Thursday, August 26, 2010

World's most modified paint box

I own a paint box.

Not a "pochade box" or to keep it strictly Frenchified, 'case de pochade.'

What I have is a paint box. It was so named when it was new and never shall 'pochade' roll from my lips (or, more Frenchy, nose).

If you're not familiar with all this terminology, some time in the late 1990s or early 2000s, painters stopped using "paint boxes" and they stopped painting "outside." From that point, they use a "pochade" (po-SHAAAD) box and paint "en plein air" (enhhh plehhh I-errrrh). Well, let me tell you, Winslow Homer used a paint box, so I'm using one. He also painted outside. Some of the Hudson river school and later did paint "on location," which is a French loan word, but we don't say "ennnh lo-cah-see-OHHHN."

But back to the point.

The box was free from our local Freecycle group and had belonged to the donor's wife's uncle, a commercial artist from the 1930s to 1970 or so. The box is probably from the early 1960s or maybe earlier, and measures a little over 16 inches wide by 14 inches high by 5 1/2 inches deep. A decent size.

It appears to be a commercially-made box, but not mass-produced -- at least, it has generic (and historic) clasps, a cheap (and historic) solid plastic suitcase handle, and standard hold-opens like you used to see on some console record players of the 50s, the really cheap ones.

It has a couple of old Jamaica stickers on it:
The original owner did some modifications himself... replaced the totally inadequate small hinges between top and bottom with a sturdy, full-length piano hinge, and tore out some of the interior dividers (you can see their shadow on the interior shot above).

I began by re-asserting the assembly of the box by driving in extra screws in the frame, sides, top and bottom. It has no fancy joints and it was coming apart. Then I designed some needed alterations.

First, I had to do something about the panel slots. The originals were for 15 1/2 inch wide panels. If that was ever a standard size, it is no longer.

So I made an additional, movable slot dingus and set it up so that I could use it for 8 x 10, 9 x 12, and 12 x 14 panels. After arranging it for 8 x 10, I discovered that I could add slot-y bits to the other side of the divider and it would hold 5 x 7 inch panels on the side opposite as well. (This second set of slots becomes too small once you move the new divider further right to set it up for 9 x 12 or 12 x 14.)

Here's the new slot thingy:
And here are some 8 x 10s and 5 x 7s, stowed:

Fully armed, then, I can pack four 8 x 10 panels and four 5 x 7 panels -- or four 9 x 12 or four 12 x 14. This is plenty for me, because right now I'm good for at most two paintings outside -- 'en plein air.'

So, I'm more than set, until I build up my outside-painting stamina. Or, if you prefer, 'l'endurance pour la peinture à plein air.'

I added a tripod mount to the bottom after I obtained a beautiful old, 1950s, all-metal, REALLY sturdy Whitehall Traveler tripod by Quick-Set, also free from the local Freesource group.
Here, it's set up, but stubby -- haven't extended the tripod legs. The whole thing reaches high enough for me to work standing up, and I'm 6' 3".

You'll see some more additions in that last picture.

I added a palette, made from the bottom of a wine display rack being discarded by a local wine store (it was a very useful neutral gray-green color):
Here it is, stowed. The hole is not for the usual palette-on-the-arm -- it's just a way to lift the thing out of the stowed position in the box.

Then I discovered there was no way to hold panels while being painted. So I added a perfboard panel holder. It's fitted with two pins that slip into mounting points.

And a sophisticated doohickey holds the top steady:
On it, I mounted a removable panel hold-down:
Yes, that's a tongue depressor (AKA "craft stick").

The dinguses on the bottom of the panel holder on which the painting panel rests are nothing more than those beautiful Allen-head cap screws:
(You're looking from the top down toward the bottom here. The one screw out of place here goes into a hole in the top and becomes the handle for pulling the stowed panel out of the box.

The perfboard was -- as you might guess --  free, from the local Freecycle group.

For the interior, I made a custom cardboard box to hold paint tubes, so I could lift the whole thing out, place the tubes on the ground, and, hopefully, not step on them. Inside that is a sophisticated clear plastic divider, which helps keep the tubes separate. It's from a Fig Newton package.

See any trends here?

My total expenditure was around $4 for screws, plus a lot of time. Oh, and $3.99 for the Fig Newtons.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Maine Marsh 1

A recent jaunt to Pemaquid Point and Boothbay Harbor with Kittie's sister and our brother-in-law Dan re-introduced us to some of the best of Maine's boreal landscapes... marshes among them.

Here's a Maine marsh.

First, the underpainting:
 Not much to be seen here - just the darks in purples and greens - lights in yellows and light blues.

Here it is at around 90% done - some tweaks to do:
I'll do a bit with the ocean, and clean up the rocks, upper left, and the evergreen to the right.

The range of colors in marshland is incredible: yellow, yellow-green, dark reds, dark greens, a touch of sand, blues and mauves in the sky and the sky reflections.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tahquamenon Falls

Still in Michigan's UP (Upper Peninsula) here -- the beautiful upper Tahquamenon Falls. First, the underpainting:
Basically, this is mainly the values, though you see the green of the forest on the upper far side.

Here's mostly finished:
No, the water isn't brackish. The Tahquamenon flows through thousands of acres of cedar swamp and the cedar root colors the water, making it look like (some say) coffee or (others say) root beer.

There's a story around the viewpoint. I don't believe you can see the falls from this vantage point any more: down on the river back just downstream of the falls. There's a viewing platform on the high bank on the other side, and that's where modern photos are taken.

There's a trail worn into the escarpment on the left. It leads under the falls. And, here's an excerpt of a story I've written (copyright 2010) about one of our family vacation trips to the falls -- by day, we stayed at my grandfather's cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan. If you buy the painting, you get the whole story....

My mother must not have known what we were doing, she (with my little sister) looking at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls from the base of the path well behind us. The whole scene is hazy because it’s now so far back in time, in the mid-1950s, but the whole notion (if I’m remembering right) came from my father.

“What say we walk behind the falls?” he asked. There was a precarious path plainly worn into the escarpment, up along the talus of sand and fallen rock that was perched a slanting forty-five degrees. The talus connected the sheer cliff of sandstone with the coffee-colored water.

It was completely out of character. I must have gaped at him. He might as well have said, “Let’s ditch your mother, go into town, grab some beers and pick up chicks.” Did this happen? Or was it just some sort of dream, me sleeping in the car back to the cabin on Lake Michigan?
Beyond astonishment, I felt a pleasant mix of terror and excitement, seasoned with a little confusion at my father’s sudden boldness. I went because he went. After a while, maybe he kept going because I kept going. It was increasingly clear (as the water noise steadily became louder during our approach) that we were going where we should not be going. We were our own mob mentality, a two-person mob.

Behind the falls was chest-pounding loud, the escarpment vibrating under the flow of coffee-colored water. Today I look at the falls and, seeing that its bones are stratified sandstone, I wonder what we would have done if the falls had decided at that moment to step a yard or two upstream. It does that, now and then: sandstone is hardly the most coherent of rock. But then, we had not made the most coherent of decisions.

Under the falls, the path (forever in spray) was slippery with moss. My own chest was doubly pounding, once from the outside from the sound of the water, once from the inside as my heart dealt with my slipping feet. If I’m remembering this right, I was first along the path and under the falls, so once under, I had to wait until my father decided it was time to leave. It was a long time...

Toward the final Dune Cut

A bit of a hiatus here, but the Dune Cut painting is pretty well finished:
While I did my best to loosen up (the entire painting is done with a brush 1"/25mm wide), this is still tighter than I want. It's almost 19th Century in feel, but the lighting is right and the sand, and the lake. We may never again get to the shores of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, but we can go there in imagination (and very often do.)