With the arrival of winter here in Southern California and probably the best light of the year, I’ve been spending most of my brush time outdoors. A recently renewed interest in pastels got me thinking about a better way to move that medium outdoors as well.
I’ve been using a wonderful backpacker box from Heilman Designs that works very well outdoors. The main problem is mine – I can’t keep myself from filling up the box with as many pastels as I can cram in there. The result is a very versatile kit that also weighs about eight pounds for the box alone. With everything else you need to carry that’s a lot if you travel more than a short distance from your car.
I know myself well enough to expect that if I walk away from my car I’m quite likely to end up two or three miles away. Wanderitis is what an old friend called it. So, I decided to put together a smaller pastel pochade box that would be lighter and smaller (so I’m not tempted to overfill it).
I’ve tried this before with small cardboard or cigar boxes for pastels and a small board to draw on but it always turned out to be too many pieces to keep track of. Also, I really like having a fixed support to paint on instead of holding something in one hand or on my lap. I decided to look for something else.
What I came up with was a small pochade box with enough space to store a basic collection of pastels but not so big that weight could become an issue. Pastels are heavy little buggers and once you gather up 80 or 100 of them it’s surprising how much weight you can create. Artwork Essentials has a number of boxes that will do this well but are all a bit big. Ben Haggett’s Alla Prima boxes are marvelous and can also be adapted but again are just a bit heavier than I was thinking.
So here’s what I found:
This is a little 10 x 12 box from Sienna Plein Air. These are lightweight, reasonably priced pochade boxes with some interesting features including an optional pastel container that you can see in the top photo. They’re all made overseas and certainly not as well constructed as Ben’s pochade boxes but I’m hoping that the one I selected will hold up. I’ll report back on how this unit fares. The final weight of the box with the pastel tray, clip-on extension and pastels is about 4.5 pounds. Much better!
So that was the hard part, right? Well, I thought so until I went to fill the tray with pastels. My Heilman box holds about 200+ half-sticks and the new one holds about 80. What do I take and what stays behind? I fussed over this for hours and in the end I just tried to select a range of values from the warm and cool family of each color group. After a couple of trips I’ve swapped out a few sticks for ones that I left out and don’t think I could live without. Otherwise I just need to get used to the idea that I’m not going to have the choices I’m used to in the studio.
But here’s the interesting thing. The fear I had about being restricted in the colors I have available is not only less than I expected but in a way it’s kind of liberating! Instead of sweating over finding that perfect green I only have a few choices so I just pick one and move on. I’m finding that this helps keep the session more spontaneous and as long as I get that value right… It may just be me but I feel like the studies I’ve done, so far, have been a little fresher.
Of course, I’m notoriously fickle when it comes to equipment so we’ll see where this all leads. But in the meantime I’m a happy painter.