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Sep 24, 2014

Building a Plein Air Shelf...




Me, painting over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy, loving the shelf...

I painted with a French easel for almost 25 years not knowing there were any other viable options out there to consider. And, for the first twenty years, there wasn't. However, about six years ago I ran into some friends who preferred painting outdoors using a clamshell design utilized by the Openbox M™, the Easy-L™, Alla Prima Pochade™, and now the new Strada™ and I could immediately see why.

A clamshell design is great for its compact simplicity and robust nature – if you mostly paint at 16 x 20 inches or smaller. The open and close, hinged form makes it a convenient and easy set up for any painter on the move like me. 

But there is one problem...

If you prefer to paint with your canvas vertical, and have your mixing area vertical as well so the light falls equally on both, then having a place to put your solvent, paint, brushes, knives, and other gear becomes an issue. Sure, all manufacturers of clamshell easels offer a shelf in some form or another but if you use their solution it will restrict the angle of your palette to something not too far off from level. Otherwise your stuff will roll off unexpectedly.

Not exactly what I want to be dealing with as I am pushing the paint around.

So I designed a shelf for the tripod underneath the easel, only to discover that everywhere I went other painters wanted to know where they could get one. I'd tell them I made it myself, and that when sized to fit it can act like a cover, and blah, blah, blah... with the conversations invariably ending with photos being taken so they could build their own.


The shelf, in all its humble and simple glory...


Personally, I am too busy traveling and painting and have no interest in becoming a 'plein air shelf manufacturer' so you can find the specs below. Anyone with moderate woodworking skills, access to a decent table saw and a few tools, can make their own. I can't think of any equipment mod I've ever come up with that has improved my outdoor painting experience more than this shelf. I can paint faster, my back thanks me, and well, apparently it just looks b*tchin' out on the street...

The measurements in bold should work for most, if not every tripod I've encountered, assuming the legs are set at the standard angle. (I try my shelves out on everyone's tripod I come across.) I've even used my shelves with tripod legs set at a 45 degree angle under windy conditions. Although admittedly the shelf tilts sharply backward when I do. And no, I've never had a shelf collapse. After you place weight on it the structure becomes stable. As much as 10 to 12 pounds.






The last mod I've been thinking about incorporating into my shelves is a slot to accommodate a stemmed wine glass. After all, one must remain civilized while we paint outdoors, yes?


_____


For more practical advice about painting en plein air, consider taking one of my workshops. Like this one in San Miguel de Allende, this February. Mi amigos, it will be a painting experience like no other!...

TJK

6 reader comments:

Timothy Young said...

Thanks for the plans Thomas.

Stephanie Berry said...

...the mother of invention! How clever! If I ever get myself a proper plein air set up I will have my husband make this. What are those disc objects in the corners?

Thomas Kitts said...

Stephanie: Those are little neodymium magnets.

The two in the upper corners click the shelf to the back of my OpenBox M, the three on the front left corner hold my solvent jar to the shelf so I don't knock it over accidentally, and the two on the right hold my medium cup for the same reason. All magnets are glued into place using epoxy glue. Very sturdy and offers a no hassle set up...

Judy P. said...

Thomas, I got very excited reading about your plein air shelf, because I made one as well a couple of years ago, and it's working great for me! Yours is much prettier, but mine I think is even simpler to make. I put the description of my wacky plein air rig on my blog:
http://judypalermo.blogspot.com/2014/09/my-homemade-plein-air-gear.html
Hey what can I say, it works well!

Thomas Kitts said...

Judy, I love the self made quality of your system. Thanks for sharing.

Julian Lovegrove said...

Thanks for the shelf plan! I've been wondering where to get a shelf from. Now I know how to make it!
Brilliant