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May 15, 2014

Fasterer 'n' Lighterer...

I know, I know, I recently uploaded a post about my a plein air road trip from Portland, Oregon to Palms Springs, California, to the Plein Air Convention in Monterey, and then home again. And yes, I know that post was largely about how I had to pare down the painting gear because I was sharing a Prius with two other painters for two weeks.

But that trip was really just a shake down cruise for today's trip to Italy. A proof-of-concept to confirm what I could live with – and without – before heading off to teach a seven day workshop, and then paint Tuscany with my wife and two non-painting friends in tow. (The same folks who went with me to Spain and Morocco last year.) In retrospect, that Prius my painting friends and I drove down to Southern California and home again is now starting to feel like a SUV because I just found out my travel buddy, Mark, rented a clown car for the narrow Italian streets. (Hey, do you remember the Mini chase scene in "The Italian Job"? Not the remake, the first one from 1969. It's my firend's favorite action movie, and oh my goodness, he's driving...ha!)

So don't think of this post as a blatant cheap repeat, but as a further refinement of how you and I can do more with even less. I don't know about you but I am still working on my plein air diet. If there is anything I've learned from years of humping thing up and down a trail is that if you keep shaving away the ounces the pounds take care of themselves.

Here is a full teardown of the painting gear I will take on this three week trip:

1. My trusty 11 x 14 inch Open Box M easel. There are many excellent clamshell easels options out there but this is the one that keeps going on the road with me.

2. A homemade shelf I custom built, and recently modified with some neodymium magnets so it will snap on and off the OBM easel. The magnets you see epoxied in the corners also securely hold a medium cup and a small (metal) solvent reservoir on the shelf during tipsy conditions. I got tired of knocking them over.

3. My bomb-proof three-section Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with an all metal ball head. Carbon fiber may seem like a luxury but it reduces weight, and perhaps more importantly, causes less pain if you accidentally wack someone on the head as you walk down the airplane aisle. (Ask me how I know this...)

4. Limited palette of Gamblin Oil Colors: Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Red, Phthalo Blue, Burnt Umber, Chromatic Black, and Gamblin's new FastMatte™ Titanium White. Fewer colors mean fewer colors to run low on during a trip and this high-chroma palette can cover a broad color gamut. The umber and black are just shortcuts. And the FastMatte Titanium can build up impasto strokes in an instant, even into a wet paint film, as well as cause the painting to dry within 12 - 18 hours. This is important if you are going to be on the move.

5. Gamblin's new Solvent-free Gel™ and an empty medium cup for linseed oil. The oil will be waiting at the villa where I'll be teaching.

6. Solvent reservoir wiped clean and placed into a ziplock bag so the TSA can immediately see it is empty. I don't use much solvent anymore so this small can will do fine.

7. Fifteen brushes from Rosemary & Co. – encompassing a wide selection of synthetic and mongoose hair rounds, flats, brights, filberts, and a couple of riggers. In truth, this is far more brushes than I need but I plan to demonstrate what different brushes can do during the workshop. If I were traveling ultra-light jeu for me I'd probably pack three or four filberts, or flats.

8. One palette knife (Whoops, not shown...) for mixing, scraping, laying down paint and cutting edges, as well as spackling any holes I find in the walls of my villa, and re-pointing the ancient mortar that holds up the Roman ruins (kidding). And of course, for applying those finishing touches of sexy impasto. My favorite palette knife is about three inches in length, triangular, and has a step handle. It can pretty much do anything.

9. Small razor blade scraper with a few extra blades. I caulked a glass mixing area into the OBM easel and this scraper makes short work of clearing out an area for clean mixing. Important for controlling your neutrals and light value colors. (All the mixed paint gets pushed into a gray pile for later use – very little is wasted.)

10. 50 pre-primed linen sheets, pre-cut from a roll of Claussen's #13 purchased during a sale. Fifty should be enough and likely more than I will cover on a 21 day excursion. I will tape linen sheets onto six polyvinyl sheets each morning, like I am loading bullets into a six-shooter, and hauled them around in a modified Raymar 12 x 16 carrier. (see below) When I must pack up and move to the next hilltop town, or the Cinque Terra, or Venice, or Florence, the wet work will stay in the carrier. Any finished paintings I decide to sell at home will be mounted onto panels. This approach will save a tremendous amount of space and weight because no hardboard is involved while I am on the road.

11. Roll of low-tack masking tape to temporarily 'stretch' the linen sheets onto the panels.

12. A modified RayMar Panel Carrier™. The three slots can transport six mounted linen sheets placed back-to-back out into the field, or six wet paintings back to the villa without smacking against each other. I expect to demo for my workshop on these panels as well. That wood you see inside the carrier? It is three-ply varnished luan jammed between the first slot and the inside face of the box. That panel will prevent the box from collapsing inside my backpack and squishing wet paintings together. (Hey Elizabeth at Raymar, you might want to consider this idea too, as 1/4 inch Gatorboard™ should work as well...)

13. A thin hard-cover watercolor portfolio, to hold the unpainted linen and finished work after they have dried enough to take of a panel.

13. Two air-tight hard wall plastic containers to hold the paint while it is checked in my personal suitcase in flight. (Suitcases go into an unpressurized cabin. These containers will keep any mess to a minimum, should there ever be one.)

14. A backpack that can be volumetrically adjusted between 40 to 50 liters, depending upon how tightly the straps are cinched. This pack will also double as my carry-on during flights and packing more than my painting gear. My iPad™, extra underwear, socks, a toothbrush, and other distractions go into it as well. What makes this pack work is how the front unzips and peels back like a banana, allowing me to load and unload everything quickly when I am out in the field. It can carry all the gear I consider essential (or irreplaceable) should my suitcase go amiss. (Of course, the exception to this absolute is my oil paint, which cannot be reliably walked past the TSA check point in America, even though technically it exceeds their own safety guidelines! Oh, and yes, and that missing palette knife again. It must be checked too. I've had several impounded over the years. For some reason the words 'oil' and 'knife' tend to rile up the TSA...) Even the tripod can go inside the pack if I remove the head. All in all, with the bits and pieces arrange properly, this kit fits within the limits for US carry-on and is just a smidge too long for European carriers. But if I get called out of line and asked to conform to Euro-specs I'll yank out a few items and cinch things down even more tightly and stow the extra stuff under my seat. (For those who may not know, as of today, the carry on for intercontinental flights is now down to 21 inches (L) x 13 inches (W) x 9 inches (D). That's pretty dang small for us 'mericans. And I see my countrymen cramming larger suitcases than this into the overhead bin all the time on KLM and Air France so I am not too concerned about this point.

And all of this weighs less than 25 pounds – Awesome sauce. 

La dolce vita, baby!...


And don't forget, my 2014 Summer USA workshops can be found in the upper right of this blog. Carmel and PDX are filling fast!  -tjk -

7 reader comments:

Tim Young said...

Impressive compression Thomas. Thanks for the inspirational post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Curious how do you use the gamblin medium? Is it truly non- toxic? Do you use it in place of turps?

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Joseph, yes, Gamblin's Solvent-Free Gel can be considered non-toxic, assuming you don't eat it, or squeeze it out onto your toothbrush. It is essentially a safflower oil mixed with a very small amount of alkyd, a tiny amount of a standard three-part drier, both present to verify the paint film will completely oxidize – and another ingredient I am personally not at liberty to reveal. Other than to say it is widely used by the food-industry and most people eat it on a regular basis. It is this ingredient which creates the magic of the gel and increases the thixotropic qualities of the paint. As for the added alkyd, I didn't want that included myself, but the folks at Gamblin Oil Colors deemed it necessary and it is used in such a small amount as to not be a concern.

I recommend using SFG like any gel medium but not to exceed 25% of it by volume in your color mixes. (This is a good idea for all other mediums manufactured by other companies as well.)

For most of my work, I use even less gel, about 10% by volume because it doesn't take very much to get the thixotropic effect it is meant to produce.

To widen the possible range of painterly, you can temper the gel with any OMS solvent (although I generally use Gamsol if I have some while traveling) or add a little linseed, walnut, or poppy oil. But keep in mind, doing the latter means you are increasing the fat content of the gel so you definitely want to stay below the 25% threshold.

Also, I have used the gel as a 'couch' and rubbed it onto a canvas before starting to paint, often tinted with a color like a imprimatura – if I plan to paint solvent free entirely. This allows me to cover the empty white much more quickly. But again, I don't use much of the gel. I rub it all over and then wipe almost all of it off before putting brush to canvas.

Do let me know how you like it...

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Oh, one thing I forgot to include is the minor amount of alkyd (and driers) in the gel are solids and remain in the paint film. So there are NO volatiles evaporating out into the air around you. This is what makes it benign to use indoors.

Unknown said...

Thomas, very interested in your polyvinyl sheets you mount your canvas on. I've searched a bit online, haven't found a source. Would you mind sharing a bit more? Thanks!

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Carolyn, google Tap Plastics and you will find the vendor online. They have outlets all over the country...

Unknown said...

Thanks so much! They haven't a retail outlet in Phoenix area, so I just ordered the 1/8" 60% Matte White sheets. Will be happy to add them to my tool kit. I've been using foam core sheets to tape/mount my cut canvas. Works fine and is light, but doesn't last long. This should be perfect. :))