Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Palette, Recommendations, & Workshop

A Few things to mention...

You may know that I've fallen back on my trusty Jullian  half-box French easel. I took it on the workshop in Scotland and it performed like a champ. It is, maybe, twenty years old, and it has had its share of repairs. But, unlike some alternative easels, you can easily repair it with the odd bit of duct tape, some glue, or a length of baling wire. If you have a mishap while traveling, all is not lost!

The one thing I've never liked is the folding, mahogany-colored palette. For me it's not easy to clean if I'm traveling. Because I paint a good deal with transparent color, I'm often stumped about the tint of the paint when it's sitting on top of the rich brown palette. This dissatisfaction led me make my own palette to fit into the half-box.

Yup, it's glass. 1/8" safety glass.

(Hmm...what to call that in French? It's two thin pieces of glass with a layer of plastic laminated in the middle. The intention is to have glass that does not shatter into many pieces. In our particular application, it keeps broken glass out of Farmer Jones's field should there be an accident. 1/8" is about .32 cm).

I was unable to find any source for the 3/8" off-set hinges (.96cm). So I took a gulp, and pirated them from the wooden palette. Now I was in for it----if it didn't work, I had no palette. I painted the reverse of the two palette leaves with a sand-colored paint. This is a pretty close approximation of the color under my studio palette. The consistency of background color is nice to have.

Above is the palette folded, the hinge side. You'll see that on the reverse side, on top of the sand-colored paint, I glued two pieces of sheet rubber. I did this for two reasons. First, my half-box is sufficiently old that it has a complete metal drawer, no wood. Thus, when the palette is open, ready to begin painting, the reverse of the palette sits directly on some thin metal edges. The rubber's there to keep the metal edges from scraping off that sandy background color during repeated use. Second, I thought that protecting the glass with the rubber might be a good idea.

Here's a close-up of one of the hinges when the palette is folded.

And a close-up of the hinge, attached to the glass with epoxy, from the palette side.

You'll notice in the first photo, and below, that I used two pieces from a wine cork to make the bumpers for the palette. Between the hinges' off-set, and the bumpers, the blobs of paint on the palette don't get squished. The bits of cork are stuck on with some household adhesive.

My first attempts to make a strong bond between the glass and the plated brass hinges weren't successful. Finally I managed to get a good bond and used the palette, happily, for about four months. Then, one day, the closed up easel, with the glass palette inside, fell over, sundering the two leaves. The glass itself was fine, and I was able to use the palette until I could get to help.

Help came in the guise of the husband of friend and fellow artist. He's an engineer, working on aerospace sorts of projects. He explained that among the faults of my hinge attachment was the way I employed the epoxy. Apparently I squeezed the hinge onto the glass, hoping to thereby have a really good bond, too strongly. I managed to force most of the epoxy out of the bond. Second, I hadn't abraded the glass where the hinge was to go, failing to have a rougher surface for the epoxy.

Being a good fellow, he took the palette away to make it right. He abraded the patches on the glass where the hinges were to sit. He placed a group of very, very thin wires under the hinges to lift them a bit off the glass. This meant one could apply pressure to hinge/glass combo without squeezing all the epoxy out.

Here's a small portion of the photo I posted in the blog about my demonstration for the Newburport Art Association last month. Ready to go! As I said at the demo, I laid out many more colors than I normally would, just to have them handy and to let folks see them. Notice that the two cork bumbers are on the same edge as the paint---no need to have them on the edge nearest you, getting in the way when you're mixing colors.

Hope this helps, should you choose to make a folding glass palette.  

While we're on the subject of plein air easels... I've got a couple of things to say. First, it seems to me that people are content to paint too many tiny paintings. What you'll learn by making a 16x20 (or larger) painting outside is much more than the lessons from a 6x9.
Constable is reported to have said that small paintings show us what we can do. Large paintings show us what we can't.

I can paint a canvas 30" tall with my half-box. If there isn't much wind, it will happily accept a canvas 46" wide. Conversely, it can challenge even the smallest pochade boxes in terms of minimum sizes. For it's size-flexibility and ease of repairs, even in the field, I still think it's without peer. That said, there are some nasty, cheap knock-offs out there. If you want one, keep an eye peeled on ebay for an older one---better hardware, closer tolerances, etc.

Upper Canada Stretcher Bars

A couple of weeks ago, I said I'd get back to you on Upper Canada's stretchers, once I'd received them. Well, they came yesterday, but I was at the baseball game. But they were awaiting me when I got to the studio this morning.

They were very well packed: a good sign. Included were directions. Although I'm now in my fourth decade of assembling stretchers, and despite the fact that I'm male, I had a good look at the instructions. They're very clear.
By the time I had the bars together, but not yet pinned at the miters, I was impressed with the quality of the components and the ease with which they could be assembled. Because they are finger-jointed, there's little chance of warping.

Tomorrow I'll probably stretch the canvas (78x48", 198x122 cm). I'm very confident that I'll order from Upper Canada again. Here's a link to their website

This brings me to a couple of photos of the monster vertical on my easel.

The one above is the assembled stretcher bars sitting on my studio easel. There's a five-dollar bill pinned to the bars, to give you a sense of scale. This phto is with the easel all the way down, about 6" (15cm) off the floor. I can easily paint the top of the canvas, especially with the 24" brushes.

Here's the easel as far up as it will go. The lower side of the stretchers are now at waist height for me in this photo.


The ceiling in this part of the studio is about 9.5 feet (287cm).

Hughes Easels

The easel, which has been my trusted assistant for the last twenty-plus years, is a Hughes. Don Andrews makes these easels in Florida, and I could not recommend them more highly. It's true, at first they seem expensive. For me, after more than twenty years of not having to buy studio easel after studio easel, the cost is well-amortized. To have the ability to change the height of the canvas, with often just the touch of a finger on the counter-weighted carriage, is a delight.  My easel, originally twice as wide, was modified for me by a cabinetmaker who is a friend (at the orginal width, I couldn't get it to go up a twisting stair to a previous studio.) Were I to get one now, I'd probably get the model that you can hang on the wall.

The number of artists with Hughes easels is very large. It's particularly well-liked by portrait painters.

But, as you saw in a previous post of mine, there's a limit to the ability of a superb easel to make a good portrait all by itself..

Remember, though, that if your pochade box is the extent of your ambition, you don't need this easel.

Here's a link to Hughes.  If you buy one, tell Don I sent you. I expect he'll buy me half of a ham sandwich.

April 27-28 Workshop

This workshop is full. For those who are signed up, here's some information.
On Thursday, April 25th, I'll send out the information, including directions, to our Saturday painting site. By then I'll know what the weather will be, and I can choose a site which offers shelter, if necessary.
On Saturday, we will all paint the same motif, which I will choose, and which I will also paint. This class is 4 hours, 9am-1pm. You may only use burnt umber and ultramarine on Saturday. No other colors will be permitted. You are to make a grisaille, and to make notes on a separate drawing if you wish with information you may need on Sunday. You may actually sneak a photo but, if I see you with one on Sunday, I will confiscate it. The point of this exercise is to begin to train you to gather all the information you need to make a good painting, away from the motif. What you don't make a note of, what you fail to understand, or to draw, will come back to haunt you on Sunday!
On Sunday, we'll meet at studio #109, 14 Cedar Street, Amesbury, MA 01913. This studio is on the first floor. This session is in two parts, from 9am-Noon and from 1pm to 4pm. Please bring a dropcloth, and all your kit, as if we were going out painting.
I will show you, first thing, what I want to do on my version of our shared motif, and I'll speak about some of the things you'll want to remember as you work on yours. Because Saturday's grisailles will be dry on Sunday morning, we have a range of techniques which we can apply, without worrying about getting mud. 

There is a possibility of a May two-day workshop, the 18th and 19th. It's unclear at this point if this will happen but, if you'd like to be included, please write Sarajean, or me at dbjurney@verizon.net  Just as in the April workshop, it's best to sign-up quickly to insure a place.

All for now. 


  1. The workshop sounds excellent. Nice structure...sort of 'limited palette' in all senses. Question: Are you familiar with -- and do you recommend (or forbid?) -- Gamblin's "Fast Matte" paints for the grisaille stage? I believed they're actually designed for a quick-drying underpainting.


    1. Mornin' Tom: I've never used that. I'm just a Liquin fellow. It's mildly siccative. Most important is to find something YOU like. For me Liquin works well and its behavior is always the same. I can lay-in, paint directly, and glaze with it.....sort of an alkyd of all trades

  2. FYI, here's a link to the Gamblin site about 'fast matte':


    I'm not expert enough to know what works best for what purposes and how... but it's an option, I guess. Looking forward to the workshop.

  3. I just tried Liquin for the first time. The heavens opened, trumpets sounded, all is good. GREAT STUFF! It seems to give me exactly the texture (?) and flow I've been looking for -- but couldn't find -- with oil paints. My faith is renewed. Thanks!