Recently I’ve been watching art demonstration videos on YouTube, starting with James Gurney, then various other artists. Inspired, I’ve been doing a bit of art at home and wishing I could go out and paint en plein air.
Many more portable easel options are available since I last looked, from expensive ponchard boxes to cheap DIY set ups that attach to tripods. I was particularly amused by a laptop conversion I saw, though I suspect it wouldn’t be a practical solution in the long run. I have a DIY ponchard box I made in 2010 and a plastic version I put together for our trip to Central Australia. They all rest on my knees, which means I need to sit down when painting. Having something fixed to an easel would be much more flexible.
I bought James Gurney’s video on his DIY sketching easel and as I watched it, I couldn’t help thinking all that wood looked heavy. Or at least, heavier than I was willing to carry. All the clips and magnets holding things to the boards made me wonder if the boards could be eliminated and the clips remain. A bit of searching later, I bought this:
It’s called ‘helping hands’, and is for soldering. I was worried that the arms would be too weak to hold a palette, diffuser and sketchbook/canvas board steady while I worked, but they’re impressively sturdy. It has a hole in the base for screwing it to a table, which Paul enlarged and created a thread that matches the quick-release plates on tripods. And that hollow in the centre is just right for a water container.
The next step was to gather the things the clips would hold. James uses pencil tins as palettes, and I didn’t manage to find one before the lockdown, so had to order a tin of pencils online, which took ages to arrive. The first diffuser I came up with used bamboo skewers and bendy straws for the frame and white plastic sheet for the fabric, but both double-sided and masking tape peeled off the plastic so I wound up sewing on some white poly-cotton instead. I wasn’t going to attempt to buy kite fabric from Spotlight as they’re slow getting orders out so with Aussie Post delays on top who knows when it would arrive. At the moment if something can’t be bought in a supermarket, chemist, baker, butcher or green grocer, I’ve got to either make it using bits and pieces around the house and garage, or just do without.
Once I had all the components lockdown had eased enough that I could leave the house for a ‘picnic’. Reluctant to go out on my own in case people approached me, I invited a friend to keep me company and shoo people away. She agreed and we set a date and time… and when the moment came it was waaaay too cold.
I had to begrudgingly acknowledge that all this waiting for the perfect conditions was silly, and I should just paint, darn it! I found a sketchbook challenge and put the easel aside. But then it turned out one of the themes did require a bit of outdoor work:
I’m pleased to say that my easel idea worked. I wound up swapping the front and middle sets of arms around so that the front ones weren’t in the way and the book was closer to me, which meant the water bottle had to sit on the palette, but that was fine. The least successful thing was the diffuser. It flaps around in the wind too much, which is a problem with the construction, not the arms holding it. I’d need a lighter tripod if I’m going to carry it far, too, and the IKEA kid’s paintbrushes are about as good as you’d expect.
Overall, a surprisingly successful, if rather whacky, DIY easel.