Mobile easels include everything that goes by land, sea or air. My friend Toni Onley used to paint from the cockpit of his amphibian Lake Buccaneer. Floating studios permit the marvel of drifting — silent, Zen-like contemplation and rendering along waterways. There’s nothing like a rowboat or canoe — tethered or not. A small custom unit can be made to fit a kayak — the “Keasel” — where water-based brush swizzling is a piece of cake. A few years ago I built an “Art-Dog,” a mobile paintbox I towed behind my bike. I actually patented the unit but no one was interested. If you want to paint using a trail bike, set the kickstand and paint facing backwards.
There’s nothing wrong with the family car. The back seat is the cocoon of choice on rainy days — on sunny ones you might try standing up in the moonroof with the paintbox and other stuff in front of you on the roof. Make sure you’ve come to a stop if you decide to paint behind the wheel. Small hooks or screw eyes in the back of the canvas permit bungeeing to a nicely angled steering wheel. Ultimate comfort comes with a motorhome, where setting up at the picture window can give a new view every day.
For really remote, nearly inaccessible terrain, nothing beats a quad. ATVs improve bush travel and open up areas previously only suitable for hiking. A stable painting platform when you arrive, the only downside is the racket they make in getting there. I’ve noticed when other people drive them in the wilderness the racket bothers me more than when I’m making it. Yesterday, in western Ontario, I drove 75km to a precious place that would have taken several days to hike into. There were six of us quadders in the party, so if any tree-huggers got exercised I had help in fighting them. As it was we saw no one but a solitary moose, and he seemed blasé to our passage. The paintbox was bungeed to the carrier rack and I faced rearwards to paint.
Mobile workstations are only limited by an artist’s imagination or inclination. Odd-ball transport gives unique material, new perspectives, as well as adding oft-needed variety and opportunity. Apart from that, they add even more fun to an already fun job.
PS: “Today I drifted [in the floating studio]with Camille on the Seine at Argenteuil. The views materialized and dissolved and I was as contented as a cow in her stall.” (Claude Monet, 1874)
Esoterica: The basic mobile unit is the paintbox. Some artists prefer comprehensive ones with everything but the kitchen sink. I take a Spartan approach. I’ve done a lot of backpacking where lightness counts and where a cigar box with a few basic colours and sawed-off brushes works just fine. You may be a little embarrassed about it, but you’ll really get off on a certain smug feeling you get when you arrive at a remote location, open your tiny office, squeeze out and produce something of value.
Magic of off-road biking
by Jan Thomson, St. Arnaud, Nelson Lakes, New Zealand
My husband and I travel around New Zealand on our 1953 Velocette MAC, and I always have my watercolour kit with me. MAC makes a great backrest/shade and I paint there happily while Rob wanders off for a walk or makes lunch. On our old bike we can get to places which are inaccessible by car, and the magic of being able to paint this way is wonderful.
Adapting chairs for painting
by Cheryl Lobenberg, Sacramento, CA, USA
I teach an eight weekend plein air sketch/ watercolor class. On the first Sunday of the class we were onsite sketching and water-coloring en plein air. I had suggested the day before that each student should bring a comfortable chair to work from. I told them that their chairs could range from specifically manufacture field art chairs to “soccer mom” chairs and even collapsible patio/beach chairs. The class was very amused when one of their fellow students set up a lawn chair that allows you to sit upright or fully prone position for napping! We all laughed until we saw how he worked the chair! And how did he keep the sketch pad from sliding down the back rest? He simply used two twigs positioned between the plastic batting for the bottom of the pad to rest on! The third weekend of class, he found a hook lying on the ground and now uses that to hang his sketch.
Emergency painting bag
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA
In the back of my station wagon I keep a complete set of paints, brushes, small bottles of turps, small pieces of canvas taped to foam core, rolled-up hat, rags, and a three-legged folding stool. When watching my sons at the pool or soccer game or playground I will often unobtrusively set up my stuff and paint! I have my palette in my lap, holding the canvas on my knees in my left hand, and have my turps and brushes on the ground at my right. My little arrangement is so quick to set up and so unassuming in nature that most of the time people don’t even notice what I am doing until I’m breaking it down. It can also be used in the front seat of the car for even more privacy or in a friend’s backyard during a visit. I call it my emergency painting bag!
by Helen Opie, Granville Ferry, NS, Canada
I used to paint from the roof of my car. I sit cross-legged or with legs outstretched, with my paint box on my lap or in front of me or beside me. I have managed canvases of 24×36 inches on my lap. I like the moderate degree of isolation of being up on my car roof; people can still watch, and often ask questions. At the same time, they cannot trip over my easel, bump my arm, or touch to see if the paint is still wet. Their questions are opportunities to demystify art. If people make stupid comments before asking me what I’m doing, they get stupid replies; I am teaching ants to read, or sewing buttons on ice cream. I also remember that these people just might be future buyers and I don’t want to drive them away. That would be counter-productive!
by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada
Occasionally, I use my “Seasel.” It is actually my wife’s car but with a drop sheet. Artists seem to be predisposed to make their own traveling gear rather than to buy commercially made products. I can travel with all my art supplies and be on the road for weeks. I typically have two or more art boxes in the Subaru Forester (the “S” of Seasel). The width of each box is designed for standard sized stretched canvases. Each box holds up to 12 very wet paintings. By the time the box is full, the first painting “in” is ready to be “out” and stacked.
Negative impact of ATVs
by Hap Hagood, Clover, VA, USA
Knowing how much you love the natural world, I’m very much surprised at your suggesting the use of ATVs as improving bush travel. ATVs have serious, negative impacts on wetlands, riparian ecosystems, and native plant and animal species. They create air, water and noise pollution, all of which drastically affect wildlife and they actually devastate many of the natural resources that need protecting the most.
Hiking trails in the wilds should never be replaced by the rutted roads produced by ATVS.
by Sandra Donohue, Robson, BC, Canada
I really enjoyed the letter about mobile easels and painting in hard-to-get-at places. I put my small set of watercolours, a brush and small watercolour book in a little plastic box and swam out to a rock that was just barely above the water. It was lots of fun!
Back seat drivers
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Sage advice! My experience with painting in public is about the same as getting lost and playing Solitaire. They say if you are lost in the woods, bring out a deck of cards and start playing Solitaire. Someone will inevitable come along and tell you to put up a card. The same is true with painting outdoors. No matter where you are, people will gather and come just a little too close and ask all sorts of dumb questions. While I love what I do, painting is really just a procedure of squeezing out paint and smearing it on a canvas. Oh, we have all sorts of tricks and details we add here and there to make it our own. But the piece really only comes together in the last quarter. I, personally, don’t like being watched when I work and would rather not show people my paintings until they are finished. I suspect I could pull out a canvas in Antarctica and someone would come along and say “hmm, interesting, why did you use orange there?” Usually it is because I have run out of blue.
Angles of opportunity
by Ronit Judelman, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nothing stands in the way of art making! I crawled into my university lecture and lay on the floor with excruciating back pain (I was not going to miss the lecture for anything) lamenting that I would not be able to stand and paint for a long while. My teacher calmly smiled and said, “I wonder what your painting would look like if you painted what you see from that angle” — a great teacher indeed!
by Kim Van Riper, Tempe, AZ, USA
I have several publications to date of wildlife pen and ink drawings for various biological analysis books, but I have never displayed my paintings at a gallery. I have applied several times for exhibition, but have been turned down. I am writing to ask your advice on portfolio arrangements which will present me as a proper artist, as well as resume qualities that gallery owners see as beneficial. I know that you have wide representation, as far as galleries go, and I understand that relationships must be built.
(RG note) Thanks, Kim. It’s been my experience that nothing beats really excellent work, no matter how it’s presented. Some dealers even like to work with unprepared artists, provided they are nuts about producing. Having said that, the accepted angle nowadays is to have a simple, straightforward website with no baloney in it. Even better is a premium listing right here on Painter’s Keys. Drop off your card to dealers and agents who you feel might be appropriate for your work. Use our site as part of your contact right on your card. A premium link gives just enough information for them to ask you to come in for a closer look. Dealers these days are busy folks and often leave unlooked-at slides in drawers for months, and don’t always return them. The Internet is the new connector, and it’s my experience that while dealers may say they’re not taking on new artists, they are always secretly open to talent that will make things easier for them.
Past our prime?
by Catherine Stock, France
Two art school friends, who have done very well in theatre, were exhausted and considered going back to sculpture carving full-time. In spite of their successful creative careers, when they approached a top gallery in Cape Town, the gallery owners felt that they were too old for any serious gallery to even consider taking them on. Can it be true that artists need to be groomed and presented to the public by astute and canny galleries, and that if we wait too long doing other things, we just miss the boat?
(RG note) Thanks, Catherine. If any dealer said that to me, I’d tell them that I’d rather have a younger dealer. As a matter of fact, I work best with my younger dealers. Older folks, who older dealers attract, are often filled up with paintings right down to their rumpus rooms. Young dealers often have young customers, new and eager for the collecting excitement. The smart ones know that mature artists are capable of generating excitement for any age group.
by Laury Ravenstein, Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada
In Port Coquitlam, we have designed and built 6 Art P.O.D.S. (Portable Open Design Studios) for the artists to use to promote their work and to facilitate sales. This addition to the Leigh Square Art’s Village shows the city’s commitment to providing opportunities for artistic growth. The city charges no fees for the weekly rental period, and only a 15% commission on sales.
The Art PODS have wheels and folding panels that can open up to create a large display area, as well as an extension table to create a work space. The Art PODS all have shelves, drawers, table easels, storage areas and they come with a fold-out chair. When closed up they are 2′ by 4′ and when open, they cover 6′ by 16′.
The gardens and waterfalls around the Leigh Square and City Hall are perfect places to spend an afternoon painting. (Starbucks is right there for the ultimate pick-me-up) In poor weather, there are indoor areas to work. The public loves to “see” the artists at work and this gives us a chance to stimulate interest in our art. This enables city-dwelling artists to work inside and out, (all year long,) and to get out into the world, while still working in “their studio.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Mobile methodologies…
Sitting At The Fountain
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Ted Invictus of Grand Forks, BC, Canada who wrote, “I feel compelled to remind you of the permanent damage your ATV does to the environment and the pain it causes my soul.”
And also Valerie Norberry who wrote, “I think the hardest part about painting is sitting still. One really needs to get up and stretch, how does a person do that in a kayak? What is the record of the longest painting in a kayak?”
And also Gayla Moss who wrote, “I plan on packing some art supplies for my new job so that on lunch breaks or during down time I am ready to be creative!”
And also Christine Ritchie who wrote, “Making the ego and all the materialism that it loves take a back seat to allow our creative nature a chance at the limelight is perhaps our present culture’s greatest challenge.”
And also >Bill McCaffrey of FL, USA who wrote, “You can tell Floridian plein air painters by the way they scurry from shade to shade. Out in the Everglades, we don’t have too much trouble with the moose but we do have to keep an eye out for the occasional gator or cotton mouth.”
And also Frances Topping of Charlestown, RI, USA who wrote, “I am not in favor of encouraging people to get ATVs for any reason — gas, destruction of environment, noise pollution, etc. I agree it makes previously inaccessible areas accessible but at a price.”
And also Kit Miracle of Jasper, IN, USA who wrote, “I paint from the back of my bicycle. My biking and art has taken me all over and I have even won a grant from my state arts council to record my county in paintings.”