Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Packing for Hiking and Plein Air

Buoys at the Lighthouse, Bernard, Maine
watercolor, 6"x6", $35

As mentioned in the previous post, my upcoming trip to Monhegan made me re-evaluate how I pack for plein air painting. On an island 10-miles out to sea with no cars (save for the few trucks relegated to hauling luggage and equipment), no bicycles and small narrow hiking trails ill suited for anything with wheels, I would need to channel my inner girl scout-self if I wanted to paint using an easel anywhere other than in the village.
I needed to find a backpack to carry my Cheap Joe's Field easel (sadly, unavailable at this time - I am told that it's undergoing some revisions). Sort of a combo of guerilla box and a french easel, its proportions (16" x 12.5" x 7.5") make finding a suitable case tricky. Researching packs on line was nearly impossible. The dimensions given can be deceptive – they are usually exterior specs, with the capacity given in cubic inches. (Helpful, I suppose, if your packing clothing, equipment, or food, but not when packing something inflexible.) So, off I went to REI with the easel.
This is what I chose: 
Mammut 45

It's a climbing pack with only one outer pocket (top flap). The back is semi-rigid and unzips to access the inside of the pack. There are only three inner pockets - two on the inner back - one mesh and one suitable for a "Camelback" bladder, the third is inside the top flap. It's bigger than I wanted – it could easily get too heavy, so it will be important to pack carefully.

I trimmed the backing from an (empty) Arches watercolor block - it slips behind the easel easier. The watercolor block board is fairly lightweight, is great way to tote paper and also provides a good solid backing when painting.

Inside The Easel Compartment

With very few pockets, I have to utilize the limited space inside the easel. There is one compartment big enough to fit brushes, and my paint palettes.
Obviously, there are loads of brush holders out there – zip cases, bamboo or canvas roll-ups – but nothing I had was flat enough to fit the space, so I created my own with some things I had – leftover foam core, elastic, hook&loop and scrap denim.

The Palettes

I use two small portable, foldable plastic palettes. I have all my basic colors and some extras. I glued some hook and loop on to the backs of the palettes and to the front tray on the easel. To secure the palettes and the brushes I also glued some hook to the inside of the easel compartment.

Last Items

A few last items and I should be ready to travel. I tuck a small rug into the easel, and bungie cord it to keep the legs together.

In the inner top pocket I put pencils, the folding water bucket, markers, tiny containers of mask and watercolor ground, a tiny spray bottle, tape. I can tuck the sketchbook on top of the easel. The outer top pocket is great for my wallet, wipes, camera (though that will likely end up in a pocket), drier sheets (aka bug repellant), sunscreen, hand sanitizer, extra ziplock bags.
Finally, I bungie a small three-legged stool to the outside and I'm ready to go!

Obviously, everyone will have their own solution. I've seen some really fabulous bags by a messenger bag company, Chrome. There is a Creativo bag and a backpack/roller bag I haven't tried, available on a few sites - Jerry's Artarama, and Cheap Joe's, to name two.

Though I'll probably bring a few extras to Monhegan, (maybe a small box of pastels, colored pencils, a larger sketchbook) I don't necessarily have to carry them with me at all times. Ultimately the point for me was to decide before hand, what medium I'm going to use that day, pare down and pack only enough for one or two paintings. 
My advise is to look around at what you already own and adapt what you can. It doesn't take a lot of fancy equipment - my big investment was the pack itself.