Monday, March 31, 2008

Plain Delight of Plein Air

See Brian McGurgan's Drawings and Paintings blog. His thoughts and plein air goals are well organized, and a delight to view.

Also, if you're here looking for My Book, the post is linked here. That's what I get for having two active art blogs. Purchase inquiries are accepted via e-mail or comment.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ten Tips

Snow on Heath
7.25" x 9.25"
Casey Klahn

Studio Tips

  1. Have as many drawing boards going as you can find. Birch boards, Gatorfoam Board, Fome Core, .5" Sturdy Board, etc.
  2. An extra easel or two set up in your studio helps you to enjoy/agonize over more than one image at a time. It facilitates creating a series.
  3. Divide a full sheet of paper up with several image spaces, and do more than one painting at a time using different compositions, but the same colors.
  4. Pin your studies up on a wall or bulletin board so you can refer to them.
  5. Need table space? Alternately, you might just want the floor space. Knock down tables of all sizes are an essential for me. You can make your own with a leg set from Home Depot.
  6. If you haven't made that waist high, 7 foot by 2 foot table for holding your palettes, what's keeping you? Mine allows tables underneath, which is a huge extra footprint.
  7. Irwin brand clamps, all sorts, are great for sticking studies and drawing boards onto other boards or edged places.
  8. My large studio easel has a 32" x 46" sheet of plywood mounted on it almost all of the time. Because we seal the back of our frames with black construction paper, I was able to enclosure the front side of the plywood with this light absorbing, tape-loving wrap. Now, I can quickly tape a small piece of Wallis directly to the construction paper, or I use the 2" Irwin clamps to add a Gatorfoam Board with a properly mounted sheet of pastel paper.
  9. In your father's day, a dull pocket knife was a sin. Get a Stanley utility blade dispenser and tack it on the wall so your utility knife is always happy. My wife, the framer, and I fight over this little jewel.
  10. Since I don't have a stereo system in the studio, my wife got me a deluxe speaker system for me PC and now I can enjoy tunes that way. The speaker set has two midbass, tweeters, and a subwoofer.

Friday, March 28, 2008


With a doctor's appointment today, where he's working me up for fatigue, and a half day of school for my Kindergartener, I totally forgot the five for Friday post. We'll be back up and running with those soon. Meanwhile, I'll also be continuing the Plein-air Project ASAP.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pastels Go In

Unison "Go-Kit"
Six or Seven Pastels for Ultra-Light Field Trips

What I am about to reveal will change your plein-air life forever. I can't claim it for my own original idea, but I do embrace it as the lightest possible kit for making pastel drawings in the field. At this point, unfortunately, I have lost the link where I learned this and sadly can't give her the credit by name.

The mini, mini absolute least number of pastels to take on a drawing hike are the following
six Unison pastels:

Y-15, RE-9, Green-29, Y-10, BG-11 and A-30.
These colors are designed to offer the bare minimum choice of hue, value and intensity for drawing the landscape, and "mixing" colors by blending and open-layering is required.

My little cigar box
with this kit is pictured above. If I have room in my box, I add
Grey-18. Also, since my little cigar box has the space, I add an eraser, a few pencils and some hard pastel grays. Tissue paper makes the cushion.

Medium Pastel Kit Organized by Value

Now consider your medium-sized plein air palette. Illustrated is my two layer cigar box. The second tray is one I made out of Fome Core and glue, and is lifted out with a broad ribbon.

This is what I wrote in a previous post about my medium sized kit:
Since I am not in my big studio during my remodel, I am working in the house with my plein air kit. I make my kits from shallow cigar boxes. This one is a PADRON (Nicaraguan, Hand Made) cigar box: 6.5" x 11.25" x 1.75". The shallow depth allows for security of the sticks, and I find that wood's gentle touch is the kindest to my pastels. I notice that few cigar shops actually sell their empty cigar boxes, but those kind ones that do, get my return business. Cardboard is also gentle; plastic transfers too much shock, IMO. For extended trips (air travel), I add a sheet of thin foam bought at an upholstery shop, or scrounged from other places.
Further, I have constructed a tray out of foam core, with foam core dividers glued in place with Elmer's (children's) glue. A ribbon allows me to get the top tray out. When I do go (rarely) out the door, I put a couple of extra long rubber bands around the box.

When I went to Italy
, I knew to add some yellows for facades, umbers just because and tile reds for roofs. You may wish to pick some colors that remind you of your painting locale. Mostly, I follow the artist's idiom that says, "If you get the values right, it doesn't matter what the hues are". You'll see in the photo above that I have six values represented, with an assortment of colors chosen almost by random. I try to stay away from too dark, and too light of vales, since this works best for "naturalist" works. Try to select tinted grays when you do choose gray.

If you have a burning desire to make your color statement, then you may finish your work in the studio where all of your colors are at hand.

If you absolutely must finish your work on-sight, then you'll need a big tray of pastels at hand. We'll cover the big tray next time, and then we'll go on to the easels that I choose for outdoor use.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cigar Box

Cigar Boxes

Equipment can be, after the weather, your worst enemy when doing your art in the open air. Make your kit as light as necessary for your given trip.

If I am going to paint from my van, then there is no limit. I will take my sturdy French easel and as many pastels as I can find boxes for. But, the emphasis I wish to make with this thread is how to go light.

"Light is right, less is more," and all that stuff. I enjoyed taking up the sport of mountain climbing in my late twenties, but suffered from the mentality that the army had given me that I could pack heavy because I was tough. After many years, and much trial and error, I got the knack of going light. And I enjoyed telling new companions who
came out of the army and into backpacking, "you need weight therapy!"

Go to as many tobacconists as you can find and see who will sell you empty cigar boxes. Many don't resell them, you see. I prefer the flat or shallow kind, so my pastels aren't going to rattle around. Do not pay much more than a few dollars per box. The junk store will try to make you pay $10 for a cigar box, but I find the cigar shops will let you have them for $1-3.

And be a peach while you're there and buy your husband a nice cigar.

Thin wood is the standard for nice cigar boxes. If you look closely, even the ones that look cardboard or paper can actually be covered wood. Of course, some have a little hasp, and open upward on little metal hinges. Others lack the hardware, and the lid fits snuggly in the top of the walls. The hinge is just paper. Some have removable lids. I use all sorts; finding different uses for each.

Roll of Thin Foam
Try an upholsterer for thin foam as gasket material. I buy as big a sheet as possible to cut to size.

Another trick I've found for cigar box pastel kits has been to put in dividers. There are dividers to organize the single layer, or dividers that create a second tray. I use Fome Core, which is a rigid framing board, to cut my dividers as needed. The tray for a second
layer also has a broad ribbon underneath to facilitate lifting, and the tray then rests in the open lid. I'll post a picture of that next time, when we choose our palette.

Stack two or more cigar boxes with a band or miniature bungee cord, like a school child with his books. If you're cunning enough, perhaps your support paper or board will also fit in this bundle.

Original Flat Pastel Boxes

The next size up from the cigar box can be a store bought travel box designed for carrying pastels. See them at your favorite art supply retailer. Or, my choice is to select an original shallow wooden box that housed my pastels when they came from the manufacturer. Since I have taken out the original contents, then I have a number of these "empties".


Judson's Art Outfitters has a new cigar box paint box that adapts to a camera tripod. If this product existed when I ordered my pochade box, I may have considered it instead because of it's compact qualities. Remember that developing your real cigar box into a small pochade can suffer from the flimsy nature of most cigar boxes.

This young Viennese artist has built his blog around the subject of painting from his cigar box. A great theme that works for me!
Michael Ornauer - Painting in the Zigarrenbox


The Pastel Palette
(Pastel palette with an emphasis on plein air)
The Pastel Palette, Part 2
(continued palette focus oriented for the studio)

Next, we'll cover what to put in your cigar boxes for your pastel sessions. Some pastel artists wish for many sticks, but there is a way to pare your kit to only six colors. Don't miss my posts on plein-air palettes with anywhere from 6 to 50 or 60 colors.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I'll take a holiday from the Pastel Tips, today. Any questions or input on what to cover next?

Everyone have a fine Good Friday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring Time & Open Air Drawing

Casey Working en Plein-Air

Spring! Get yourself ready for some open air painting and drawing. I am.

How will I approach my outdoor trips? There should be goals and philosophies. There will be the impedimenta.

I can say for now that I don't have the goals of strictly finishing a work in the filed. I'm too much of a studio painter for that. And as far as equipment goes, the fewest and the lightest things are necessary. My French easel is usually too much!

Philosophy? I am reminded of some things Wolf Kahn said about nature. For him, nature is a pretext. He is more interested in landscape painting than he is in the landscape itself. I subscribe to that formula, too. I want to be a man of the landscape in the vein of Vincent van Gogh, or of Wolf Kahn.

Don't forget what the bard Bob Dylan has said,
"I am against nature. I don’t dig nature at all. I think nature is very unnatural. I think the truly natural things are dreams, which nature can’t touch with decay."

Of course, as I write this it's snowing outside!

Here's some grist for the mill:

Guerrilla Painter
Rebecca Grantham
Rene PleinAir
Michael Chelsey Johnson

Friday, March 14, 2008

Paper Chase - Part Two

The Little Flat File Behind the Studio Refrigerator

As promised, paper will be our five pointers subject again this Friday.

1. Storage of paper is always a big issue for artists, who need to have as much on hand as possible/practical for when the creative tide rolls. I choose to use wooden flat files, although metal ones can probably be found at used office furniture outlets. Spokane must have a dozen of those places!

Consider that your biggest sheets will probably be @ 40" on the long side, so my flat file is @ 45" x 36", and consists of a five drawer stack, with a three drawer stack on top of that. Add a base and a top piece to complete it. I went with the unfinished model, and here five or six years hence it still isn't finished!

2. There is no single right way to organize your paper, of course! I go with a division of finished works that are waiting to be framed in the bottom two drawers, with Glassine interleaving so that I may stack originals, and the remaining drawers are by brand. In addition, I keep cut or scrap paper in the top drawer.

Since my framing process goes in fits and spurts, I added a small wooden flat file to store finished, small works. It measures 21" x 15", with five drawers. Very handy.

3. Brands of paper are always a favorite technical subject among pastelists. I consider the brand/type of paper I use to be more important to my painting than the pastel brand. I may do an extended review of my brands of paper used, but for now I'll just list them.

Number one on the hit parade of paper, for me, is Sennelier La Carte. The reason is that it suits my mark style, especially scumbling in broad layers.

Also great for sanded ground is Wallis. Kitty's paper doesn't do the subtle touch that the La Carte does for me, but I will admit that the possibilities for Wallis are endless. This paper is universally known for its "bulletproof" properties. I recently experimented with extreme reducing of layers, and made a dreamy sky this way. Another aspect of Wallis is that it offers awesome possibilities for all types of pencil work. If I wish to try a detail oriented pastel, this is my first choice.

A lightly sanded covering hand applied on Rives BFK paper is what Diane Townsend offers. For some reason, I value it more for erasing, burnishing and otherwise abusing. My greatest successes with abstraction are with Townsend Pastel Paper. On the other hand, I have less success with anything detailed on her paper. Two paintings did succeed with a level of detail, and I think a lighter hand and a firm plan may be the pathway, there.

Pastelbord has given me some wonderful drawing opportunities, but I have less luck with paintings on it. Try, try again, I guess will apply there!

As far as non-sanded papers are concerned, I have enjoyed many different ones without arriving at a true favorite. Perhaps Rives BFK heavyweight is what I reach for first when I want some white to show through, or when I'm in a Wolf Kahn Project mood. I also use Amalfi and Arches Aquarelle, but I mostly skip the machine laid stuff.

4. Don't forget that there are other pathways for choosing paper. They include building your own textured ground on board, and also the use of smooth papers like vellum or drafting film. Some adventurous souls will make their own paper from scratch!

5. And, finally, don't miss Katherine Tyrrell's blog about pastel supports here and here.

Just remember, pastel artists, keep yer' paper dry and yer' watermarks up!

Bonus Link:

David Patterson is a Washington state guy who is something of a renaissance man. He does art glass, pastels, photography, etc. But his day job is in aerospace!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

International Pastel Visits

My research skills are so crunchy. Chalk that up to the fact that I went to college before the PC era. I say this to illustrate how difficult it is to locate and identify international pastelists.

Here are the pathways I have beaten so far. Blogger search. Google searches, including the queries "Norway Pastels", both in English and separately in Norwegian (etc.). Art aggregator sites that are Euro-centric. Reviews of blog rolls. Foreign Pastel Societies.

Recently, I looked in on Wet Canvas, and viola! There are some users there, complete with little flags for nationality. I suppose I joined WC a couple of years ago, when it was a lot smaller. They sure have grown in that time!

Now, it pleases me to bring you Merethe Torbergsen of Norway. Visit Merethe's Creative Corner for some yummy still lifes and portraiture.

And, to backtrack a little, I wish to point out Emma-Jane Rosenberg. Do take the trouble to explore this English artist's landscapes, which show an advanced level of draftsmanship, and a deft use of color. I really like them. Not to be pigeon-holed, this fine artist is adept at portraiture and the still life, too.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Paper Chase

Here's a short "Five for Friday", but a great theme. Paper!

Is there any doubt that the support that holds your pastels exerts more influence over the outcome of your work than the brand of sticks that you use? I certainly think so.

First, go have a look at Katherine Tyrrell's Squidoo Lens on Paper and Supports. It is the most thorough primer you can read on the subject of art paper.

I had some fun researching the making of paper, and the net has several good sites that illustrate (interactively) the making of paper. Here's one. These are run-of-the-mill papers, not art papers, but it's fun to see the basics. BTW, I grew up with a family working in the woods, including the end of my father's work life when he worked as a janitor at a paper mill. My artist's life was greatly influenced by his bringing home half reams of
surplus paper by the trunk load.

Brought from China to the Middle East around the start of the second millennium, paper is one of the pillars of the advancement of civilization. We are concerned here with the advancement of our art, so without further adieu, my input on pastel paper tricks:
  1. Use as many types of paper as you can afford to buy. Beg, borrow or trade for more. Experiment is the key.
  2. Approach new papers with a mind for fresh knowledge, rather than for your next masterpiece.
  3. Allow the paper to reveal its contributions to the picture making process. Does it lend itself to fine detail, or only generalization? Is this a paper that allows water, or some other chemical, or a paint medium? Does it reveal a "machined" look, with grid lines?
  4. Use up the tooth completely until it will hold no more pastel, even with the application of heroics such as brushing off color, erasing or using fixative. Abuse is the word. Find the paper's limits, and perhaps you'll find some interesting and new techniques or qualities.
  5. Try to research what paper your favorite pastelists use. Wolf Kahn is famous for not liking everyone else's favorite sanded grounds. He uses (as near as I can tell) high quality rag, mould made papers. Susan Ogilvie favors Sennelier La Carte, but recently has been making her own surfaces of the pumice & gesso-on-museum-board type. And she loves those thick brush strokes to create surface interest!
As usual, we have more to say on this subject. Look for the second installment next week.

Extra Link: Helen South at on topic.