Beginner level question - Set up for Plein air or painting from life without shadow box

Hi All

I have always painted in my studio mostly using photographs, occasionally from life(i struggle in drawing from life). Now I want to improve my skills, draw& paint more from life. To start with I want to do basic studies like objects, foliage, flower , lawn in natural setting. I need guidance in bare minimum set up. Also I want to avoid shadow box , my shadow box is too bulky to move around. My questions are around:-
1) How to fix my composition within the frame - Mark had suggested a rectangular cut out to visualize the composition from life . But how & at what distance should I fix it while painting .
2) what points should be kept in mind while setting up still life (without shadow box - indoor / outdoor)
3) Natural / Indoor light - For this experiment i don't want to stress too much on 5000K light. So i will not add any additional light on my still life.
4) Easel - I don't have a portable easel for small paintings, are there any alternatives . Table top easel is in my mind.

Thanks a lot for your help



  • edited May 2021
    @vartikasinha, if drawing is a problem there are work-arounds you can use until you become proficient. Grids for example. I still use grids when I'm working from a complicated photo reference or when I want to transfer a compositional drawing to canvas. This is entirely acceptable. 

    A shadow box can be helpful in maintaining controlled conditions but I have never used one for my still lifes. You can get by without it.

    For composition, just use Mark's frame at the distance that gives a pleasing composition, There is no set distance. Also, you can use apps such as @Roxy's that allow you to compose according the the rule of thirds or the Golden Mean, a link to which you will find at the start of this thread: Software for helping with composition - February 2021 update — Draw Mix Paint Forum

    A table top easel is fine. 

    The most important thing is to just get painting whatever the limitations of your present circumstances. Conditions will never be perfect. They never are for any of us.  :)
  • 1. I think Mark just sits the angles down after he "frames" the desired area to paint.  Holding the composition in one's mind, not affixing the physical angles to anything to maintain the frame.

    2. & 3. Ian Roberts has a lot of free and published resources available about composition.  Regarding logistical advice, I defer to those who have more experience.

    4. You might want to look at Pochade Boxes, too.
  • I 3D printed my outdoor gear, pretty much all from, as I was not able to get a response, because he was in the field.  I made all sizes of panel holders, and his sketching box, and his two palettes.  They are easy woodworking if you can handle that.  The dimensions are on his site.  In some of this older videos you can see how little there is to them.  They are really nice gear.

    I am planing to make a grid that goes next to your painting to make it easier to capture the scene, I forget who makes them, pretty simple to make also.  Though as with PP above, they are pretty cheap.  My only reservation is that good plein air needs to be composed so actually slavishly locating everything in it's place only works if your world is like a picture to start with.
  • @TamDeal thanks a lot for sharing the details of . I am based out of India. let me explore the possibility of 3D printing here.   This is very helpful
  • I'm in canada, so it wasn't really available here either. 

    The PP easel/"panel holder" is actually made of wood.  And is extremely simple to make.  The basic plein air set-up for the easels is nothing more than an "upright" that seems to be made out of a slotted piece of 3/8" or 1/2" plywood.  How wide is the slot?  Well if you want to use a tripod dovetail to attach it to your tripod, then the retaining nut is a t-nut with a 1/4"x20 thread, as fits tripods.  You buy the nut and then you set the width of the slots to the nuts.  Different nuts have different widths.  If you look at some of his earlier videos you can see the unpainted upright, it is just two slats of wood, and at the top and the bottom there are pieces of wood glued and screwed on that set the spacing.  I used fiberglass rods, you could use two pieces of metal.  Just anything.  18" is the best all around size.  Actual length is not critical.

    Then the "crossbars" are pieces of wood about 1/2" x 1".  Cut to length  These are drilled to use whatever bolt you will use.  I used a carriage bolt.  The bolt head needs to be flush, and not interfere with the surface of the material, as that is where the panels will rest.  The bolt goes through the slot in the uprights, and it is held by a knob or nut at the back.  The bolt can't be wider than the slot, mine is narrower as both the crossbar bolt, and tripod mount use the same bolt diameter, but the slot is based on the t-flange nut.  So I 3d printed a spacer that moves with the crossbar bolt, and protect the fiberglass rods.

    The PP supports hold your work in one of two ways.  Most people seem to be using some kind of thin "canvas" like 1/8" masonite, plywood, canvas board, or aluminum to paint on.  Masonite is the cheapest and most popular.  These are held by the heads of screws driven into the support, so that they hold the "canvas" by the edges allowing one to access the whole surface.  This is super easy to execute, just drive the screws.

    If you want to use a traditional canvas that is a lot thicker, then you need the grooves shown in his drawings, and they would require some simple woodworking to form in the support bars.  I made all of my supports with the groove but I don't see myself using it.

    The key thing is to get all your hardware first as the woodworking has to fit around the hardware, and for the most part the woodworking is barely more complicated than getting 4 wooden slats together.  But people rave about how sophisticated the end result is.
  • Nice thing about 3D printing is that you can share the files, but in this case it doesn't really work.  (And I am aware nobody has asked)

    I don't really want to undermine his business.  I'm grateful he basically published plans for everything.  And I have now made a bunch of easels, and other things. The basic product has been out there in different forms for some time.  And I change things up to suit my needs, and the way I evolved the design.

    Also, in this case, everything fits everything else, so unless you source identical hardware, and have the same settings on your printer, you would have to redesign everything anyway, and the parts  are so simple that is sometimes faster.  When I made different versions, it was faster for me to start from the beginning, rather than working from existing files, usually.

    I'm a woodworker mainly, And that would have been a lot faster.  But I was off on a jag of printing at the time.  I also wasn't sure I had all the wood I need.  I could order all the parts I needed for the printed version off Amazon, except the glass rods.  And I have those in stock.
  • @tassieguy Thanks a lot for your inputs. I made my first painting from life, in natural light. You are right circumstances are never perfect anyway
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