Saturday, August 17, 2013

Plein Air Tip: Go Vertical

Here's a helpful tip when you're painting outdoors. Try to arrange the angle of the painting surface to be:
  • 1. Vertical (or perpendicular to your line of sight) 
  • 2. Adjacent to the view you want to paint, and 
  • 3. About the same size as your field of view. 

Oil painting in progress on an Open Box M pochade easel.
And try to arrange the palette to be:
  • 1. Close to the painting,
  • 2. Vertical also, or parallel to the painting surface,
  • 3. In the same light as the painting.

If you can do all these things, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of drawing or painting what's in front of you. When you have to look 90 degrees to the side or down to your lap, or if you have to allow time for your eyes to adjust for brightness differences, it makes it harder to make accurate observations.

Getting this setup right may take a little while, because it involves coordinating a lot of separate factors: whether you're sitting or standing, the size of your panel, your distance from the subject, and your easel adjustments. And sometimes this set-up isn't possible, such as in a subway or a restaurant, but if you can prop a sketchbook up on your knee, it helps a lot.

This is the same basic idea as the sight-size method used in art academies, but I follow the method a little less strictly, and I try to match my painting size to my view at the given working distance, not to the actual size of the subject.

Here's my new DIY sketchbook pochade easel in action. The pochade mounts to a lightweight camera tripod. The sketchbook is clipped to a plywood board, below which is the palette holder, attached to the board by friction hinges  The palette is the metal lid from a pencil box spray-painted white and held on with Velcro. Some of these refinements come from your suggestions--so thanks!

The angled camera bar has various holes for mounting video cameras. At the moment it's holding a GoPro on a kitchen timer. The camera bar swings up and down, and is held in position with the friction lid support at left. It is currently out of the way in the down position.
Read more:
Marc Dalessio video showing his sight-size landscape setup
Darren Rousar's website explains sight-size method
David Kassan demos his "Parallel Palette"
I explain the DIY sketchbook pochade in the recent cicada video
Sources for gear:
Open Box M pochade easels
Friction Lid Support
Southco adjustable friction hinge
GoPro Hero
IKEA Ordning Kitchen Timer


Rant said...

Thanks James. I love seeing the different tri-pods and set ups people have. Been planning on building one for awhile now.

mdmattin said...

I was inspired by your original design along with Michigan Painter's version to make my own, which I wrote up over on The Sketching Forum.
Now I just have to master casein painting itself, which is not as easy as you make it look. Are you planning any workshops on the subject?

Diana Moses Botkin said...

Thank you for sharing this, James, and also the links for DIY easel set-up.

You are so right that getting a good angle to avoid glare, plus a location for the view, can be tricky, but helpful! That changing light shift from a bright subject to a shaded canvas really confounds the vision.

Aleada Aine Siragusa said...

I know Roger Bansemer uses a vertical palette and you have painted out with him. He has a site with videos where you can see him using this palette.

Aleada Siragusa

Rob Kulas said...

James,love your new revisions on your pochade box. My version of your pochade is holding up excellently and works great.
Really looking forward to your painting DVD's. Will these videos be available for download?.

Thanks Rob Kulas
Michigan Painter

Jeff Allen said...

Quick question, what is the timer for???

James Gurney said...

Jeff, that's for advancing the time lapse. Check out today's video, "Painting Kirkside Park" to see how the camera pans left.

RK, yes, the videos will always be available for download. Right now I'm using Gumroad, and if you check on the blog or, you should be able to find links.

MD, maybe not workshops, but definitely a video on casein eventually.

RK and MD, please send me photos of your adaptations of the idea when you make them.

Don Low said...

Thank you for sharing. I wish I am as handy man as you. For now I just purchased a Pochade box from Sienna. Nice wood, but I think yours looks a lot more sturdy.

David Kassan said...

Love this vertical post. :) Hope you are well!