Equipment for a Free Range Artist – Part 2

I’m back from my free range field test: a weekend trip to Fruita, Colorado for some plein air mountain biking fun. (If you missed the first post about all of my new plein-air equipment, you can read all about it here.)

First stop were the Kokopelli trails, which take you along the edge of the Colorado river. There are gorgeous vistas at every turn, and I hiked a few meters off trail and painted one of my favorite views of the canyon. If I’d been walking, it would have probably taken about four hours to get to this spot (and another four to hike back!) but with the bike I could get there in no time.

Plein air painting along Steve's Loop

Most bikers on the path below didn't even see me.

The equipment really improved the experience. Not only was I more comfortable, but I had a much easier time judging color and value with the help of my shade umbrella.

Watercolor painting of a sandstone canyon

The final painting

One benefit of combining mountain biking and painting was that my husband could do extra laps while waiting for me. Sometimes he had a good view of my painting spot:

cliff-painting-setup

See the white dot of my umbrella?

Watercolor painting of a sandstone cliff in Fruita, CO

I was painting this interesting rock formation. So many holes!

So, you ask, how was all the equipment?

The Umbrella (Bestbrella white)
Pros: Provided a neutral, even light. I found it easy to set up and relatively stable. It even protected my painting against the odd sprinkle of raindrops.
Cons: I’m not sure I’d use it in a downpour or high winds, but that’s not really what it’s for. When the sun was at certain angles (like right behind my head) it was difficult to properly position the umbrella because the easel got in the way of the tripod pole. I think this is actually a problem with the tripod, not the umbrella: if I had a taller tripod I could have clamped the umbrella lower on the leg in order to miss the easel.

The Easel (En Plein Air Pro Traveler Series)
Pros: Easy to set up, lightweight, simple.
Cons: The easel is fitted with holes to hold your brushes, but a lot of my brushes are either too big or too small to fit in these. Some slide all the way down to the ferrule, while others stick out quite a bit. On more than one occasion I’d absentmindedly put down a brush only to have it slip right through.

The Stool (Walkstool Comfort)
Pros: Durable, easy to set up, pretty comfortable.
Cons: You can only use it with the legs fully extended when it’s on level ground.

The Backpack (Camelbak Motherlode)
Pros: Spacious, durable, well-balanced, lots of convenient pockets.
Cons: It’s not designed with women in mind, and was wide and bulky on me, particularly around the shoulder area. But the width makes it perfect for holding the easel, so I’m not complaining.
Other notes: It can also throw off your center of gravity while biking, which makes technical terrain very difficult. I wouldn’t recommend this for beginners. In fact, I made my husband carry it most of the time so that I wouldn’t mess up and fall off the cliff.

I'm just posing. I gave it back to my husband right after this photo.

I'm just posing. I gave it back to him right after this photo.

The tripod (an old mini travel tripod–I have no idea what brand or model.)
Pros: Very small, compact and lightweight.
Cons: My mini tripod is clearly not meant to hold a bulky plein air easel and umbrella. It’s unstable, and is so small that there’s no way you could use it while standing. The short legs make it difficult to level on steep slopes. It’ll do for now, but I’m going to start saving up for something a little more versatile for the future.

Watercolor painting of two utah junipers and a high desert view beyond

We also visited 18 Road, on the other side of the valley.

Conclusion:

All in all, I’d call it a success! If you’re thinking of doing more “free-range” painting and are hesitating about investing in equipment, I recommend that you go for it. No matter where you go to paint–be it far off the beaten path or as close as your back yard–it’s a fun challenge and a great way to improve your painting skills.

Autumn Painting
Equipment for a Free Range Artist - Part 1

2 Comments

  1. by Mike Buffington on May 26, 2016  5:52 am Reply

    You could modify the brush holder on your easel by enlarging all the holes and adding a piece of rubber (say from a bike inner tube) underneath with 'X's cut to act as grippers so any size brush would fit and be held in place.

    • by Jess on May 31, 2016  9:59 am Reply

      That's a brilliant idea! I even have an old bike inner tube that's just been sitting around waiting to be put to good use. Thanks!

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