View Full Version : Pseudo Plein Air Setup Advice Requested

11-06-2011, 05:26 AM
Hello! I would like to ask your recommended setup given my situation. Since I live in a sunny and warm climate, and am nervous about dust issues in the house, it makes sense to work with pastels outdoors.

I was thinking of painting in the backyard, but was worried that the dust might blow around with the regular trade winds and affect my two dogs who spend a lot of time sniffing all the fascinating smells back there! Do you think the effects would be negligible to the dogs because the wind would blow the dust away?

Also, I am puzzled at what to look for in an easel. There are so many different kinds! Some have arms, some have built-in boxes, some are French (what does this mean?), some are wood, some are aluminum...

But what I do know is that the time has come to discard the bottom of the large cardboard box I've been using. I have a drawing board, and am wondering if these are commonly inserted into the easel for the back surface.

I am looking for an easel that is good for beginners, but something I can still grow into. Reasonably priced--under $100 preferrable, but willing to "splurge" up to $200. Would like something that is fairly portable because I would want to fold up and store inside so it doesn't get too gross in the carport. At first I was planning to get one with arms in the front to support a pastel box but now am thinking it might get in the way?

Thank you in advance for any recommendations you can offer!

11-06-2011, 05:51 AM
I recommend the Mabef field easel on Dakota. Is less than $100 and very handy. It fits nicely into a chair bag. You could put anything on the arms to hold your pastels and work up to a nice box. Save your money for that down the road. I used a French Companion for a long time. Your board is probably fine. I tend to paint on Pastelbord and don't use an easel anymore, but sometimes people spend a lot of money to wind up back at square one.

The dust in the back yard would be completely negligible. I would guess they roll around routinely in much worse.

11-06-2011, 06:47 AM
No need to worry about your dogs at all!

As for easels, it is SUCH a personal issue. Some people like to work with a box attached and have all sorts of fab-looking kit; others, like me, work with their box with their main selection of pastels on the ground and with their chosen few sticks in a hand-held small box (I use the plastic trays you get with beans or somesuch in them, the kind you get in the supermarket). I use a portable easel, something very lightweight, and I use a foam-core board, again lightweight, and I put my paper onto the board using bulldog clips. Lightweight is what is important to me, more than any other consideration.

I have found it difficult lately to stand for hours, so I often drop my easel down to waist-height, sit on a painting stool, and prop my board onto my knee at the front end, with the far end resting on the easel. If I am unable to go out with my easel at all, I use my shopping trolley (contianing my painting kit) handle to rest my board on!

A tutor I have worked with, would go out with nothing more than a few pastels in a cigar box, dropped into a plastic carrier bag containg s small board with paper on it, and a smallish wooden travel easel. Nothing else. No fancy kit. He sold everything he painted......

So, there is no hard and fast rule. Buy the most versatile easel you can afford for the money you have - the Mabef sounds fine - and jet crack on with the painting. You will find that having great kit does not make a great painting. Just be comfortable!

Deborah Secor
11-06-2011, 10:59 AM
Just wanted to add that pastel is only fancy dirt. Your dogs may end up colorful, but not hurt by a little dust wafting around.

11-06-2011, 02:04 PM
Breathing pastel dust is no better for dogs than it is for people, but the good news is, that unless they are lying at your feet on a still day when you are brushing some off, or watching your progress intently with their noses to the easel, they are unlikely to actually encounter any of the dust, as it will be bourn away on the wind and so dispersed as to be non existent. Just don't paint anything that looks like food, and you should be perfectly OK. :D


11-06-2011, 04:30 PM
For an inexpensive easel, there are Feather Light field easels that are very inexpensive - only three pounds. That's what I brought with me on my trip from Arkansas for my street art because it doesn't weigh much to carry.

A French easel is a wooden sketchbox easel. These can be very useful because you can pack your pastels into the sketchbox, that's the main advantage of it. My Anderson Swivel Easel which I passionately miss is back in Arkansas. I bought it secondhand from Deborah Secor and it's got a big advantage over all of the other sketchbox easels.

You can turn the easel part so the sketchbox goes to the side instead of having to reach over it to paint. I have short arms. So this helps me a lot.

Most easels can be adjusted to a seated height. With a sketchbox easel though, sometimes the chair and sketchbox are trying to occupy the same space so it's either a trip and a half to get them nested well (and hard to get up again afterward or disentangle) or they just don't work and you're left needing to have very long arms to reach the painting.

One thing I have in Arkansas is a lobo style easel that I bought from Blick in Kansas. It folds up flat for storage in the house very easily. They run about $99 to $150 or so and one of them is a Lyptus model. Can't remember whether that was at Blick or Jerry's, it's one of those places. But they have a sort of H frame on the top and then the legs fold out with a big shelf down at mid-calf height to put your pastels. This was very convenient for me. It tilts forward a few degrees or back as far as you want, including flat like a table.

Any kind of drawing board with a clip will work on any easel to give you a surface to put your painting or board on. Cutting a couple of sheets of foam board and taping them together can make a drawing board. If you're working on a board, you don't need one. With papers and card, it's important to have one of those.

I also sometimes take my drawing board into my lap to work on. If it's small I use a clip board from an office supply store, the little 8 1/2" x 11" style ones for normal papers are good for up to 8" x 10" small format works.

Since you're working at home, a lobo style is a big stable one that would be easy to bring in again after a painting session. That or an Anderson Swivel would be good if you don't want to go for a lightweight aluminum one.

Oh, the very cheap choice is a tripod "display easel" usually under $20 at most online places. It's just very basic - three poles with chains holding it up. Angle can't be changed, but breaking down and set up are very easy and it's dirt cheap.

The Mabef field easel on Dakota looks good. Especially if that's the "giant tripod easel with arms." That one will hold your pastel box handy and I think that like most it could adjust in height to sit down if you want to. I like a lawn chair or camp chair to sit at the easel, but if you're healthy with matching leg length you may find that painting by standing at the easel gives you good exercise. Especially if you run back every stroke or two to see how it looks.

Take your time, enjoy choosing. Something as permanent and personal as your easel is a choice that will give you joy for a lifetime.

Barbara WC
11-06-2011, 05:15 PM
I have two easels used outside for pastels.

The one I use at home in the backyard (for exactly the reason you mention- to keep the dust out of the house which irritates my breathing) is the Mabef Giant Field easel, M-32. Sturdy so it won't blow over in the wind, but only about 9 lbs, very easy to carry in and out of the house. http://www.dickblick.com/products/mabef-giant-field-easel-m-32/ This also serves as my studio easel because I have a small room. When I'm not using it in the backyard, it sits in my art room next to an art table. What's nice is it can collapse down and be stored, or taken somewhere. I find it too heavy to use as a true plein air easel, but I have seen some people use it as such. I set my pastels on an inexpensive, folding wooden table from Bed Bath and Beyond- it seems to be the perfect height for me. Again, too heavy to use as a true plein air setup, but perfect at home in the backyard. http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?SKU=10178916

For plein air I use a lighter weight folding easel that comes with a carrying case. Light in weight. I rigged it so the little shelf can hold some individual pastels as I'm working, but not the whole set. Sorry I don't have a picture of how I use it for that. http://www.dickblick.com/products/winsor-and-newton-aluminum-bristol-easels/

I don't have a French easel, but most people I know that do, either love them or hate them. For me they are too heavy, and look cumbersome to setup. I know one artist that carries it as a backpack to portrait sessions, but everyone else in that group carries it in on a rolling cart. If you just plan on using an easel at home in the backyard, you probably don't need a French easel- the advantage of a French easel is the storage compartment for your pastels or paints.

11-06-2011, 10:31 PM
Barbara, thanks for linking to that table. The price is right and it would be darn handy in this room, especially when it folds flat. I could see using a couple of these for different things. I could afford it a lot sooner than getting my good drafting table too.

11-07-2011, 12:14 AM
I messed around with a lot of different easels, and finally ended up with a Soltek. I know it is above your price range, but I think you should look at it to see if it might be something that would work for you. I know that I wish I had just bought the Soltek from the beginning - would have saved myself a lot of money. I use one of those home security door legs that you put under the handle of a door on the inside and it slants out to the floor so a door can't be opened, under the box of the Soltek if I'm putting a Heilman box on it for extra support. I love how adjustable the mast of the easel is - if I'm painting longer I can adjust my board up or down, depending where I am working on the surface, to make it easier on my shoulder/arm. If I want to sit, I can still use the easel, just without the legs. It can go on a table or my lap - anywhere really. Dakota used to make cardboard boxes to fit the Soltek - they don't anymore. I ended up getting some leftover bottoms from them that they had and have plans to fashion some boxes to fit in the Soltek to hold pastels. Just a thought for you. Sometimes you can find Soltek easels on e-bay ...


11-07-2011, 05:45 PM
a wooden drawing board ( 22"x30" or some such ) is heavy compared to
canvas and stretcher , but won't flop around as easily in winds .
a portable easel to handle that would cost $$$ .

Ed :}

11-08-2011, 04:40 AM
Thank you very much, everyone! Thanks for the tips about getting an easel that can adjust from standing height to sitting height if preferred. I like the ones that are tiltable too to shake off the dust (or at least vertical).

Thanks for reassuring me that my dogs won't be affected by the pastel dust! I didn't think so, but wanted to double check so that my pups don't suffer because of my art. :)

Thanks for recommending quality items and also reminding me that we don't necessarily need fancy tools to create! They might be nice, but good to not get too hung up on them which I am wont to do...my covet list for art supplies keeps growing....

11-08-2011, 10:02 AM
You never know when "pseudo" plein aire will turn into the real thing! Three Wet Canvas 'Pastel Talk' threads that contain a LOT of advice RE: plein air with pastels:
-- Pastel plein air?help tips hints and ideas how to paint outdoors? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=513878)
-- Plein Air - Best Practices for Setup? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=422309)
-- First attempt at plein air approaching..any tips? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=627741)

And from McKinley: The Perfect Pastel Plein Air Setup: The Search Continues (http://www.artistsnetwork.com/medium/pastel/the-perfect-pastel-plein-air-setup-the-search-continues)

I have used and I like the tripod+board+tray set-up that KcKinley uses. Very versatile and very adaptable to any situation.

Have fun!


11-08-2011, 01:31 PM
Over the summer, we got some watch gift boxes that had wallets and passport covers with them, so they're larger/wider than a regular watch box. They would be great for a plein air mini set up - I could make a small tray to go inside.

The quest and the collection of supplies can be endless!