Monday, March 6, 2017

Early Sketching Umbrellas

From an 1892 F. W. Devoe and C. T. Raynolds Company catalog.
Nineteenth-century sketching umbrellas were usually between 28 and 32 inches across, made of grey linen fabric. The clamp at the top allowed for the umbrella to be tilted to the side to block the sun or spill the wind.

The 48-inch support pole was made in two or three sections that screwed together, with a steel-tipped end that could stick into soft ground. The height was ideal for a painter sitting on a folding camp stool.

Here is John Singer Sargent sketching on a boat. Since he couldn't stick the pole in the deck, he lashed it to his leg and anchored it to other support points off to the right.

Modern umbrellas are a larger, made from a white nylon material, with an adjustable goose neck and a clamp that attaches to the easel, since soft ground is not always available. The white material is better than the light-blocking silver or black umbrellas. Those force your work to be lit by the light bouncing up from the ground, which is often strongly colored and prone to glare.

Any umbrella attached to an easel has a tendency to blow over when the wind comes up at all. One option is to attach the umbrella to a free-standing C-stand ballasted with sandbags. It's less likely to blow over, and if it does, it won't take the painting with it.

Do you have a story about problems with a sketching umbrella? Please share them in the comments.

Previously on GJ: White Umbrellas


Jared Cullum said...

This is fascinating. Hey! I just picked up a new artist biography from the library and thought I'd mention it if you haven't seen it.
Franny Moyle's "Turner: the extraordinary life and momentous times of JMW Turner."
So far it's great!

Jessica Kirby said...

I've all but given up on umbrellas. I think 90% of my plein air disasters were caused by the wind catching my umbrella. They're nice to keep the sun off of your work, but that visor you made seems more ideal.

David Webb said...

In Trevor Chamberlain's book 'Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour', he mentions drilling a hole in the spike of an umbrella and suspending it from an overhanging branch with a cord. This, of course, would only work if you had a conveniently positioned tree. However, if it did take off, it wouldn't take the easel with it.

babangada r said...

A good deal of the time I prefer a light blue umbrella as the white ones often cast bit too warm a light and not the cooler light of the sky but it depends on the painting.
I have done a variation on Sargent...i have a heavy leather belt and i put the belt around me and a large blue beach umbrella's pole which has its tip on the ground and is kept from swinging away by my calf and foot. Works great as i can just shift around as needed and it shade a large area. Sometimes i will put one of the small easel umbrellas down into my shirt...can be tricky.
I have certainly had every variation on the umbrella blowing away or dragging or crashing into my equipment or painting... or the variation of the clamped umbrella slowly sagging over without my noticing until i discover that i have been standing in full sun for an hour and the reason my eyes are watering is because the sun is blasting away on the painting, etc
Umbrellas, however, are always good -even when broken--for swatting at the bugs....or defending myself from attacking swans.
Ahhh..the joys of plein aire!!

Pete Culos said...

Usually it's curious on-lookers that get me. I once had a guy stand behind me and give a running critique!

BTW, I'm experimenting with video now and I was wondering what you use to produce video.

James Gurney said...

Peter, me too. I had a guy say, "Mind if I supervise?" Then the joking commentary. Every time I hesitated with a brushstroke, he said "Whoops!" I'll do a detailed post on the video setup, but in a nutshell I'm using a Canon Vixia camcorder on a tripod, with iMovie for editing. Nothing fancy. On my more ambitious videos I'm doing location recording, voiceover, homemade dolly shots, and other stuff, but it's pretty simple tech.

Not Quite a Painting a Day said...

Best Brella and a Palette Garage ... Two items I thought were affectations until I tried them. Check out what she says about the silver/black and the white versions on her website ... I have one of each colour. I don't attach it to the easel, but to the camp chair I usually sit in ... only once had a problem and that was when the wind was so strong that it blew it inside out, but no damage to the brella. I did put it down though and adjusted the direction of my paint box to shade the panel. I just had to live with that fierce northerly, Summer, Oregon Coast wind, though.

Gina Lento said...

My umbrella blew away during a plein air event and I never found it!

Pete Culos said...

Thanks for your response James! I haven't tried iMovie yet but I've been using PowerDirector which is easy to learn and quite robust. Love your work and this blog!

Lewis Clark said...

Well really lovely topic is sketching umbrellas i liked it very much. they are kinds sweet. and also the video link was interesting thanks for sharing this kind of information with us.

Unknown said...

I've clipped an umbrella to my French easel and chased the whole thing down a beach. Now I just wear huge hats.
I might try umbrellas again. They would be very nice in the summer hot. Thank you for the inspiration!

Al Skaar said...

I have one of those plein air umbrellas where the umbrella shaft slips into a tube that makes up a longer pole that can be attached to your easel. Those two pieces are connected by a length of bungee cord. The idea being that if the wind catches the umbrella it will lift free of the tube without knocking down the easel. Seemed sensible to me when I set it up on Crescent Beach. It was a breezy day and was well along in the painting when a gust of wind lifted the umbrella free of the pole. As I made a grab for the departing umbrella it flipped over, spilling all of the wind and the bungee cord, stretched to the max, shot the umbrella directly back at me like a missle. I stumbled backward over some driftwood and fell into my easel, taking down the whole setup. My wife and dog found the whole episode very entertaining!