Monday, November 4, 2013

Pochade Boxes, French Easels... and Thou

"A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"
-- The Rubáiyát, Omar Khayyam

If you've become aware of my artwork within just the past few years -- say, since I first became active on Facebook or, even more recently, since the creation of this blog -- you are familiar with my fondness for journaling. (Flora, fauna, people, and places -- I love to sketch it all.) And you may have even noticed that I'm quite keen on sharp-edged studies, sometimes complex compositions, and detailed note-taking. But you probably wouldn't know that when I first came to art my first passion was for oils done all a prima. Nor would you have any way of knowing that I like to mix things up from time to time; when one thing starts to feel too routine I like to go off in a completely different direction (artistically speaking) and explore something that gives me a fresh outlook on things.

I generally find standing more comfortable (and less restricting) 
than sitting when sketching al fresco

For example, when I was producing studio oil paintings on a monumental scale (as in 20 foot tall figures) I would sometimes grab my French easel and head out into Nature for some fresh air and a bit of on-location sketching in paint.

Lakeside, another painterly (Boneless Method) landscape (5x7, oils on panel)

Of course, with nature and travel journaling I can manage all the fresh air I want. But recently I've been thinking that it might be time to get some of the rust out of my artistic system. So, I decided to get out one of my pochade boxes, shift mental gears, and do a little plein air work.

Impression, evening cloud study (5x7, oils on panel)

The first (and perhaps biggest) "shift in gears" involves switching from the working on paper approach (i.e., generally working from the white of the paper toward the darkest darks) to that of working in oils. This is necessitated primarily by the drying qualities of oil paint. That is, dark colors generally dry faster because of lower oil content while light colors (with their higher oil content) generally dry slower. (Putting dark layers over light ones can frequently result in surface cracks that can threaten the longevity of the painting.)

The second "shift" is giving up detailed underdrawing; to add to the immediacy and freshness of the experience I work directly in paint.

Luke, a linear (Bone Method) portrait (6x6, oils on panel)

Ste. Mare Eglis, Bone Method landscape (18x27, oils on canvas)

And finally, the third (and forth) "shifts" are a switch to wet-in-wet technique, the adoption of softer, more painterly edges (being fascinated with Chinese art, this correlates for me with a switch from "Bone Method" to "Boneless Method"), and greater focus on form (less on detail.)

Kerry, Boneless Method landscape (5x7, oils on panel)

All of this is done to maintain old skills (and maybe develop a few new ones), to force myself to work differently and to think carefully about what I'm doing -- and, hopefully, to see things with a fresh eye. 

Sunset, Normandy (5x7, oils on panel)

And you never can tell when the portability and convenience of a pochade box will make a sublime experience possible. For example, our first evening in Le Pre, Normandy we popped out to the nearest grocery store (in Saint James) for some provisions... and we greeted by the scene depicted in Sunset, Normandy when we exited the store. (Our kids were kind enough to put the groceries in the trunk while I took my portable sketch box out, and dinner was only a little later than expected.)


I generally prefer to keep the legs shortened on the 
French easel for stability on windy days

My very first plein air kit was a French easel -- a beautiful piece of woodwork, plenty of space for paint tubes and brushes, and the most versatile when it comes to working with larger stretched canvases and panels. But it's heavy and can be a bit wobbly if the legs are fully extended.

...seated on a camp stool...

...or in your car (where the solar effect can make it shirtsleeves-comfy, even on a nippy autumn day)...

...or (with the use of the thumb hole on the underside of the box) cradled on your forearm

the Julian pochade box proved itself an extremely useful tool for cabin and trail 
during my 10-week wilderness adventure in North Cascades National Park

My second plein air sketching kit was a Julian "pochade" box (pronounced pō•shā) -- another beautiful piece of woodwork (Do you see a pattern emerging here?) and bare-bones small: just enough room for a single 6"x8" uncradled panel in the lid/easel, a few dollops of paint on the built-in palette, a few brushes, a capped cup of medium, and a rag for clean-up.

the Julian's simple design harkens back to its 19th century origins as a modified cigar box

And my third (my wife says, "final") plein air oil sketch box is a 6x8 Guerrilla Painter ThumBox (Version 2.0).

built like a tank (for years of worry-free painting afield) and, with an adopter 
plate installed, can be mounted on a standard camera tripod

the Guerrilla Painter box offers an ingenious adopter that allows me to work with 
6x8, 5x7, or 4x6 panels, stretched canvases, or even watercolor blocks

a Guerrilla Painter bag is available that turns the pochade into a piece 
of light weight carry-on luggage weighing less than 2 pounds


Smaller pochade boxes are too short for regular length brushes. So, the plein air painter may opt for a separate brush carrier, or s/he may look for short-handled alternatives.

Guerrilla Painter short handled filberts and a painting knife 
(this one with 3 convenient painting edges)

The folks at Guerilla Painter offer a nice set of 4 brushes (in your choice of flats or filberts, sizes 2, 4, 6, 8) or (if you want a more personalized selection) you could opt to make your own.

after shortening the handles and rounding the tips with sandpaper you can dip the end in enamel 
(i.e., fingernail polish) to seal the wood(I also sharpen and clearcoat one of the leftover handles 
as a "signature stick" -- for fine lines and inscribing through multiple layers of paint)


Add, maybe, a picnic basket filled with antipasto, a crusty loaf of bread, a little cheese, some fruit, and a small bottle of wine and you just may be set to enjoy the perfect day out.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this very informative post! I've loved your journal work and especially like your "Lakeside" oil! Lovely!