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Feb 19, 2015

And Here is a Reader's Post-Mod Hack that is now a Post about my Post about my Mod... ;-)

I received this today from a reader in response to yesterday's post – it is another nifty way to install a glass palette into the Strada Mini. I would think this would work for the full size Strada as well...

Posted with permission:
"Hi Thomas, I saw your blog and I solved the problem this way. I had a friend build me a small insert into which I glued glass. I put it between the notches and inside the area where the side trays go. So far I have been very happy with it." 
  –  Marie H.
(Photos by Marie)

It is great to see other folks making hardware hacks to their gear. It demonstrates creativity and ingenuity in another way, if those two aren't already the same thing...


Another email about another palette mod for the Mini...

Hi Thomas 
I enjoy your blog and thanks for all the great info. 
I wanted to share one thing. For over 5 years I have used acrylic plastic for a palette, I paint the back side grey. I saw another artist who did this and I thought as you did you cant scrape it with a razor blade so it cant be as good as glass. Well I was wrong...I tested it out and yes it scratches eventually, I change mine every few years...but my glass scratched too over time. Having broken a couple in transit I made the change. You would not have to mod the box by grinding it down etc. you could just caulk it in. It would be so much lighter and easier and leave the box intact. 
I asked Tap plastic about plexi or acrylic, and they said acrylic is harder( and cheaper) I have used all kinds of solvents, turps gamsol, mostly, no problem. But once I left a clove oil q-tip in and the clove oils melted a spot a bit, and so will Winsor Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer. 
I scrape off the thicker stuff, then wipe with a towel and final clean with an alcohol pad....the same system as Schmid, only on acrylic instead of glass.
Just thought I'd let you know in case you want to share with readers....My 3 year old palette is about ready for a change, but its still useable, just have to use the alcohol a bit more to get the paint all out, to squeaky clean. 


Thanks for sharing, Marie and Colleen! Always welcome to see.



Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy this next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email asking for a FAQ Sheet. It will detail where we will stay, what we will do, what we will learn, and of course, what it will cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

Feb 18, 2015

Modifying the Mini...

No, no, not this Mod and Mini...

I mean modding this Mini...

If you are a loyal reader of this blog then you know I have already written about the Strada Mini plein air easel. (That post can be found here.) And you already know how nifty I think the Mini is too!...

If you are a long-time reader then you also know I am not one to leave my gear untouched or unmodified. I am always tinkering or tweaking my gear to make it suit me better and the Mini is no different.

But before I continue – based upon my experience with a stock Strada Mini – I want to clearly state I think it is one of the best options out there for the outdoor painter wanting a bomb-proof easel – modified or not. There is no reason to change anything about it. Unless, like me, you don't like mixing your color on a white plexiglass palette.

Instead, I prefer to mix my colors on a grey glass surface because I can clear off an area quickly with a razor blade. Being able to do so makes it easier to keep my lighter tints clean without the need for a huge palette. (I used to make ginormous palettes and attached them to my teensy-weensy easels but once I switched to using glass and a razor blade Small became beautiful again.)

So the ONLY mod I could imagine for the Mini was switching out the plexi for glass. And honestly, even I knew I was stretching the need.

But glass is brittle and can be easily shattered so there are some mods that must be made to the Mini before it can be installed.

If you lift the plexi-glass palette out of the main mixing pan you will find there is a receptor for your tripod mount sticking up above the surface. Not much can be done about that, you have to leave it alone. But in each corner there is a corresponding 'pin' to keep the corners of the plexiglass level with the center receptor. If I wanted to insert glass in a secure way I would have to caulk it in place against the sides and bottom of the pan with no void underneath. Otherwise the glass sheet would eventually break from pressure applied from above, or perhaps a shock from the side when the easel was knocked around. Darn! If I could only get rid of those pesky pins the manufacturer had so firmly set in place. Then I could use the structure of the aluminum box itself to avoid breakage.

What to do? Hmmmmm....

Oh right, as a friend mentioned to me over a coffee, I have a Dremel tool! I could use it to cut the corner pins off and then grind what remained until everything was level just like your dentist does when he fixes your broken crown. (Er! Sorry for that mental image...) This would take care of the corners but what could I to do about the center receptor?It still projected up above the pan. This had me stumped until I remembered automobile windshields often have holes drilled in them to accommodate an antenna. And voila, I had a strategy!

So here you go: a  Drill 'n' Fill solution for inserting a glass palette into a Strada Mini. Call a local auto shop to cut and drill the glass, 3/16 inch thickness for the center pan, and 1/8 thickness for the side palettes, and use a little clear silicone to glue the glass into place.

The glass will add weight, though. A 3/16 thickness means the center receptor is now just below surface and I expect the divot to fill in with dried paint. Adding glass to the center pan and side shelves increased the total weight to just under 7 pounds. This may sound hefty and almost killed my desire to do it until I realized my entire painting kit weighed in at about 20 pounds. So adding three more wasn't going to be an issue. At some point you have to consider your entire system, not just a single component, before you can make a rationale decision.

I will be taking this baby to Mexico this week to paint and teach. Yes! It will save a lot of room as I move around. We'll see how it feels and how it performs. If I don't like the glass, or if it breaks somehow, I'll knock the pieces out and paint in the pan. My palette always end up looking like a Jackson Pollock anyway, so why not?

"Hasta baby!"  – TJK

You may have missed out on my winter Mexico Workshop but I've got another fantastic international plein air class lined up in Tuscany for this September. Details can be found below...


Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy this next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email asking for a FAQ Sheet. It will detail where we will stay, what we will do, what we will learn, and of course, what it will cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

Feb 6, 2015

Plein Air Tuscany 2015!

Experience an Amazing Workshop in the
Heart and Soul of Italy!

September is the the perfect time to paint in Tuscany. The landscape has turned to gold, the days are still warm, the light is clear, and the harvest is underway. If you come to Tuscany with me this fall I'll take care of the details and logistics and all you have to do is paint and enjoy the best Tuscany has to offer. So why not join me this year?

Here is a video from last year's trip:

Can't see the video? Click here...

To receive a FAQ and Workshop Itinerary, email Thomas at

Attention Folks: I am offering an Early Bird Discount for this workshop! Register by May 31st and you will receive a 10% discount off the regular price of 1770 - 2320 Euros.

So you pay only
1590 to 2090 Euros!
(depending upon your choice of accommodations)

But don't wait, people are registering now!

Here are a few highlights for 2015...

• Paint in the ancient hill towns and countryside of Tuscany.

• Personalized instruction from an internationally acclaimed, award-winning artist and knowledgeable instructor.

• Gain confidence and improve your skills in a positive and encouraging environment. See immediate results while you are still in Italy.

• Fun and exciting activities and events with your fellow students – plus after-hour discussions with me and your new best friends!.

• Enjoy freshly prepared gourmet meals that feature authentic Tuscan cuisine. (yum!)

• Spend a day in Florence touring little known paintings from the Macchiaioli Painters – Italy's own 19th century plein air masters.

We paint, we eat, we drink, we have a good time...

I know some of you weren't able to join us last year so I wanted to offer this workshop again....

Here are a few comments from 2014:
"No matter what your level may be, Thomas has a wealth of skills to share, and is adept at keeping your frustration at bay, and the group energy positive. Lots of learning and lots of laughs. I can't recommend this painting opportunity enough. Go for it!"

     – Kay Elmore, Oregon

"Practical pointers, great plein air subjects, and a fine time in Tuscany: I'll go back!" 
     – Bob, New Mexico  (Bob signed on again last month – TJK)

"I had a great opportunity to attend Thomas Kitts' Tuscan workshop in 2014. Thomas is not only a wonderful artist, but is a knowledgeable, kind and generous instructor. The Villa where we were hosted at was breathtaking. We were fed amazing home cooked meals and cared for very well. What a great week it was, making new friends, painting the Tuscan country side and being immersed in the Italian culture. Thank you Thomas!"
   – Kerrie,  California

So if you have always dreamed of painting in Italy then give this workshop some thought!... 

It will be both fun and instructive. Plus, right now the Dollar is the strongest it has been against the Euro in years, which makes this trip a fantastic opportunity to live your dream!

And don't forget to subscribe to my Early Bird Workshop List. So you can be the first to hear about my workshops, domestic and international!...

Feb 2, 2015

How to Fly with Oil Paint...

Hey All: Recently, I have been updating some of my workshop information sheets in preparation for the 2015 season and can't remember if I already posted about this topic on this blog, so here it is again in case I haven't. My apologies if you've seen this before.

"Me and my sweet ride, back in 2012..."

I am constantly asked what is the best way to fly with oil paint, mediums, and solvents. Here is what you must do to keep your paint from being impounded…

Important: While the following advice conforms to TSA’s present rules and regulations it is still possible to have your paint seized if you pack it incorrectly or act inappropriately. Also, since what the TSA allows seems to change on a regular basis I recommend that you call the airline you plan to fly prior to your trip...

• First and foremost, if an airport security person at any point asks "What are these?" do not say oil paints. Oil and Paint are hot button words for the TSA. Even water-based acrylics and watercolors have been impounded because they have were identified as "paints" by an artist. So if asked, politely inform the security representative that they are "Artists’ Colors”. 
• Technically, you should be able to carry-on your 'artist colors' but it is unwise to try. It is better to check them in your luggage. Specific instruction for how to do so can be found below. 
• Please Note: The US Department of Transportation defines "flammable liquids" as anything with a flash point of 140º F or below. (60º C)  
• Every manufacturer should post a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) online for each color they sell. Sometimes they provide one MSDS sheet per color, sometimes one sheet encompasses range of colors. You will find MSDS sheets by visiting the manufacturer's website. If a manufacture fails to provide one then reconsider no longer using that product. Lack of a MSDS sheet often mean something is being concealed from the general public. Never a good thing with art materials.

After you have printed out MSDS sheets for all your colors 
follow these instructions exactly:
• Wrap the paint tubes in a way the bottom corners will not puncture other tubes around it. I also recommend packing your tubes in a tupperware-like container with leak-proof lid so that if one does get punctured nothing else in your suitcase will be ruined. Packing your paint carefully will engender goodwill from the TSA agent that will inspect your luggage. And a TSA agent will open and inspect your suitcase once the tubes appear on the scanner. 

• Using a bright yellow highlighter, call out the manufacturer’s contact information, the flashpoint of the paint, and where the manufacturer clearly states the artist color is vegetable oil based and is not hazardous. Most MSDS sheets will list the flashpoint for their oil paint as 550º F or higher. Well above TSA’s safety threshold. 
• Staple the sheets together neatly. If you have a business card, staple it to the top sheet or write your name and cell number at the top. I’ve never received a call en route but you never know. 
• Lay the document on top of your artist colors in your suitcase in a way the TSA agent will immediately see it. Again, if you make it easy for them they will make it easy for you.

Mediums and Solvents: 

DO NOT attempt to carry-on any liquid mediums or solvents and do not pack them inside your checked luggage. Just don’t. No mineral spirits, turpentine, or linseed oil can be guaranteed to make it past the TSA. From my experience, it is the liquidity that is the concern. (Gel mediums in a tube are viewed differently.) The TSA always errs on the side of caution so if you attempt to fly with liquids mediums you may trigger a more critical look at your paint. Instead, check the internet to see if what you want can be purchased at your destination. If not, you can ship such mediums ahead, although it can be expensive and take a while. Or learn to paint without.


IMPORTANT: Do not attempt to carry on a palette knife. It will set off the metal detector and be impounded. Ask me how I know. The only thing a TSA agent will hear after the alarm goes off is “Knife! Knife!” So pack it in your luggage with the paint.

IMPORTANT: Wipe all the paint crud out of your empty solvent container. It doesn’t need to be squeeky-clean but there shouldn’t be anything that looks suspicious inside. Before I fly, I pull the screen out of my Holbein brush washer, wipe it with a rag, and let everything dry overnight. Then I stuff the parts into a clean zip-lock bag with the lid off so the TSA agent can easily see there is nothing else inside.

And finally, if you are approached by TSA about something...

Keep your cool because if you followed these instructions you are not doing anything illegal. Don’t hassle them for stopping you because they have an important job to do. Again, present the MSDS sheets and explain how you are going on a painting holiday. Stress the holiday aspect. You can try to argue with the TSA but you will not win. The agents are given wide discretion in deciding what is and isn't allowed on the plane so your best strategy is to be prepared, look professional, and remain non-threatening.


Hey all, would you like to work on your outdoor painting skills in Italy this September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Tuscan Workshop. It is a fantastic experience and has garnered rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email requesting a detailed FAQ Sheet that outlines where we stay, what we do, what we learn, and of course, the cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong now which means there may never be a better year to go than 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

Jan 19, 2015

The Strada Mini: Perfect for the traveling plein air painter...

The folks who brought you the original Strada Easel back in 2013 are now offering a more compact design called the Strada Mini, and they've asked me to post a review. I've had an opportunity to test the Mini in the field and in short, my impressions are all positive. For more information about the original Strada easel read my review of it here.
Disclaimer: While I have received no renumeration for posting this review it is only fair I disclose the fact the manufacturer is a friend of mine and that he sent me a complimentary easel to test last week. However, neither my long-standing relationship with the designer nor the easel itself colored this review. If you have questions about the Strada Mini I invite you to share them in the comment section below. I will respond...

A quick review of the Strada Mini...

Pros: Robust design. Excellent build-quality. Compact size. Quick and simple to set up. A pleasure to use.

Cons: By itself the Mini provides a restricted area to mix your colors. (I purchased two of the optional shelves and used them to increase my mixing area. Combined, the shelves and the Mini offer one of the largest plein air palettes on the market and completely resolved my one concern. The photo above shows the system I tested.)

A more in-depth review of the Strada Mini...

The Mini, like its bigger brother, is a variation of the clamshell easel used by many plein air pros today. A clamshell design is hinged along the opposite side, opens and closes like a clam, and combines a painting support with a mixing palette immediately below. It is an efficient easel for small to medium sized panel paintings and convenient to set up and tear down out in the field, making it a popular solution for plein air painters.

If you can't see this video click here

Like its big brother, you attach the Mini to a tripod. (If you want to travel ultra-light you can lay it in your lap or place it on a table top.) You then flip the lid open like a laptop, set a panel or canvas into the t-bar, and start painting. When you are finished you remove the painting, close the lid, push the t-bar back in, and move on. One of the niceties of the Mini is that you can leave excess paint on the palette and the easel will both protect and retard the drying time of that color. I often put the Mini in my freezer, which prevents the paint on the palette from drying out for weeks. Since the easel is made entirely out of aluminum rust is not an issue.

If you can't see this video click here

Design and Build-Quality: 

The designer and manufacturer of the Mini is a well-recognized plein air painter who spends a lot of time outside painting. He set out to create the easiest to use, robust plein air easel you can imagine, while tempering that goal with making it as light as possible, and reasonably affordable. Towards that end, the Mini is constructed out of a substantial gauge aluminum bent and welded into a strong form, painted in a neutral gray, with some of the sliding parts anodized for durability. The all-important friction hinges consist of stainless steel and any element or form that does not serve a functional purpose has been stripped away, leaving behind an easel free of unnecessary bells and whistles.

If you can't see this video click here

Ease of Use: 

As previously mentioned, setting up the Mini is as easy as it gets – you attach it to a tripod, pull out the t-bar, flip up the lid, set a canvas or panel in place, and start painting. If you've purchased one or two side shelves like me, you attach them by slipping them on to the rims on either side of the center palette. Set up is easy and quick. The t-bar mechanism is affixed to the lid and once attached, your painting can be set to any angle you want, from almost fully closed to 180 degrees open. The angle you set is securely held by the two friction hinges at the base of the lid so there are no brass knobs or wing-nuts to fuss with. This is definitely a bonus if you are troubled by a minor arthritis or your hands become cold while you paint. To tear down you simple reverse the process: pull out your painting, close the lid, push the t-bar back in, and detach the Mini. The t-bar will latch the lid closed. It works just like its bigger brother, as an integrated package.

There is enough friction built into the hinges to prevent the painting support from excessively wiggling as you work. I (unscientifically) compared the amount of movement of the Mini against the other clam-shell easels I own and found it to be comparable. I wanted to look at this issue closely because I am sensitive to easel movement, yet I was able to quickly adjust to any minor wiggle by lightening up my touch with the brush. In the end, I would favorably compare the bounce of a Mini to painting on a stretched canvas, meaning it feels similar in the give and take.

The Mini can hold a canvas or a panel tightly against the lid, although in general I prefer to paint on a rigid supports, not stretched canvas. I was able to fit panels up to 1/4 inch thick, gessoed or lined with cotton or linen, which means your art standard commercial painting supports should be fine. The mini is limited to stretched canvases using a 3/4 inch stretcher bar so deeper 'gallery wrap' canvases won't work.

The Mini can easily accommodate a painting 16 inches high, and perhaps a little bit taller if you want to push the limit. The t-bar holds the top and bottom of your canvas or panel in place using compression and friction so the higher up you extended the bar the less friction there is available. Theoretically, there is no horizontal limit to what the Mini will support, but the wider you go the more wiggle you will encounter along the outermost edges, and, in extreme cases, movement caused by the wind could become a factor. However, most folks paint between 6 x 8 and 16 x 20 inches in the field and the Mini is a good fit for that size range. If you plan to paint larger than this in the field then you should consider another easel design altogether. (In truth, no single easel can meet your every need. At this point I have seven outdoor easels. Ha!)

So why choose the Mini over its bigger brother?

© New Line Cinema
Well, mostly for its diminutive size. In my opinion, the Strada Mini can do everything the full-sized Strada can, with the exception of the smaller palette. So adding those optional side shelves and using them to increase your mixing area becomes essential if you decide to go with the Mini. With the shelves, I expect the Mini to become my go-to travel easel, when I want to be move around fast and light without any breakdowns. I will also recommend the Mini for students who sign up for any of my international or adventure workshops. (Information about my trips can be found in the drop down menu above, or in the left column of my blog.)

No easel is ever perfect so here are some alterations I plan to make to my Mini...

If you are an avid reader of this blog then you know I am all about the mod. I believe in getting the best gear you can, but also modifying it when necessary. (FWIW, this review is based on a stock Mini I have not modd'ed...yet.) I am not crazy about the plexiglass inserts you are expected to mix on because I know they easily scratched by a palette knife or a razor.  This is not a minor point because those scratches fill up with wet paint and thus pollute your lighter tints. The manufacture of the Strada recommends, and even includes, a plastic razor blade for you to try – which I did and immediately put aside – but even if you do limit yourself to plastic razor blades you will still scratch the plexiglass with your palette knife. So the stock plexiglass goes and I will caulk in some high-impact auto glass in its place, or perhaps start mixing directly on the aluminum surface itself. If you decide to stick with plexiglass I recommend you caulk it in place anyway. The double-stick tape provided by the manufacturer didn't hold the plexiglass in place in the cold temperatures I was painting in.

I am really pleased that the side shelves nest together and create a separate enclosed shell. This means I can pre-load my palette(s) in the studio, or at the car, and leave a lot of tubed paint behind, lightening the load overall. (You've heard the old backpacker's adage, "Worry about the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves." Yes? I kid you not, I used to cut my toothbrush in half before heading out on a 7 day trek, so I know it works...) The nested shelves can also protect your leftover paint on the way home, which is another thoughtful consideration by an intelligent designer. However, as the shelves are produced right now, they fit together a tad too tightly and can be difficult to pull apart without a separate tool so I think it is likely crusty paint could glue them together if I am careless. I plan to drill a finger hole in the inner shelf, or weld a hinged ring on the bottom so I can pull the shelves apart if it becomes necessary. In truth, this is a nice problem to have to solve.

In any case, both are easy mods to make and something I will discuss with the manufacturer directly. He is responsive to customer suggestions and has already made a number of improvements to his Strada line so I don't see him resting on his laurels now.

So what is the bottom line here?...

The Strada Mini is an terrific option for any plein air painter, from the novice who is just starting out, to the advanced artist who has years of experience. It is not often you see such significant and concrete improvements to a time-tested and universal design unless they are achieved by the use of a new material or improved build-quality. In the case of the Strada Mini, its excellence arises out of three aspects: the aluminum, the bomb-proof build-quality, AND a few real design innovations. Those friction hinges and the self-locking t-bar system make the Mini a pleasure to use.

I highly recommend it.


Hey all, would you like to work on your outdoor painting skills in Italy this September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Tuscan Workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info then send me an email requesting a FAQ Sheet that outlines where we stay, what we do, what we learn, and of course, the cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong now which means there may never be a better year to go than 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

Jan 16, 2015

Playing Hooky on a Snow Day...

Hey all, it's been a while since my last post on this blog. Actually, a long, long, while. And that's bad, bad, bad for maintaining my connection to you.

This video runs 3 minutes, 48 seconds and there is a bonus for those who make it to the end. (ha!) Facebookers and anyone who would like to watch this in high resolution click here

I have been preoccupied with a number of projects, presentations, and painting for a gallery show in Palm Springs this March. (More about that soon...) So I plead distraction via ADHD and my own over-scheduling. I know such things are not an acceptable excuse because I could have jammed in a post or two about something between then and now, but hey, I just got busy with so many darn things.

Sometimes I think the only way I get to paint undisturbed is if I blow out of town.
So last Tuesday I decided to take advantage of some unseasonable weather, unplug from 'teh internets', pack up some shiny new painting gear, and play hooky for a day up on Mt. Hood. You know, cut class for just one day. Managed to knock out two paintings when I did.

But still, I am way behind on some things and I committed to posting a comprehensive review of the new Strada Mini – which comes from the folks who brought you the original Strada easel last year – and I thought why not kill two birds with one stone and take the Mini up to the mountain and see how it works under more demanding conditions. (Spoiler alert: I was pleasantly surprised.)

I'll be posting my review of the new Mini next week. I promise. With comprehensive and comparable specs and my hands-on field impressions. So until then you'll have to have fun with this video post instead.

Gotta go now...There's something I need to do in the studio.


Dec 11, 2014

In Search of the Authentic, II...

More to geek out on...

Van Meergen's Fake Vermeers | Runtime 12:37

Van Meergen was a minor Dutch art dealer who sold newly discovered Vermeers to the Nazis during World War II and he made millions doing so. Van Meergen was only caught after the war because Hermann Goering's hidden cache of stolen art was found and one of the paintings in it was traced back to Van Meergen. But ironically, the art Van Meergen had been selling to the Nazis were fakes he had painted himself and to get out of a long prison sentence for being a German sympathizer who'd profited from the war Van Meergen had to admit to being an art forger and produce another fake in court to prove it. 

Van Meergen painting the forgery that saved his bacon...

This meant that even after he was caught nobody believed the Vermeers Van Meergen had been selling were fake. Whaaaa?...

So, after the trial Van Meergen went from evil villain to national hero in the eyes of the Dutch public for having hoodwinked the Nazis during the Occupation.

What a story, yes?

However, what I can't figure out is how Van Meergen managed to convince anyone his Vermeers were authentic in the first place. Just look at them. My god, look at them! For me that's the bigger story. His fakes, literally painted using a homemade paint of pigment and bakelite™ enamel binder, and heat-set in his kitchen oven, were so terrible-horrible-bad manneristic smears of pastiche crap it seems impossible that they would have fooled anybody at the time. Nazi or not.

But hey, what do I know? What do you think?

There are forgeries – which despite being fake – that are still beautiful.  These, however, are not among them...