I love art. I could discuss, learn, and paint art all day long, and night. I’m a painter, and like any endeavor there are things... the ‘Art of Things’
(that is a play on IoT). Most art things are less sophisticated than the Internet of Things. Don’t get me wrong, the chemistry of art is every bit as sophisticated as the chemistry of probably everything except electronic technology, and quantum physics. And. digital art and printing are pretty sophisticated, Artificial Intelligence (AI), notwithstanding.
Time ‘may’ be relative, but many things in painting ‘are’ relative (color temperature, for example). I was, recently, invited to teach my first zoom class this winter on materials and processes of painting. My mind has been all a’whir about power point presentations, styli, silver point, charcoal, pencils, ink, paper, printing and paint, as well as recording studio technology and things like lighting.
I even did a trial video recording of a live painting demonstration (demo) at night, and it was all mumbles and washed out glare. I get to up my game, surprisingly, not so much artistically. Simultaneously, I have been active in some social media painting groups on Facebook, even creating my own group: Landscape, Figure, and Still Life (come check it out and join if you like art). In one of the groups a member asked about Plein Air (outdoors painting) easels.
Started as a art movement in the late 1800’s by the impressionists, plein aire (French, probably) has become very popular in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and as a result, cottage industries have sprung up around making plein air easels. Even do-it-yourself (DIY) easels or pochade/sketch box easels are all the rage. Pochade is a type of small sketch that “captures the colors and atmosphere of a scene” (opposed to croquis which is sketch focused on line). Wiki
This gave me a double aha moment, since I’m writing a blog and thinking about class subject matter. You see, an easel is like iconic, synonymous with painting, symbolic, now, even. They go back to like the first century and have been wooden right up until recently (40 years maybe).
The history of easels probably starts with DIY... and that’s still going strong; however, wooden easels were, until the impressionists, indoor wooden appliances, dare I say “Studio Easels” and Behemoths. Along about the end of World War II, the now once ubiquitous Jullian French easel was mass produced. So what came before Jullian? The Gloucester easel... a simple tripod. Introduced around 1900 from Europe. All those 19th century painters must have painted on something... maybe DIY tripods, I don’t know what Van Gogh painted on, but his self portrait in front of easel looks like a tripod.
Tripod is a Greek rooted word meaning three footed. The Greeks used them to support urns. Tripods have been around since dirt almost, showing up in Neolithic Chinese pottery... maybe that’s where the Greeks got the idea. Somewhere around the the beginning the 19th century (1820), mass production of tripods (not easels) are recorded (140 if that counts). Needless to say, the tripod has advanced technologically. Today we have high tech carbon fiber collapsible tripods that weigh very little for backpacking, and though I’m sure sailing ship’s telescopes and surveying instruments played their part, photography is what I think of when I think of the tripod (actually, I have survey tripods, levels and rods). Light, mobile... one man can set them up, big old view camera with the bellows and the flash powder.
So, I’m commenting on a Facebook thread about plein air easels (which are basically cigar boxes that act as both the paint pallet and canvas holder mounted on a camera tripod). Don’t get me wrong... some of these designs sell for $500, and put the Eames or Bauhaus plywood chair to shame. One of my issues with them is a, heretofore, unresolved design issue of either 1. mounting the paint box on the camera tripod head and painting on small canvas attached to some mechanism in some way (gravity and the inclined lid plane); 2. mounting an adjustable canvas mast on the tripod head and then hanging the pochade box on the tripod’s legs with hooks; or 3. A French easel (wooden box with drawer, pallet, canvas carrying/holding mast mounted on 3 folding wooden legs, although fitted our with a handle and shoulder strap) that is heavy and clunky, and doesn’t tolerate baggage handling well, but only sets you back about $100.
So I was arguing that all the really good dead old school painters like Sorolla, Sargent, and Monet were outside painting on just a wooden tripod... three wooden legs, maybe adjustable, but adjustable peg holes for canvas support, lightweight, stable... oh, and the now named Take-It-Easel is still available and possibly made by hand for $400.
I have a camera tripod and Guerilla box easel (a gift), and a French easel or three (one is still in pieces from the Bahamas workshop baggage handling that I have been meaning to glue back together). I have, or had, two modest H style studio easels (the tripod one broke), two desk top H easels, and two extruded aluminum display easels (also a gift). I like painting on the display easels, and they are industrial strength, and have adjustable canvas supports, and are tripods of sorts, but basically just a single mast rail. I haven’t answered the question about plein air easels in my mind, but I now have the outline of a lecture on Easels!
To my mind a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful and pretty. There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.
― Pierre-Auguste Renoir