Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Artists are disadvantaged without an easel.

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DO WITHOUT AN EASEL? THINK AGAIN!
For those who are creating their masterpieces without the use of a vertical prop (an easel)
Here is an analogy for you:
I ask you this -Would you take off your glasses to read if your sight was impaired?
If you do not use an easel you are making your observation more difficult. I will explain.
An easel had one main purpose for me and that is to hold my work up vertical so I can more accurately asses my positioning, application, overall placement, composition and pending final impression.
I cannot do this with as much ease and accuracy when viewing and judging my work too closely or on a distorted angle such as flat on a table.
I cannot step back enough from my work if it is horizontal and accurately judge it.
Using a vertical prop enables you to measure sight size(*1) or proportionally.
For example if you place your subject (lets say a still life or landscape) on either the right or left side of your propped canvas or paper, you are able to step back and visually switch your focus from one to the other quickly enough to see the differences between the subject and your drawing or painting. Because we can only hold so much information in our minds as we transfer it onto paper, we must give ourselves the best opportunity to see accurately what we are trying to take from our source of inspiration. We need to do this as quickly as possible. Using an easel gives us this advantage. It doesn’t matter if you aim to duplicate the impression or extract from it. It is still easier to do this vertically than with a distorted horizontal view.
Stepping back from your work gives one the innate ability to see what is hidden up close. It forces the artist to break from the moment /section of the work and see the painting as a whole. The artist can monitor the progress better and avoid detouring too much in the wrong direction. My tutor used to say to me that painting is 90% LOOK and 10% put. In other words it is mostly about observation, consideration of the creative process and the actual drawing and painting is done after all that mental groundwork. This is so true and so important to understand if you are at all serious about succeeding with your art. An accomplished artist is definitely skilled in observation and a practiced artist gains skill in application, ideas and expression. Anyone can put a line down and keep moving it until it is in the intended place and so anyone can paint or draw. (Whoops did I step on a hornet’s nest – sorry)
The whole purpose of an easel is to get the result you want with less frustration, less time and effort. I find that holding onto motivation and inspiration is not always easy. I personally need to get it down quickly either before I loose incentive or am distracted by the next idea or day-to-day interruptions.
There are other practical advantages to using a vertical prop for your work.
If you paint in oils or any wet, glossy medium you will find yourself struggling at times with glare from your light source. This is frustrating and can interfere with your judgment of colour and tone. To combat this problem you can tilt your easel slightly back or forward to eliminate the glare. I usually find I need to tilt my easel forward. This is something that is more than difficult to avoid if working horizontally.
If you use pastel and you tilt your easel forward, this will allow the pastel to fall forward but not on your work, keeping it cleaner and less dust to fall later. If you have the very unhealthy habit of blowing toxic dust off your work this is a great tip for you. You don’t need to do this (nor should you if you want to keep your health). I fold the paper at the bottom to catch the falling dust and collect it. It can be used later mixed with water to make a pastel stick. In addition, if you do need to get rid of excess dust, please take your work outside and give it a good shake that is all that is needed before framing.
Ok so now I have talked you into using easel you probably want to know which easel to buy, or perhaps which easel to keep and which to throw away?
Easels vary in price and so how much do you need to spend?
In my opinion you don’t have to spend a great deal of money however if you have the funds I would strongly suggest you buy a box easel. This is portable, sturdy in the wind,(*2). They come equipped with a pallet, which can be rested on a little draw that pulls out when the easel is assembled, freeing your hands for brushes etc. Equipped with carry straps (which I removed as I use a trolley at times) and sectioned box to hold your materials. They are quick and easy to set up and pack away. This type of easel will accommodate a good range of canvas sizes and will adjust to a good range of heights for tall and short people. The legs adjust in height individually for uneven ground and this easel is light to carry. I own a 1/2 size French easel, which is 2kg lighter than the standard full-size French easel. The box holds less but is adequate and results in less weight in contents, making it much lighter and more portable. I was also able to fit this on the floor of the plane when travelling (if you don’t mind missing a little leg room).

If your budget does not stretch this far you need not take out a loan for a decent substitute. You can pick up easels that clamp to a benches, book shelves etc and wooden or aluminium tripod easels that are light, portable and will do the job nicely. They don’t hold your supplies and blow over in the wind but suffice on most occasions and by no means a bad chose when starting out and definitely better than not having one at all.
I don’t really think much of the bench type that you sit on like a seesaw. I wouldn’t find that comfortable, good for my back and would be lazy stepping back from my work.
At the top end you have the large and grand studio easel that winds to the hight and angle you require. The big daddy of them all would set you back nearly $2000AU (I still don’t have one) but a lovely indulgence if you can justify the funds and you have the room for one.
You would still need a portable easel though as this is a very large piece of studio furniture.
I wont go into all the verities of easels, as there are too many to mention. I have a large but basic studio easel that will hold unto 5-foot canvas and I can strap a 6-footer to it. I also have ½ box easel as I mentioned, an aluminium easel that straps to a shelf, which I strap to the back of my studio easel at times (my double sided invention) or attached to my mantel when I paint in my lounge. I also own a basic students easel that is convenient if I am working on a couple of paintings at a time and don’t want to pull them down.
Which is my favourite – the one I cant live without?
If I had to throw them all out and keep but one, I would keep my box easel and resort to leaning large canvases against a wall propped on a chair until I saved for a studio easel.
Now what NOT to buy – an easel to avoid!
Please do not waste your money on or waste time making one of those A-frame easels with pegs Why? Because you really do want the advantage of tilting your work on many angles and you are restricted to the heights via the pre-drilled holes. They also are easy to knock over.
I know you can make do but (another analogy) - why drink soymilk if you are not lactose intolerant? Yuk! If you can truly afford it go and get a descent easel. This is usually a one-off investment and worth every penny.

Footnotes:
*(1) Measuring sight-size is another article in itself but basically it means this: Your subject needs to be visually proportioned to you canvas. When you look at it and measure this way it fits on your canvas area. Holding a stick, brush, knitting needle or what ever you chose in your hand and holding your arm out straight you can measure lengths and angles of lines within your subject by lining up the end of the stick and using your thumb to measure where the line finishes. You then tilt the stick in the correct angle, aligning it with the subject. You then move your arm across to your canvas, keeping your arm straight (important) and you can then visualise and estimate that same length and placement on your painting.
*(2) The easel can be further supported in wind by making a fabric pull string bag that is suspended to the base. You can fill this bag on site with stones or sand or anything with weight to weigh down your easel)
Written by Kayleen Stewart

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