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Postby SeaQuenchal » Sun Mar 04, 2018 4:40 am

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Subject title: French Easel Questions

French easel with palette.jpg


I’ve recently been gifted a french easel and I’m excited to take it outdoors for plein air painting with oils. I’ve been enjoying plein air painting in gouache and watercolors with a homemade sketch easel that I built after James Gurney’s design:

001 Sketch easel setup 01.JPG

001 Sketch easel setup 02.JPG

001 Sketch Easel setup 03.jpg


I still plan on regularly doing plein air work in watercolor and gouache, but I’ve wanted to start getting into oils as well and now I have an easel setup for it, it’s just a matter of time. I plan on using the wooden palette that comes with it because I want to make the whole thing as portable and efficient as possible. I don’t want to lug around extra equipment, I want to keep it pretty simple. For that reason, even though I considered brining along a glass palette I have or even making a french companion/french mistress – a kind of accessory to a french easel that allows for space for a glass palette and extra working space, I ultimately decided I’m going to try just using the wooden one that comes with it. It is dual-function as it’s already needed because it acts as the lid to keep the supplies in the box in place while transporting, so I may as well use it.

I have two questions: Does anyone here have experience using a wooden palette? If so I’m interested in preferences of treating the wood before use or leaving it untreated. I’ve heard arguments for both methods and am currently leaning in favor of treating it with linseed oil, applying a few coats over the course of a few days after toning the palette with a midtone gray color. But, I’m a little concerned about the fire hazard of having rags around with linseed oil on them.

The second question is this: The right leg of the French easel had a minor break in it when it was given to me. It still functions fine but it doesn’t extend as tall as it was originally designed to because the tape that’s been used to hold the break restricts the full extension. I’ve done a considerable amount of research to find a replacement leg. It looks like all french easels follow the same design surprisingly similarly, from Julian brand to Mabef to SoHo to Monet and everything in-between the same size and shape of all the parts looks darn close if not exact. I believe that the only significant difference is in the craftsmanship of cutting and assembling the pieces as well as the quality and strength of wood used. So I’ve basically been searching high and low to buy an extra right leg to replace this broken one. I’ve searched the internet for spare parts for french easels, I’ve used google and came across sites like guerrillapainter.com and judsons art outfitters that sell spare parts for easels, as well as tried online art shops like dickblick, jerrysartarama, utrechart etc… and all to no avail. I’ve searched ebay, amazon, craigslist, freecylce, all these places but can’t find a spare french easel leg! I found a super-cheapy no-name model on ebay for $50 (for the whole easel) and I almost considered buying it just to take the leg off and use it on mine, but that’s really more than I’m willing to spend. You’d think that there would be sellers for a part like this, wouldn’t you? Especially since they’re seemingly interchangeable between brands? Here’s what they look like off the easel:
003 Legs 01.jpg

003 Legs 02.jpg


If anyone has any good online search ideas or ideas how to get the leg I’m after I’d appreciate any leads! :)
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Postby Josephcow » Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:05 am

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I use a French Easel and go out for plein air once in a while, but I'm definitely not a very experienced plein air painter myself so keep that in mind.

Personally I use a glass palette because it is easy to clean. I did use a wooden palette that came with the easel like yours, but unfortunately if you allow paint to dry on wood it doesn't really come off. I have used a more expensive type of wooden palette for indoor painting (think bob ross) which has a smoother finish. This palette is rubbed with clove oil before using and this keeps the paint from drying and getting stuck to it. This is fine for indoor painting because you will come back over days. But for landscape in one sitting, I feel that glass is better for me because it can be easily cleared and put away if I need to. I'm sure you can get the wooden palette to work for you though. I actually use glass picture frames as a palettes for plein air. It's much cheaper than buying a glass palette and is portable.

I think if you do treat it with linseed oil, the thing to be careful of is not to put the used rags in a pile. I put used rags outside to dry where they definitely wont be dangerous. I feel that it is actually not very likely for rags to catch fire under normal circumstances, but better to be safe. It seems like for normal painting purposes there isn't much to worry about (I hope). But if you're really going to soak them in linseed oil you should dispose of them safely. Some people put used rags in a metal can with water.

I really dunno what I would do about the easel leg. It might not matter depending on how tall you are..

 

Postby SeaQuenchal » Mon Mar 05, 2018 4:58 am

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Hi Josephcow, thanks for the reply. I get why you prefer the glass palette outdoors, and the glass picture frame hack is an interesting idea! In all my experience with oil painting so far I’ve used a glass palette. I use one of those razor scrapers and they clean really easily just as you say. So everything I’m learning so far about wooden palettes just comes from reading online, but from what I understand it seems like whether you treat your wooden palette or not, the idea with cleaning is that you can actually wipe the excess paint “into” the palette. The oil paint helps to further treat the palette and over time gives it an appealing tone and patina. All the colors on the palette combined make a grayish color and I’ve seen videos like this one, and this one where people add a little bit of white to the mix to keep the midtone gray they want as they wipe the excess into the palette. I’ve seen different methods for cleanup as well. I even saw a couple plein air demos on youtube where it looks like people just scrape their unused paint to the edge of the palette and let it dry there. Not too crazy about that though. I'm going to try the method of rubbing the excess paint in.

As far as the rags with linseed oil, it seems you’re right in that the thing to do is not have them in a pile and have them be spread out as they dry. And I’m considering getting one of those justrite firesafe cans like this one for my studio to keep my painting rags in to be safe.

Yeah the thing about the easel leg is that it’s not that I can’t use it as-is, I can. But I’d obviously prefer to have the option to extend it full especially for situations where there’s rocky or uneven terrain, being able to fully extend the legs is quite helpful when you need one leg to be longer than the other. So I’d still appreciate anyones help with ideas to find these things.
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Postby Audiazif » Mon Mar 05, 2018 9:27 pm

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I have a few ideas about the legs.

If you have access to the tools you could repair/duplicate the broken part or maybe make an entire new leg. Another option would be to replace the leg with a leg from something that has similar legs. Maybe try looking for replacement legs for tripods or other things with telescoping legs. The only issue I could see coming up would be how to attach it to the easel. Or you could get rid of the legs altogether and put the "box" on a tripod. The problem with this is I think it would have to be a pretty heavy duty tripod for things to be stable.
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Postby perkexpert » Thu Mar 08, 2018 10:56 am

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Hihi, Seaquenchel, nice you go outside, i do plan on doing that some more...i had to smile looking at your watercolorpainting - the house beeing much lighter than on the photo...i still struggle with values outside too...btw...any good idea for mixing really dark watercolor washes? Regarding your easel, i would try to repair it if no spare parts are available or even fix the leg with more than just tape. So happy painting!
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Postby SeaQuenchal » Fri Mar 09, 2018 5:11 am

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Audiazif wrote:I have a few ideas about the legs...

Audiazif, thanks so much for the ideas. I’m not crazy about using other legs such as telescoping tripod legs, not just because of the challenge of attaching them but I do want to keep the aesthetic of the french easel intact. I’ve been thinking about yours and perkexpert’s idea to repair the leg however, which may be a possibility if I can find a similar type and size wood. My access to power tools is somewhat limited currently, but I’ll give it some thought and see what I can do with that I have on hand.

perkexpert wrote:Hihi, Seaquenchel...

perkexpert, hi bud good to hear from you! Thanks for your suggestion on the easel leg and your feedback on my painting. Not to say I don’t struggle with values --always :P, but with this sketch the lightness of the house is more an issue of time. On that particular location I arrived about an hour before sunset unfortunately. What you see in the picture is a thin wash not meant to represent the value of the subject but just killing the white of the paper. I laid down a quick wash for the house the sky and the foliage, leaving the foreground of snow the white of the paper. The only thing I ended up having time to paint was some of the vegetation before I ran out of sunlight. I usually take photos of the locations at my plein air efforts in case I want to do touch-ups. In this case it was more than touch-ups, I painted the house and trees at home from photo:
Spoiler: show
001 Van Allen House 03 studio touche-ups .JPG


As far as dark washes , I would experiment with your water-to-paint ratio to get the effect you’re after. Sometimes I’ll mix the color, then wipe off the brush and throw down a really big puddle of water on the palette and then slightly dip into the color I mixed to make it a ratio of about 85% water %15 paint or something like that. I think “dark wash” is a little bit of a contradiction of terms since the water is going to dilute the value as well as the pigment of the paint, but there is a wide range of effects that you can achieve for sure when you consider the adjustments you can make to the value and chroma of your paint and the different ratios of water to mix in as well. On this piece, since I didn’t intend for the wash to show through here at all, I didn’t consider value, I just quickly grabbed something close to the local color and threw it down with a lot of water, more of a quick placeholder and to get rid of the white of the paper.

I appreciate your input on the easel leg! At this point I’m leaning towards your guys’ repair option although I’m not entirely sure how I’ll go about it yet. If I can cut a similar piece of wood to match how it was, I may cut off a small piece of the end of the existing leg so there’s a clean cut, and attach the new piece with wood glue and brad nails. The trick will be matching the size and shape of the piece I need with my limited resources.
"Every artist was first an amateur." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Constant dripping hollows out a stone." -Lucretius

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