Friday, June 13, 2008

Large-Format Easel

One of my goals this summer is to paint bigger paintings outdoors. My French easel works pretty well up to a certain size, but the drawer doesn't hold the French Companion (or "Mistress") very well, and the large canvas, which catches the Maritime wind like a sail, can tip the easel over. The solution is the Gloucester easel:

This easel was used by Gloucester painters, most notably Emile Gruppé. Its two benefits: It is extremely stable in wind, and it can hold a very large canvas. There are a couple of improved versions of the easel available today. One is the "Take-It-Easel," sold by pastel artist Rosalie Nadeau (www.takeiteasel.com), and the "Beauport," sold by some of the online art supply merchants.

I got my Gloucester easel this week. I took it out a couple of times to work out the system. This is always important when you get new gear. My first time, I didn't venture any farther than the front yard, where I could hide behind a rose hedge. I didn't want to be seen by the neighbors as I wrestled with setting it up. Set-up went pretty quickly, but I had a problem with the cross-bars. They kept slipping down, and the "platform" they are supposed to make didn't seem at all steady. In fact, it collapsed, sending my French Companion tumbling into the dirt! I fixed the problem with a Bungie cord to my satisfaction.

Another issue was my little Wal-Mart chair umbrella, which has a clamp that is too small to fit on the easel's leg. I did try my Julian umbrella, which has a monster clamp but is heavy. Gravity caused it to twist and fall away from the ideal position. I'm not sure what to do, other than to have a second tripod for an umbrella. (Some of you may have ideas, and I'm happy to hear them!) One final issue was: How do you carry wet panels or stretched canvas? I'm planning on working in a larger format than is available for the plein air panel carriers. I don't really want to throw an unprotected painting in the back of the car, since I travel dirt roads, and a good deal of dust blows into the car, and thus onto the painting. (I can use ideas for this, too.)

I went out the next day to a good painting spot. I took only a 9x12 panel with me; I was more interested in making a second test of the easel rather than making a big painting. (The easel can take up to a 4-foot canvas.) I was very happy with the day, even without a working umbrella or a way to carry wet paintings. The easel does everything it's supposed to do. I even had a stiff wind blowing!

Here's a photo of the easel at work at Upper Duck Pond on Campobello Island. Yes, I know -- that little painting does look mighty funny perched way up high!

And here is the painting:

"Duck Islands"
9x12, oil, en plein air
SOLD

2 comments:

Jennifer Young said...

Hi Michael,
Really enjoy your blog. I was wondering if you ever did find an umbrella solution for your large easel? I bought the umbrella offered by ArtWork Essentials but have problems with using it for my Soltek easel due to their legs (which aren't round like a tripod's) Seems the AE umbrella only wants to stay up when it is attached exactly upright (which, as you know doesn't really address the other 99% of the times when you need to shade your palette and painting!)

Soltek used to sell a contraption that you can use to attach to a clamp-style umbrella, but it's heavy. So if you've discovered another solution, I'd sure love to hear it!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Hi, Jennifer. Try the Best Brella (www.bestbrella.com). This is what I use now, and it works really well, IMHO.

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