Traveling with wet oil paintings

When traveling, no other activity in painting brings me more excitement than taking my old pochade box outdoors in search of a new motif to tackle.

Being a Hawai’i resident, trips to the mainland are welcome opportunities.  I can paint in situations where the visual content is rich in different ways than at home. The architecture, color, climate, citizenry…all offer a fresh point-of-view.  I love carefully scouting out a spot where I can unobtrusively compose and paint a sketch.

But when working in oil, there’s also a serious practical matter involved. How can we get damp paintings home safely with minimal expense and fussing?

Here’s what I came up with.

Divide and Conquer

For this to work, the oil sketches need to be the same dimension. Fortunately, I only brought the size panels that fit my box, so all are 8 x 10″.

In this image, the paintings are numbered from earliest (1) to latest (3).  When it came time to pack, painting 1 was sufficiently set-up

My three fresh paintings, in order of dryness to the touch.

as far as being dry to the touch. It was the least vulnerable to damage. 2 was still soft, but was fairly set-up as far as dryness to the touch, being about 4 days along in drying. Painting 3 was the wet one, and so became the big concern among the paintings as I packed them.

Just a note…I don’t use driers (or any other means) to accelerate the normal drying time of oil paintings.  Exposure to air circulation and normal daylight conditions are ideal.   That discussion is for another time, but I wanted to mention it here.

Enter the Bamboo Chopstick

Being that I live (and eat) in Hawai’i, I’m used to disposable bamboo chopsticks as a part of routine life. When I needed to find a short, thin, readily available spacer to separate the paintings, I needed not look further. The ones we found are rectangular at the grip, ideal for use as spacers. Easy to cut if needed, they rest positioned on the painting’s edge, where the rabbet of the frame would overlap. That means any area of damp paint the chopstick might disturb would be easy to touch-up, and likely invisible once the paintings are framed.

The driest painting, upper left, with two bamboo chopsticks in place.

Using painting 1 as the base, I added a pair of chopsticks cut to the height of the painting, and placed them both along the edges on two sides. 

The second driest painting, top, resting over the first painting, separated. Two more sticks are in place, this time on the horizontal edges.

Next, I seated painting 2 on the platform thus created, and also facing paint-side up. There’s about 1/4″ between the paintings, which is great.

For painting 3,  wettest of the oil paintings, I faced it downwards. I was careful to seat it where the chopstick dividers would rest against the painting’s edges. Once positioned, I used some packing tape to bind the whole “sandwich” firmly together, as seen below.

 

The third and final painting, the wettest, is placed wet-side inwards. on top of the prior painting. The entire “sandwich” is then snugly and carefully taped into place with packing tape.

When this was done, it was only a matter of wrapping the combined paintings in some sturdy brown wrapping paper, and taping them closed.

Since I decided to carry them in my suitcase,  I took a moment to indicate the contents on the wrapping,  in the off-chance that my bags were opened for inspection.

Paintings wrapped and ready for my suitcase. On the off-chance that the bag is opened for inspection, I’ve marked the package descriptively.

I hope this is helpful to others. The whole process took about 20 minutes, and everything survived the flight perfectly.

Feel free to offer your comments or questions.

Portland Street Painting

Portland 12th and Stark streets

This month I had the opportunity to get to the mainland, primarily on a family visit to Portland, Oregon. While there I spent a gloriously cold morning with my beloved eight by ten inch pochade box painting a street scene from my old stomping grounds in Portland’s Southwest side.

It’s a special thing to be back in a place that holds so much that is terribly dear to me, but that has also changed tremendously.

While working out the painting, I was happy to meet a number of very nice and very encouraging passers-by. That was a plus, because I didn’t know what working on the streets would be like anymore. And, of course, the more time I spent my considering my surroundings, the more it became an indicator of how much both Portland and I have changed since my leaving in 1985.

Purposeful Painting

Somehow, when you’re painting  something you know and care for, the work just goes better. You don’t have to dig up a rationale for choices, or to dwell on how it might be received. You’re invested…it’s got a built-in purpose, a token of gratitude and affection.  I hope that reads in the final work.

Here it is…not signed yet.

12th ave PDX
“12th Avenue, Portland”      8x 10″ Oil on panel

Make An Artist’s Plumb Line

DSC_0111

For artists who draw with a plumb line regularly, here’s a nice addition to your box.

The tools of drawing are pretty simple, but over time have a way of becoming lifelong companions.  A well seasoned palette that fits the arm well, a mahlstick that’s been with you for years…these small things count for something in the pleasure and challenges of our work.

I began using a plumb line years ago.  At that time it was a simple arrangement of a small lead fishing weight and some black thread.  I still have my original from back when and it works fine,  but after seeing students come up with some awful makeshift contrivances (when I wasn’t looking!)  I decided to try and raise the bar for them.  This upgrade is simple to do and works well.

You’ll need a few things first.

Brass lampshade finials.  Check your hardware store for these.

Strong black thread.  Black reads best in multiple situations, the thread I have is of a similar strength to that of dental floss.  Upholsterer’s thread might be best.

Candle wax or paraffin. 

Electric drill and small bit (5/64th or smaller) and a vise or clamp.

PL 2

The brass finials are inexpensive and easily available, and also a perfect weight.

To begin you’ll need to drill a small hole after securing the finial in a vice. Enter with the drill bit from the threaded side, and drill a clean bore all the way through.  Brass is soft and pretty easy to drill.

PL 5

You should be shooting for holes like the ones below.

PL 6

Next, take about 20″ of your sturdy black thread and tie up a big knot of some fashion that is larger than the hole you’ve drilled. Thread the other end through the exterior hole and back through the finial, pulling it until the knot is snug against the brass.

PL 7

Next, pack or drip wax into the threaded end of the finial, adjusting the black thread so it is perfectly centered. There may be a better solution than wax, but it’s usually handy and works.  Let me know if you have an improvement to offer.

PL 9

 

Trim and tie off the end…I find 18″ of thread to be more than enough, and it’s better to be a bit long than too short. For storing, I just wind around the weight.

And now, you’re ready to go.

PL 10

 

Barclay Easel Restoration

Barclay Easel restroation

PB270003

About eight months ago, I had the opportunity to acquire this beautiful old Freidrichs easel. It’s in good shape for it’s age, which I guess to be pre-WWII, though I don’t know for sure.  While doing some digging I learned that this is known as the Barclay easel,  designed by illustrator McClelland Barclay, who was quite the innovator in numerous ways.   The manufacturer  at some point changed it’s name from Friedrichs to the familiar (to artists) Frederix company.  It’s solid red oak throughout, and the crank mechanism works perfectly well.

I’ve  always  hoped to find something like this wonderful easel and bring it back into service.  When I discovered it, covered with dust and tucked away in a basement, I was delighted. Thanks again, Brad!

After a good amount of deliberation, I decided to strip and refinish the easel myself.  This is the easel in the condition in which I received it, the only real damage is a bit of termite activity that’s not threatening anything.  I’ll post some shots of the refinishing as it gets farther along.

In doing the research, Learned that this was the preferred easel of Norman Rockwell, and found many shots of him working at his. This is a favorite.

Rockwell Barclay easel
Rockwell painting at his Barclay studio easel