with foam core. I also packed glassine to cover any work I did and taped it completely around my work. Then, any paintings could be bundled together and clipped so they would remain firmly in place. I didn't have finished work, but still everything came through pretty well.

The one problem for me is that I'm not sure I like reaching over my box to paint - it makes my shoulder hurt. I've got to get the situation figured out prior to September as I'm doing a week long McKinley workshop in California. Am I just too short to work that way or am I horribly out of shape? Probably a little of both!!! Sun-Eden has a small table that I could put to the side with my Heilman on that, and I'm giving that strong consideration. Then a traveling type of easel would finish out the set-up.


04-26-2010, 12:21 AM
The very lightest arrangement I have used traveling is a box of Great American Half-Sticks, (60 colors and I add one or two sticks of charcoal) and various papers cut to 9 X 12 inch, each with it's own glassine cover. Then I sandwich these papers between two gatorfoam boards that are slightly bigger (10 X 13), clipped together with six bulldog/binder clips. I use six because it's four to clip the paper I am using to pastel onhttp://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-Apr-2010/161935-IMG_2016.JPG to one of the boards, and two to keep the whole packet together while I paint so the wind doesn't carry them away! No easel, just use my lap, and I have a very lightweight sit pad (REI Lite-Core 1.5 Sit Pad)l take along if I know there will be no picnic tables or rocks to sit on or the ground might be wet. This pad rolls up and comes with a small ditty bag and when all rolled up it is 7 x 4 inches and about 3 inches deep, the pad self inflates and is really comfy!
Sorry I have not been posting lately everyone, my Dad had back surgery and then had to have surgery again so I have been over at his place caring for him for the last several months.

Phil Bates
04-26-2010, 12:28 AM
Julie, a lot of that weight comes from the pastels, themselves. I would suggest using small narrow sticks like Girault or Faber-Castell and break them into thirds. You will get a bigger palette for less weight.


04-26-2010, 10:41 AM
Drusilla, your system looks so light and convenient. I was thinking of using my Art Spectrum box the same way, with assorted 9 x 12" papers and a drawing board that I've got plus my Safari Chair.

I'm not sure but I think the Art Spectrum box will fit inside the Safari Chair's zipper pockets. It's a folding chair with a back and a shoulder strap and carrybag underneath the seat, which I bought so that I wouldn't overload it and would have a place to sit whenever I went out.

I can't carry much weight and I'm short, on top of that I've got slightly too short limbs. So reaching over things, reaching stuff in general is a lot harder for me than even other people my height. I know about ergonomics.

Julie, if you have the Heilman box and it's too heavy when it's full of pastels, you may have to cut down on some of what's in it or go for a smaller box.

My trimmed-down version, what I carry if I'm going out in the yard and not even grabbing the chair or going for a drive, is the 48 color box of Color Conte plus either a pad of PastelMat or an office type clipboard with assorted sanded papers on it cut down to fit, marked off for 8" x 10" art usually unless they're smaller pieces.

Tempted as I am by a real Heilman, even the backpack version would be so heavy that I'd be more likely to use it around the studio and think of it more as something that can be spread out on the bed and folded back when not in use. What really worked well was the thirty stick Art Spectrum box with sixty colors broken in half so that I have all the colors in each of the two boxes the set came in.

I might eventually get the maggie price values set -- that'd be complete in itself for going out plein air. But I probably won't be bringing more than that on any given trip. Unison has half stick sets now too that are cool, Dakota has them.

04-26-2010, 11:14 AM
I have a number of KOOOL Binders - available at Dakota with your choice of paper plus glassine. For me, they don't require an easel.

I've ordered the Soltek boxes from Dakota and I understand they're great on their own, too, for holding pastels securely.

I've also stocked and used a Roz Bag, even flying successfully with it a number of times. It all comes together pretty easily, but it is probably bulkier than you're asking for.

04-26-2010, 12:18 PM
You could make one out of foam-core. I'm planning to do that, covering it with self adhesive plastic foil to make them last longer.

The sticks themselves are fairly heavy, so I'm not interested in carrying a wooden box that weighs as much. And, you can get by with about 50 bits of pastels, by choosing your palette carefully. Every ounce less counts. As you need to tote a waterbottle, easel, chair, umbrella, camera, sandwich, stool....

Might consider using somehting with wheels, like a carry-on suitcase, or a golf-bag or something. With big enough wheels, it works fine on uneven ground too.


04-27-2010, 08:18 AM
How about this "8x10 Cigar Box" (http://www.judsonsart.com/ProductCart/pc/viewCategories.asp?idCategory=4)? For a mere $160, it comes all fitted with the padded pastel boxes. And three pounds empty. Is this "a REALLY LIGHT WEIGHT box"? Light when empty, but possibly quite heavy when full of pastels.

Not as light as Charlie's foam-core box, that's for sure.

As for a light-weight easel, McKinley describes a very serviceable portable easel setup here in this thread The Perfect Pastel Plein Air Setup: The Search Continues. (http://pastelpointersblog.artistsnetwork.com/2009/12/07/ThePerfectPastelPleinAirSetupTheSearchContinues.aspx)

Other useful threads here in the pastels forum:
-- Plein Air - Best Practices for Setup? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=422309)
-- Pastel plein air?help tips hints and ideas how to paint outdoors? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=513878)


04-27-2010, 10:19 AM
More from Richard McKinley!! ----->

-- Plein Air Tips, Part 1 (http://pastelpointersblog.artistsnetwork.com/2010/04/12/PleinAirTipsPart1.aspx)
-- Plein Air Tips, Part 2, Sun vs. Shade (http://pastelpointersblog.artistsnetwork.com/2010/04/19/PleinAirTipsPart2SunVsShade.aspx)
-- Plein Air Tips, Part 3 (http://pastelpointersblog.artistsnetwork.com/2010/04/26/PleinAirTipsPart3.aspx)

Love that gent!


04-27-2010, 04:30 PM
My problem with the cigar box would be working in the lid. I have used another pastel plein air box like this, and it causes me to have to hold my arm in a funny manner not conducive to good painting techniques. Also, you are more limited in size as working larger is not easy with those types of boxes.

Just my opinion, however :-)


04-28-2010, 05:31 AM
Thank you everyone for all the great ideas. I really love my heilman box but I also have back problems so it's just too heavy when full of pastels. I mainly use it in the studio but occasionally take it to a workshop.

Jan, Thanks will check these out.

Lynn, Hope you work something out for yourself! I want a really simplified system, I'm going to Europe in June and my husband and daughter will also be there so don't want too much equipment to carry around.

Drusilla, Sorry about your dad, hope he is o.k. now. I really like your set up
it's so light and small. Are the Great American half sticks a set or just pastels you've put together yourself?

Phil, thanks. I've been considering the Faber Castells or something similar in a harder pastel for travelling, the softies are so messy and they usually end up all over my clothes!

Robert, I've just been reading your colourist pastel demo, it's really good!
The 48 conte set sounds a good idea, I have the maggie price set but they are so soft and messy I would end up covered in pastel if I took them overseas with me!

Potoma, Thanks, I have some of those Dakota Kool Binders, they are great and I've decided to get some of the small ones to take with me.

Charlie, I love your idea of the foamcore box, how would you make it and what is self adhesive plastic foil? We have self adhesive plastic here that comes in a roll and people use it to cover books and other things, is it the same thing?

Thanks again Jan, I'll check out all these links.

Lynn, Agree about the cigar box, wouldn't like to work with the paper inside the lid and I think it would be too heavy anyway once filled with pastels.

04-28-2010, 07:01 AM
Julie, yes, that's the thing I mean, that foil. (Lack of English vocabulary, sorry.) I got the idea of foam-core boxes from Donna Aldridge, somewhere on her site she's put instructions, but they're basically cut and tape together the bits of foam-core. I'm thinking of using velcro to keep it all together (securing lid, I mean, easy to open and close), and gluing/doublesided taping foam to keep the pastels from moving. That part is important, as pastels rubbing together generate lots of dust and dirty each other.

With the right design of the box, one can hang it on tripod legs (might need a piece of wood for that, but only a little bit).

I'm working out the design of this all, but it seems to me that the most lightweight solution is a tripod (serves double duty, one can also attach a camera to it! ;-), and a box that can be attached to the tripod (don't want to hold it). The bit I've yet to figure out is how to hold the panels (panels can be foam-core too), but it seems like attaching a holder to the head of the tripod is a simple solution (similar to watercolour field easels).

This may not be elegant, but it will be as light as I can get it. (I was eying a Soltek easel, but it is heavy. Would need wheels for that.)


04-29-2010, 02:49 AM
Yes, the GA half stick set comes as is with 60 colors. Very good for traveling and a wonderful brand. Sometimes I will also go with a limited pallete like Girault's Southwest landscape set, also in a handy box. You will find after a few years that you will favor certain colors in your personal pallete and cut down on carrying unnecessary colors and also that you can substitute certain colors for like values and get along just fine. This will lighten the load considerably. Have fun!:D

04-29-2010, 06:57 AM
Hi Charlie, I've just been looking up the foam boxes on Donna Aldridge's site and I think I might try and make one, if I can find the time. Think I'll give the tripod legs a miss though, I want to take as few items as I can.

Drusilla, I have just been looking at Girault and Great American pastels because I was watching a Bob Rohm dvd, which was really fantastic, and he recommends those brands amongst others on his website. I noticed that quite a few brands have plein air sets so I'm going over to Dakota pastels now to order some.