As I will point out in an article soon to follow this one about DIY pochade boxes, there are a lot of blog posts and videos out there that offer do-it-yourself instructions for making outdoor painting kits, from simple watercolor kits in a bag to complex pochade boxes with drawers and panel carriers.
Unfortunately, most of them, however well intentioned, suffer from poor, spotty or incomplete instructions. In the case of YouTube videos, they are often shaky, handheld clips with low production values and little or no editing. There are a few exceptions, but not many.
At the other end of the spectrum we have James Gurney, who has been creating a series of instructional videos with high production values and an eye to teaching in a manner that is well thought out and pays attention to detail.
Though not free like most of the YouTube videos, these are very modestly priced as digital downloads, and well worth it in terms of actual usability.
Gurney is not only a painter, illustrator, videographer and writer, he is an inveterate maker and inventor, constantly searching for better, more clever ways to do things related to painting and illustration.
Gurney’s latest video is How to Make a Sketch Easel, and he provided me with a review copy. (I chose the digital download version; there is also a DVD version with an additional slide show.)
A sketch easel, as opposed to the more common pochade box, French easel or field easel, is a portable painting platform that mounts to a photographic tripod and is primarily associated with sketching and painting on location with water media rather than with oil.
Instead of a recessed palette surface for oils, the provision is usually for holding a plastic or metal watercolor tray. The easel back is designed to lay relatively flat and is suited for holding a sketchbook or watercolor block rather than a plein air oil painting panel.
Here, Gurney has given instructions for creating his own painting setup, one that he has refined over time and that you may be familiar with if you have seen his “Painting on in the Wild” videos, or are a visitor to his always excellent blog, Gurney Journey.
In this hour long video, Gurney gives detailed specifics of how to replicate his portable sketch easel, from materials list, to layout of the wood, to cutting and finishing the pieces, making inserts for hinges and tripod mounting hardware, as well as his method of quickly mounting and dismounting a metal painting tray and water cup with embedded magnets.
He also details creating sun diffusers — both a small one mounted directly over the easel, and a large one held on a separate tripod (he even builds one out of a tree branch and a sheet).
At the end of the video, he shows his finished sketch easel in action in some location painting clips.
These plans and instructions are very specific to Gurney’s particular setup and way of painting in the field, and are best suited to someone comfortable with DIY projects and hand tools.
However, they can also serve as a springboard for other ideas and designs, and Gurney has several posts on his blog featuring some of the variations of related designs created by readers: “Your Sketch Easel Designs”, “Your DIY Pochade Easel Designs.”, and “Your DIY Watercolor Pochades”. (Gurney is in the earlier posts referring to any tripod-mounted easel as a “pochade easel”.)
The HD digital download of the video is $14.95 and includes a link to a PDF parts list. The DVD version is $24.50 and includes an additional slide show. There is also a materials list on Gurney’s blog.
[Addendum 6/27/2017: Another round of readers’ New Easel Builds has been added to the Gurney Journey blog. That’s one of the great things about Gurney’s books and videos, he keeps adding depth to them with subsequent blog articles.]