Readers of this letter will know that I advise the use of a variety of easels. As well as the main studio easel, there’s the secondary easel on which works-in-progress are laid to temporary rest for assessment and critique. Apart from smaller road easels, pochade boxes, “French” location easels and the modern Soltek easels, lately I’ve been using an alternate studio easel.
The David Sorg easel, manufactured in Denver, Colorado, is a heavy-duty, counterweighted model with lockable casters. It’s a big one that you can really push against. With the balmy weather here, I’ve been rolling it out onto the patio — essentially taking the studio into the elbow room of the great outdoors. I do best in open shade — there’s no question that colour comes easier. There’s a different state of mind here too. It’s brighter, with more oxygen, more energy, more squirrels. And then there’s the wisdom of standing. You tend to move around a bit and the work becomes more kinetic and fresher. Under the sky you don’t sweat the small stuff. I double up the canvas so the light doesn’t shine through. A benefit of the light-and-shade system, particularly for acrylic work, is that the whole unit can be easily rolled into the full sunshine for speedy drying as well as direct and angle-light evaluation. I’ve asked Andrew to put up a shot or two of the Sorg in action. See below.
Another advantage of multiple easels is the subtle wizardry of multi-tasking. Who said you couldn’t have more than one on the go at the same time? We all know the value of the casual glance and the power of the subconscious critic within. With multiple easels there’s more to glance at and ruminate about. I’m one of those painters who goes to work on whatever attracts the eye. The patio easel is a positive hazard on the way to lunch.
Variety is motivating. While the tried-and-true is valuable, the unusual and the different can be manna for the muse. It’s sometimes a mystery where it comes from. I often think it’s simply the shot of moxie that you automatically get from change. Once I did a fairly good painting of a tree, using the tree as the easel. With big-headed nails, I nailed the canvas up there. Maybe it was guilt. Maybe it was the close physical presence of a living being that was sharing my experience. I took the nails out afterwards.
PS: “Without change, something sleeps inside us, and never wakens.” (Duke Leo Atrides)
Esoterica: Another fun box for road work is the Guerilla Painter Pochade Travel Box. There’s that smug feeling of private completeness that you get from these sorts of units. For some reason the old shade umbrella telegrams “private” to most curious onlookers. The idea is to try not to squeeze everything you do through the same system. Easel variety serves the same purpose as Dame Edna’s new frock. It just makes you feel, well, different. “The great world spins forever down the ringing grooves of change.” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
The “David Sorg” Easel
Switching to a new location under the sky refreshes ideas and gives new perspective. Colour choice comes quicker and you don’t tend to sweat the small stuff. The David Sorg easel is heavy and solid. The smaller easel in the background is a home-made one called The Pissarro, after the French Impressionist who had one somewhat like it.
by Robert Genn
I’m pleased to announce that we have 38 people signed on for our little fundraiser to Alaska on the Coral Princess — to benefit the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Fernanez-Earle Foundation. Here is the schedule for coming ashore:
Ketchikan, Alaska – Monday, September 5th from 6:30 AM to 2:30 PM
Juneau, Alaska – Tuesday, September 6th from 7:00 AM to 8:30 PM
Skagway, Alaska – Wednesday, September 7th from 7:00 AM to 8:30 PM
Whittier, Alaska – Saturday, September 10th at 2:00 AM, flying out 12:19 PM
I intend to paint at these locations and I’d be most happy to meet with our Twice Weekly subscribers and others sometime during these times. My cell ought to be working in these places and on the boat when nearby: Please give me a call or drop Andrew a note and he will pass the message on. In case you contact the Coral Princess we are in cabin #A220. Thanks, I look forward to meeting with you rain or shine. Should be fun.
Easel lifts and lowers easily
by Stella Reinwald, Santa Fe, NM, USA
I too have the David Sorg Easel and absolutely love it. I waited over a year for it because David, the designer of this easel, had stopped making them one-at-a-time, as the design had been bought and was being developed in — where-else? — China. But they did a great job and the quality is very good. David is an extraordinarily nice man, and obviously an engineer as well as a painter. To add icing to the cake, it was much less expensive than other comparable easels, yet it has functions that none of the more expensive easels did — such as the counterbalance that allows you to lift the mast easily with one hand to put the active area of your canvas at eye level. Instead of resorting to contortions or painting out of good focus, you move the canvas to your comfort height without stopping.
(RG note) Thanks, Stella. And thanks to everyone who asked, David might be having a good week. David Sorg’s easel website includes an article called, Features to look for in a studio easel by himself.
Natural easels work too
by Alfred Muma, Powell River, BC, Canada
I have a large studio easel and a number of smaller easels that have been given to me over the years. I lend them out to students and to artists who have a need for them. When I paint on location I always use natural easels. In my canoe it’s the gunnels. On the beach I look for large logs cast ashore. On rocky areas I look for natural rock tables. I’ve been doing this ever since I gave up on finding suitable places to set up the easel I took with me for location painting. For me, not having an easel is one less thing to carry. I didn’t have to take an easel to New Zealand, Australia or Scotland, etc. To this day I haven’t been at a place where I haven’t been able to fine a natural easel! I know this isn’t for everyone, but it’s an interesting alternate.
Team of helpers
by Jo Scott-B
All four of my easels serve an integral role in my life. There’s the aluminum one which sits outside all summer, the sturdy studio one which holds my work in progress flanked by my late mother’s easel, where her spirit enfolds the piece I’m thinking about. A stalwart favourite, best of all, is the paint spattered one I purchased as an art student, agonizing then over the cost in the days when every penny counted for food or paint. It’s highly adjustable — it folds into a sturdy four foot block and goes to many shows and demos.
Curtain rods for wall easel
by Lorraine Khachatourians, SK, Canada
My ‘studio’ is a small room off the kitchen, fortunately with windows to the north and west. I paint in watercolour and in egg tempera on watercolour board. As such, I have space for only one easel. So I borrowed an idea from a decorating show and put curtain rods on the one wall, with curtain rings that have clips attached. This way, I can put up pieces when I’m at the pondering stage — instead of tying up my only easel. I can put up several, or just one. As a relatively new painter, I find it very helpful to let paintings sit for a while, to make sure that they feel finished.
I am very fortunate in that I am leaving on Saturday for France for a few days of gallery viewing in Paris, and then on to a painting workshop in Montaigut-le-Blanc, a little medieval village in the Auvergne. I’m in the final stages of ‘what to take?’ as supplies are not available in the village, or anywhere nearby.
Checking out easels
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
I have a wall in my studio that is about 12 feet wide that I have an adjustable-height shelf on. This works as a large easel to have various works in process displayed. The wall is made of a pressed cardboard pulp material that doubles as a bulletin board to tack outdoor sketches and reference photos to. That way I can look at the work in progress and the reference material at the same time. I am also always a sucker for a new easel and enjoyed checking out the one you suggested. My tried and trusty Stanrite model 300 easel has been the most versatile through the years with a couple of additions like a palette tray that clips on and a stone bag.
Easels for large works
by Nancy O’Toole, BC, Canada
I have a large a 49″ x 90″ horizontal commission that I have to do, and imagine that I will need to have 2 easels to manage this. What easel(s) would you suggest for something that size? It is a gallery wrap 2/1/2″ style canvas with fairly heavy support bars. At present all the studio walls are taken up with cupboards, and many other rather immovable things in the studio or I would possibly consider just hanging it on the wall to work on. I do have other paintings that will have to be worked on as well (possibly during the same time frame as the large piece) and these are 48″ x 24″, 40″ x 40″ etc (not exactly small). What would you do under the circumstances? Maybe its time to rearrange the studio?
(RG note) Thanks, Nancy. For the really big ones I use my walls or the window mullions. But the Sorg would probably take the 90″ canvas and clamp on to it tightly. I tested mine with a 50″ x 60″. The lower deck (on which the canvas rests) is wider than many easels. Sometimes I drive small screws at an angle into the upper and lower decks just to make sure things stay put — especially if you’re yarding it around. Something to note with the Sorg however — if you’re moving a big one up and down you better have a high ceiling — the Sorg’s mast goes to about 11 feet off the floor.
Of dogs and easels
by David Sorg, Denver, CO, USA
Yesterday was going to be a painting day until your letter came in with its very kind mention of my easel. I spent it on the computer and phone answering inquiries about the easel instead. What fun! Thank you so much for mention, and for the pictures. The photos are especially nice because of Dorothy, though it chokes me up a bit seeing them. I had Phillip the Airedale for a little over 14 years as the most perfect companion, who would also lay in my way, perfectly trusting that I wouldn’t step on him, but aware that it would increase his likelihood of pets or having me grab his leash for an excursion down to the creek for high entertainment. My wife and I are in near constant discussion about the pros and cons of getting another Airedale again — we’re both very pro, but circumstances would make a puppy more work than Phil was.
Regarding the easel, I’ve had a couple of calls from people who’ve had the upper canvas support knob strip, and I send them a bigger, heavy-duty replacement like I used when I built them myself. Should that ever happen, please let me know and I’ll send one along. (So far, it’s only happened to guys.)
Dog basks in creative energy zone
by Zelda, Canmore, AB, Canada
Something I noticed in your photo, and I have become aware of it in my studio or wherever I happen to be set-up, is that the household dog or other pet likes to be in the space of creative energy. Usually under the easel or at your feet. If I have a friend over and we paint together, “Montana” is always between us. If I visit a fellow artist and that person chooses to paint while I go out to get some groceries or whatever, on my return they will say: “Monte just laid under the easel. I had to watch where I moved as he was right there at my feet.”
Multi-tasking in woodwork
by Marshall Ted Chapman, CA, USA
I am not a painter but a woodworker. Boxes, sculptures and lathe work. Several bowl makers (lathe) recommend that you have several bowls going at a time. (There are face plates that you can attach to wood for a bowl and that are easily unscrewed from the lathe and change to another bowl in about a minute.) They find that having several bowls going is an energizer. I guess that the face plates are my easels. I do find that having several projects at once helps to keep the juices going. I have found that “The Flow” occurs when I’m using hand tools. Power tools are prone to take off fingers if one is not aware at all times. You can not let your mind wander, also work is impeded, even hand work if any stress or depression is upon you. A lot of woodworkers have shops in the woods and even the outdoors. These workers are more prone to have more art involved in their work. Cabinet makers are linear and it can be beautiful work but they can do it in a no-window room. I look out on trees and a seasonal creek bed and see hawks in the trees and other creatures — delightful. Question, I can not drink even beer and do good work. Can painter/artists or sculptors do rewarding work under the drug or alcohol influences?
(RG note) Thanks, Marshall. I recommend not driving or operating machinery or attempting works of art while under the influence of liquor or drugs. On the other hand, with dull or non-dangerous tools (brushes included) a light beer is okay provided it’s not too frequent (say once an hour). Wine is certainly okay when you’re in the right mood or need to stimulate the muse. Scotch, Rye, Gin, Bourbon, Vodka, Screech, etc., are also useful for the critiquing part and often give a clearer opinion and are in the long run cheaper than a hired professor.
by Marilyn Sadler
In today’s letter you have pictures of some easels, including one you said was “The Pissarro,” a homemade version. Do you have close-up pictures of that one? Plans for it? Did you build it?
(RG note) Thanks, Marilyn. Like a lot of my easels and boxes, I built it myself. I lifted the idea from Camille Pissarro. Like his, it’s weighted at the bottom with a few rocks. Unlike his, the canvas stays up there with “Velcro.” I’m sorry, but there are no plans available — it’s what I call one of my “SAFs” — Saturday Afternoon Folly.
The “Pissarro” Easel
Summer studio assistant, Michelle Moore, gives the time honored Pissarro a try. Nothing much moves except the lid of the box. The canvas stays put anywhere you set it.
by Jerry Lucey, Guadalajara, Mexico
My small folding easel came apart. For a replacement I have been looking at French Box Easels. Great for plein air and would double as a studio backup. At my senior age one starts to consider the easel cost in terms of lifespan. The French beauty has a long life and a price tag to go along with it. Another folding easel is low priced with low quality. My wife says to invest in the French easel with the aim to outlive it. Decision pending.
David Sorg monster easel
by Sally Pollard, Weiser, ID, USA
A few months ago I sent away for a David Sorg Easel after pouring over and deliberating over the many art suppliers’ catalogs and visiting a few at the art store. When it arrived by truck, the box was bashed and the face of the frame scratched by the barbell counter weights. I knew I would get paint on the thing eventually, but having my beautiful new easel arrive damaged, even if just cosmetically, sucked some air out of the day. The box was flimsy for such a great and heavy package.
The easel is absolutely gargantuan. I, of course, had read all the specs but having it there in front of you is a different reality. I wanted an easel that could handle small as well as reasonable large canvases but the size of it, wow! I wasn’t sure I had made a very good catalog purchase. Hands on shopping must be better, but I live in a very out of the way place. The Internet and catalogs are my pipelines to civilization. I also have had problems buying shoes and clothing out of a catalog, but those items are a heck o a lot easier to return. I let the monstrous easel sit in its box for a day or so, heart broken and a little mad at the manufacturer for packaging the thing so shabbily. It came by truck but was not at all properly crated for one man to handle. When I set it up, it towered, yes lorded over my large studio/workshop area. I sat and looked at it. My husband goaded me with, “Well, aren’t you going to use it?”
Finally I crossed over the surface tension of the newness of my monster and tried it out. I don’t like the feel of the sandpaper friction pads that hold the canvas, but they work fine. Now that they have some paint on them, I like them better. I no longer ache from the big scratch caused by the rough shipping. The easel has come out of its box and into my working life, finally. It adjusts easily and the wonderful casters do allow it to travel easily, whether to a better light or different location. I am beginning to like my monster, a lot. By the way a good gallery has invited me to submit work to them what a motivator. My monster and me spend hours a day together now.
Inexpensive easel on line
by Robert Bissett, Naples, ID, USA
Release forms on the road
by Darlene Gray, Regina, SK, Canada
I convinced my partner that a trip to Spain for both of us was in order. We will be traveling to Barcelona, Malaga and Cordoba in October this year. My question is about obtaining permission from people in street scenes. My local chapter of CARFAC (Canadian Artist’s Representation) has been especially helpful by providing me with Model Release Form — it covers any possible legal problem. However, it scares the heck out of me just reading it — I don’t think I would even sign it knowing the purpose. Can I really ask people in the street to sign a waiver this complex and legal without having them charge me for a meeting with their lawyer first? Surely there are easier and friendlier methods? Any suggestions? Also, if any of your readers are acrylic painters located in Spain, I would love to organize a one day learning session with an interested Spanish artist — for a fee of course.
(RG note) Thanks, Darlene. The release form scares the potential model even more than it does the artist. When you haul out that form in some noisy bodega in Barcelona, the Flamenco dancer is going to flip and think you are going to make a peseta killing out of her. Except for valuable commissions or specific projects the CARFAC form is a waste of time. Stopping people on the streets and asking them to sign is particularly ridiculous. There’s an honourable tradition of artists simply asking for and getting permission to drawor doing it anyway. Friendship trumps forms.
Taxes and art giving
by Gaylynn Robinson, Cincinnati, OH USA
In the last clickback the merits of giving work away either by gift or donation was discussed. Everyone’s insight was informative. However, if you give away your work, whether it be as a “gift” or “donation,” how do you reconcile it when tax time comes around? Do you state “gift” or “donation” on the forms? Does the taxman honor the prices placed on the artwork? Or are there many hoops to jump to validate the figure placed upon the artwork?
(RG note) Thanks, Gaylynn. Different jurisdictions have different rules. Generally a person-to-person gift of your own work of art is not a tax event. Giving a painting to or through a recognized and registered charity often gets you a tax receipt. The amount on the tax receipt — even though you were not paid this figure — should be taken into your yearly revenue as if you sold it and then deducted as a business expense. It’s a wash — and seldom of any real tax benefit to the artist donor. I know, it’s nuts. Giving art is an act of caring and ought not to be tax-driven. Lately I’ve been noticing that charities are requiring that I get a second or even third opinion (from a gallery or dealer) to confirm my donation’s worth — even though I will not profit in the matter. Nuts. For the best and current advice, phone somebody in your local tax subculture.
Courtesy on the road
by Bonnie Butler, VA, USA
In your recent edition, you touched upon some things that have interested me and I would love to know your thoughts — You wrote, “There’s that smug feeling of private completeness that you get from these sorts of (pochade-type) units. For some reason the old shade umbrella telegrams ‘private’ to most curious onlookers.” Is being private what you prefer, how you want to work? What happens when interferences get in the way? And I muse, what is best for the universal image of the artist, the potential label cast on to the rest of us if fellow artists are less than accommodating to the masses? Do we as individual artists have a stake in the reputation of the arts, particularly if we do our art publicly? Should we care about what we project as artists? (I’m not talking about art history here, I’m talking about present day society.)
Basically, I’m referring to two things simultaneously: the right (or not) to privacy when working publicly and the need (or not) to be accommodating when interrupted. What is our professional right and is professionalism a cogent issue in pursuing our professional rights? On a personal level, although I am a lesser experienced artist, I feel the pressure (to perform, to converse, to educate) while working plein air (or while I wait at my son’s baseball practice, swim team, or tae kwan do) with my soft pastels and French Companion. People whisper as loudly as possible, or so it seems, while I am attempting to concentrate, catch the light, or finish before my kid gets out of class, camp, or school. Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, they are forthright as they (or they allow their children to) monopolize my time with questions and conversation. Frankly, I don’t know when or how to cut them off! Similar comes to mind as I contemplate getting a stall/studio in local arts mall enterprise opening soon. I don’t want to paint in a fish bowl while having to field questions and comments from the public, so I’m trying to quash my very real desire for having the space. Because my primary goal is not selling, but creating art, cultivating a question or comment into a sale would not be my goal. Working uninterrupted in good light in a decent space with storage would be my goal. The last thing I want to be is rude or standoffish, but I’d like to know how other artists who seek privacy in public do so with tact so as not to make the universal artist appear like a curmudgeon.
(RG note) Thanks, Bonnie. There are many painters who set up ostentatiously in public places where they can chat up onlookers and sell paintings. There are others who relish the private struggle and the Zen-like joy of the act of art. Some artists do both. Getting a stall in an art fair or other venue puts you squarely in the first camp. I don’t think artists have any obligation to society other than to be themselves. The artist who wishes to be private sometimes has to walk a bit. With regard to curious kids coming around, I know what you’re talking about. I always try to remember the motto of the Big Brothers Organization: “No man ever stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”
Central Park in fall
mixed-media painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Highland Laura, who wrote, “Change makes you feel different and energized in a new way, just like my ‘different’ styles and sizes of paint bags (subs for boxes) I carry on various trips around the country: a small one, a large one, or a miniature size, with a variety of pockets and zips.”
And also Christine Gwin of Australia, who wrote, “I would really think that admiring the great outdoors and the beautiful trees is definitely not synonymous with injuring the tree with nails! I am relieved that at least you took out the nails so it could heal. Perhaps you could have hung something from one of the branches?”