Sunday, November 03, 2013

More Easel Hacks

I wanted to replace my old W&N Dart field easel with something more durable. Don't get me wrong, the Dart served me well for about four years. It was the right size, the right price (about $40) and quite versatile. But the difficult to replace carriage bolt threads wore out quickly and I have hands that start hurting quickly. I continue using wooden easels because sand jams aluminum telescoping legs, and the snap locks are even more painful for me to operate.

I flip-flop between oil or acrylic, depending on the weather, and I work on canvasses larger than the average field painter, say 24 x 30 or 24 x 36." My workhorse is the Mabef Giant easel, but there are times when I cannot carry a 40 lb easel into the field. Enter the M-29 Mabef field easel.

Now that you know my field painting idiosyncrasies, you should knowI have continued to stick with Mabelf easels because the workmanship and design is very good. Unfortunately, if you've used them, you probably also know they are made to hold european-sized stretchers. If you do not paint on panels you are doomed, since 1.43" inches wide is the widest the canvas holder goes…and I paint on 2" wide canvasses.

Hack #1: Expand the holding width of the retainer
I could have done this with wood, but I find it is difficult to peel off old paint from wood retainers, so I like to go to TAP Plastics and ask for a cut-to-order small piece of styrene high-impact plastic. You can drill it and sand it. Styrene high-impact plastic is hard but lightweight. I used woodworker's glue and a clamp to attach this piece to the existing retainer and this gave it the desired width. I drilled the hole after it was firmly glued. Unfortunately I had to go to the hardware store to get a longer carriage bolt…in a metric measurement. They didn't have exactly what I needed but they had regular machine bolts that did the trick.

There is also the matter of the top of the canvas holder. The retainer piece there needed a "lip" or stopper to keep the canvas from sliding off its position. I first tested the size I would need by placing one of my regular canvasses in position and marking it off with a pencil. Since the TAP folks cannot cut pieces that small, I sawed a small piece of red oak moulding, and carefully (because it is so small) glued it to the outer edge of the retainer.

Hack #2 Design a minimalist way to hold the palettes I use
On cold and rainy days my left hand cannot hold a palette for too long. When using acrylic, my palette is a piece of rigid high density polyethylene or HDPE. It is easy to scrape dry acrylic off them, which is how I like to dispose of these toxic paints, and you can get palette-sized scrap for $2.00. But HDPE is as heavy as a box palette. I also like to use paper palettes because they are lightweight and I can save oil paint if I fold the paper and open it in my studio.
The M-29 comes with two canvas holders that slide up and down. I was thinking of permanently removing them because they were narrower than the retainer and thus impossible to expand to 2," but then I had an idea taken from the heavy-duty palette holders Mabef sells for the Giant easel. What if I could attach lightweight sticks to the canvas holders?
After much measuring, I drilled ½" deep holes on the canvas holders. Then I sawed the ferrule off of two old paintbrushes of the same size, and inserted them in the holes. The sticks are in there firmly enough that my mixing with a brush or palette knife won't dislodge them and best of all, I can secure a paper of HDPE palette with regular paper clips. They are also easily removable. Just twist them off.

The biggest advantage of this way of holding a palette over the "shelves" sold on the market is that you can adjust the height at which you want your palette. Very ergonomic. I also like the low weight and that I can carry the paintbrush sticks with my regular brushes.

Hack #3: Add a carrying strap
You might think this is a straightforward and simple procedure, but it is not. Field easels are built mostly of long, thin pieces of wood. Attaching a handle in the middle, for example, with screws longer than ¼" is out of the question, as the legs won't easily extend if the tip of a screw is causing friction.

It is easy enough to find a strap you're not actively using, but what about the hardware that connects it to your easel? I took mine from an old french easel, but if you need to buy one, you're out of luck. Fortunately I discovered Hardware Elf, a company that sells such pieces to individuals.

In order to screw on a ring loop plate to the easel, you must be able to to so to a part of the easel structurally strong enough to handle the weight of the easel and the pulling forces of a strap. For the M-29, this is at the back ends of the easel. The top was easy but I ended up having to glue a piece of red oak moulding to the bottom back end just so I could screw on the ring loop plate with the tiniest little wood screws.

Maybe Mabef will take note and come up with an "american" version of the M-29. I don't think they are in a hurry to do it, since our disposable income is rapidly shrinking, and the entire world uses the metric system. But it does not hurt to dream!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Open Studios Information

Open Studios is on the first two weekends of June!
Join us for an informal opportunity to see my work and the work of my friend and printmaker Carmen Melendez. There will be music and refreshments. A map to my studio is available in the Pro Arts directory.

The studio is wheelchair accessible and there is ample parking. I cannot publish the address here, but I can assure you you won't be able to miss it with all the signage and balloons I will place on the street!

From San Francisco
Cross the Bay Bridge and stay to your left. Drive to Berkeley. Pass Berkeley and Albany. Watch for the Solano exit (immediately after the San Pablo exit). Take the Solano exit and make a left at the ramp, then a right on Solano. Go up the hill past a church complex. On Arlington Blvd, make a left. Follow the signage and balloons to my studio.

From El Sobrante, Crockett, Pinole and Vallejo
On 80, take the McBryde exit. Turn right on McBride at the end of the ramp. Cross Amador St. Continue on McBryde almost as if you were going to Alvarado Park. Mc Bryde curves. Make a right on Arlington Blvd. Follow the signage and balloons to my studio.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Watercolor Portraits

These are my better watercolor portraits this month, even though I used pen to draw with and not pencil. You can see the corrections I made, on the whole body figure. I got back into watercolor after a period of no action in that medium. They were done at the Firehouse Gallery, at night, on 12 x 12" Lanaquarelle Cold pressed 140 lb. paper.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Sketching on the Ipad

I don't have the newest Ipad. I have the first one that came out. Still, I have managed to amass a collection of apps for drawing, painting and sketching. I've found them super-convenient substitutes for the real thing during my travels. This one started out as a doodle, and I added elements during subsequent sessions. I used an app called Art Set. I fell in love with it because its creators understand that simplicity and ease of use is the number one need artists have. I wish it offered more colors, though. I like it produces leaner files than say, Art Rage, which i also like. Also, I think that as they listen to artist feedback they will come up with "tools" that won't necessarily mimic what real life tools do, but that enable exciting effects.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cart For Mabef Giant Easel Part IV

Here is a "semi-exploded" diagram of such a handcart. I did write 39" but it is really 40" long. I am thinking of building it out of wood.

I do not, however, have a drill press. So I am unable to drill holes at the end of a 15"x 1/2" axle shaft to attach cotter pins. I could always order a custom length axle shaft from one of those internet companies. But the prices are outrageous.

Some of you might ask, well why not buy the type of bike cart designed for walking too? For example, Wike's "Speedy Cart"? This foldable, lightweight cart is as good as the Burley Travoy but much better priced ($99 vs $269). Unfortunately neither the Speedy Cart nor Wike's Golf Cart is narrow and long enough to hold the Mabef Giant easel securely without major bungee intervention.

Cart for Mabef Giant Easel Part III

After I decided that a handcart, and not a wagon, was what I needed, the question became what shape, and how deep. I took the measurements you see here and discovered that when I placed the chair on top of the easel, the total height is a bit more than 5 inches. And the width of the two arranged in this way is 12".

I reasoned that the cart would need to be about six inches deep for the chair not to fall off the handcart, and about 13 inches wide to give the chair a little play. The entire box would have to be 40" long.

For that box to become a handcart, I would need to add a handle. I already have a recycled steel handle that will work well, that I took from a plastic seeder cart.

One more thing: the axle would have to be at least 15" long and 1/2" in diameter. The length worried me because it had "non-standard" written all over it. By this time I had done enough research online to realize I was not going to find a 15" long axle unless I fabricated it myself. I decided it had to be 1/2" in diameter after I realized that no matter what size of the cart wheels I used, these spoked wheels would only accept a 1/2" diameter axle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cart For Mabef Giant Easel Part II

There is something else I consistently carry to the field besides the backpack that holds my paints. This child-sized steel folding chair is surprisingly lightweight and actually small, 33" long by 12" wide. I usually strap it to a handcart without any problem.

I decided that If I am going to go through the trouble of creating a custom cart, that this cart should also carry the chair. The easel and the chair actually fit together quite well. The whole package is 12" wide, six inches deep, and 39" long. 

After some research online, I also decided that a wagon would not do, due to the fact that I often have to go up and down stairs in my search for suitable painting spots. Hand carts are also quieter and much lighter in weight if made with the right materials. Wagons and bike trailers online looked attractive, but were too expensive and not really what I needed.

Here I should add that I have weak hands and the thought of tying bungee cords brings pain to my senses. I decided that this cart should help me do away with the need for bungee cords.

So why not buy the Burley Travoy? Two reasons: The handle system in this hand cart/bike trailer not really made for long treks on foot. And, although the Travoy sports an award-winning design, it requires securing the load guessed it, straps.

I did like the 12" wheels on the Travoy, so I decided that this would be the type and size of wheel I would use on my custom cart.

Cart for Mabef's Giant Easel Part I

I paint outdoors on "big" canvases. Since size is relative, let's say that for me, big is around 2' x 3', with a width of 2". Not only are big canvases hard to haul around, they behave like a sail under windy conditions. So it is important to work on a sturdy easel, made to accommodate the demands of larger sizes. I have tried several brands by now and have found Mabef easels to be well-constructed, so this last christmas I bought myself Mabef's "Giant" easel. At 30 something lbs and 39" long, this is what we could call "the daddy" of field easels. Don't be fooled by the nice leather strap and handle. It is unwieldy.

In fact, as a side note I should add that the white parts are pieces of UV-resistant styrene I had to add to hold the 2" wide canvas in place, because this beautiful italian easel is built with metric measurements. This was an unexpected problem I discovered the first time I took it out to paint on a steep El Cerrito hill.

After experimenting with various ways of attaching this easel to the carts I use to transport smaller easels, I realized several things:
1. I cannot carry it by the handle (since I have the canvas to contend with)
2. It is so long it cannot be strapped to a wagon weighing less than 30 lbs
3. It is so heavy it has to be strapped in several places if you want to stay in place on a handcart
4. Can't even think of strapping it to a backpack!

I began to think of a custom hand truck for it....