In celebration of RE-releasing Andy Evansen’s excellent The Secrets of Painting Watercolors Outdoors on the Creative Catalyst site, we’re looking through three different plein air video workshops to see the different setups Andy Evansen, Keiko Tanabe, and Dan Marshall all use when painting plein air. We’re starting with easels.
“You have to balance convenience with portability,” says Andy Evansen. “If you’re dragging all the stuff around, you’re constantly having to paint in the parking lot by your car because you can’t walk.”
The easel is potentially the heaviest piece of the kit you’ll bring plein air painting.
“Most of the plein air equipment is for oil painters. It’s so frustrating,” says Andy. “A lot of watercolor artists in the past were trying to use french easels and equipment that was made for oil painters, and trying to adapt it to their watercolor set.”
However, that is beginning to change.
In his video workshop, Andy is using a Joe Miller Signature Field Easel. It has four legs and can stand up to a lot of wind. However, it’s bulky and isn’t great for long distance. It’s also, well, discontinued.
Today, Andy recommends two different watercolor-focused setups. The first Andy recommends are the En Plein Air Watercolor Pro easels.
And in fact, if you go to the website for the company, you’ll see a familiar Creative Catalyst watercolor artist Keiko Tanabe.
For Keiko, keeping her kit minimal is an incredibly important part of her approach.
“Lots of times the ideal location is not close to parking so you’re expected to walk,” she says in her video workshops Storytelling with Watercolor. “And if you carry too much, that will discourage you.”
Keiko travels the world with her kit so you know it’s both durable and good for travel.
The En Plein Air Pro Traveler Series kit is small and can fit entirely in a backpack. The tripod legs mean you can set it up on uneven ground and it has a small shelf to hold your palette, paint and anything else (within reason) you need.
Andy also recommends another familiar name: Dan Marshall. (Editor’s side note: We promise this was total coincidental!)
In Dan’s video workshop, Cityscapes in Watercolor, you see him using a box as part of his kit.
"Getting yourself comfortable is one of the most important things for going out to painting," says Dan in Cityscapes in Watercolor. “The more you can make getting outside to paint accessible, the more often you’ll do it and the more fun you’ll have."
That comfort drove Dan to work on perfecting The Marshall Field Gear Painting Box. It took two years to get it right and he now hand makes and sells them to other plein air watercolorists. The Marshall Field Gear Painting Box fits on a standard tripod and weighs just over 6 pounds. The great thing about Dan’s box is that it gives you a safe place to store your kit while hiking including up to 8 sheets of quarter sheet watercolor paper and a Holbein #1000 palette.
For Dan, it was important to create a watercolor easel that kept everything at what he calls "painting level."
“This setup," he says, "Keeps everything in a completely manageable zone... so I can continue to keep looking ahead while I’m working. Not looking down for water, not going down to mix painting and then coming back up."
It may take some time to figure out the exact watercolor easel you want for your own plein air kit and it’s worth the effort. Every artist is different. The important thing is that you find an easel that works for you. One that is comfortable for you to walk around with, set up and then paint from. Let the years of experience of Andy, Keiko, and Dan be a starting point for finding what works best for you.
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