Wherein the artist holds his breath wondering, will it all fit?
Having shipped three large boxes off the the Sedona Arts Center earlier in the week, I still had one thing looming over my head: would I be able to fit my easel, paints, umbrella, and mediums into a single suitcase or would I become a victim of extra baggage charges!?
For months now, I’ve researched every kind of plein air easel known to man. The Soltek, the Guerrilla painter, the Julian, Craftech, Pro Advanced, Easylite, Utrecht, Open Box M, Beauport, gloucester, French full box, French half-box, thumb-box pochades and others made in every material there is from Brazilian rain forest wood to aluminum to steel. I’m surprised there isn’t one made out of Zebra wood and has a tube you can play like a digeridoo. It is amazing how many different ideas there are! Despite this, it is impossible to find great features like cup-holders, mini-microwaves, and water-resistant radios built right in, though I have to admit I gave up on the search. In any case, having looked closely at all of the readily-available easels and haveing tested many of them, I ended up, for my trip to Sedona, settling on my old French half-box (see photo above).
But here is a rule about plein air easels, in fact, here are two rules. Perhaps I will log them into Lewis’ Laws of Painting. Concerning plein air easels, rule number one goes something like this: The perfect off-the-shelf plein air easel does not exist. No matter how clever the designer of the easel has been, there is always a flaw, at least one thing that keeps the easel from being perfect, some compromise. I got tired of spending money on easels, using them once or twice, then going back to my good ol’ French full-box easel.
The second law of plein air easels would be: The first thing you do is change the hardware and strengthen the easel. Well, I’ll have to work on the wording of this one, but the point is that usually, and there are certainly very good exceptions to this, most of the hardware on an easel is cheap and inadequate. I always replace anything that I can with upgraded hardware.
And so, my rickety old French half-box has been fitted out with new hardware. I replaced nearly everything. Screws, which I increased in length and width, bolts and clasps. Everything has been glued and screwed and bolted and now it’s a tight little painting machine. Couldn’t find a microwave small enough to fit in it however but plein air painting is all about sacrifice. The other feature of my easel is a palette that sits on the opened drawer. This palette is small but big enough and it has holes of various sizes to hold my brushes. I can’t stand brushes touching one another when they have paint on them. The palette has a sort of cup holder trash can. The top of a dairy product plastic container sits in a hole cut in the palette. The top holds a plastic bag in place. When I finish with a paper towl, I push it into the top and the towel falls into the plastic bag. The top and the bags are recycled, or re-used, from my grocery shopping.
The question was will all of this fit into a single bag as I hoped. For weeks, in the back of my mind was a looming dread that it would not. So, in my typical style, I avoided the subject. Didn’t think about it. Didn’t drag out the old American Tourister I had used before, the one with the flourescent red tape on it so I could spot it in the baggage carousel. Didn’t brush off the cobwebs and dust and check the zippers and handle to be sure it was all still
working, or would I have to find another one? But once the frames and the canvases were shipped, it was time to face the music. Wait, how do you face music? Never mind. Anyway, earlier today the moment was ripe for climbing into the dangerous “shed”, which is an environment unto itself, one of darkness and critters; a thousand spidery eyes watch you, little scuttering sounds make you turn suddenly, and who knows what I just stepped on. There it was with its happy little badge “American Tourister”. Out in the light, with the webs wiped off, it was no longer a black bag but was now a mellowed, faded dark gray. No matter, everything was still working. I served notice on the inhabitants and began packing.
Everything fit. I couldn’t believe it, everything went right in with room to spare. Had I forgotten something? I must have! How could this be? Clothes, you’re saying, I forgot the clothes. Nope. My plan is to use a carry-on for the clothes since it will be just jeans and t-shirts to paint in. And I’ll wear my good shirt on the plane. I took
everything out and put it all back in, just to be sure. There it was, all fitting.
It’s interesting that a two-month long drive to pare everything down to the minimum all came together as planned, and all I have to carry on the plane is my bag and my brand new Stetson. Yee haw.