Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 1, 2017

A Lightweight Rig For Plein Air

Filed under: How to do,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:24 pm

An irredeemably nerdy post, but when you are painting plein air a lot, kit and the weight of it is a key issue. If you can’t carry your gear all day then you are stuck with painting whatever is near your car. Trolleys are great in the city but along a cliff path they are just a nuisance. I was watching a video by Tom Hughes who is a very fine painter, he has done an excellent series of videos called Thoughts on Painting. With some amazement I watched the one where he goes through his gear and says he carries a backpack weighing 15 Kilos! This is in soldiers yomping with bags of rocks on their backs territory. Fine for him, he is young and strong, but I am old and fat and only averagely fit.

Recently I made a studio easel to replace my large and unwieldy Mabef out of jig making gear (for making woodworking and other workshop jigs). The result was lighter smaller and had the added bonus of rotating the canvas to ease making directional brushstrokes.


Here is the basic stuff it comes form Axminster click here to see in their shop. It is a simple T channel that takes specially shaped bolts and is predrilled to fix down.


Here are the fittings and here is the link to them. This is a whole set but you can buy bits individually I believe. I had thought after making the studio easel that the same stuff could be used for plein air. I had also at the same time settled on using a vertical palette which makes mixing tones so much easier as they look the same as when seen on your painting surface, which they will not do if the palette is set at a different angle to your board.

So here I will go through my plein air painting set up set up and how it all goes together. First weight!

Boardholder Palette and Wet box with four 14in by 10in boards.  1.890KG

Gitzo carbon Fibre Tripod with Ball Head and quick release          1.284KG

Paint Box with 10 Colours Medium Turps and Dipper                     1.444KG

Brushroll with Brushes and Rag                                                           0.288KG

Rucksack Shoulder straps                                                                      0.700KG

Total weight                                                                                              5.606KG

If I preload my palette and only take 4 tubes of key colours          4.862KG

So about a third or less of Tom’s load!

I’ll go through each item in detail:


Here is the basic frame with board holders and palette they can all be positioned however you want. Biggest board is about 20in by 16in but you would have to add a bigger wet board carrier. The current one is 14in by 10in but I will be making a 16in by 10in to go on the same rig in due course.

board box

Here is the board box and tripod. The box is made of 2mm ply so is very light. The Gitzo tripod is very expensive but there are other much cheaper ones on the market that weigh much the same. You do need a decent quick release Ball Head on the tripod cheap ones aren’t strong enough and in my experience sag when any great pressure is used on the brush.


This is the paint box notice it has a track fitting so that it too can be attached to the “T” track.


Finally the rucksack straps and brush roll. I just took a fairly cheap but comfortable rucksack and cut away everything but the back panel. The bright metal washers at the top are fixing a wooden baton with another “”T” track fitting so it will attach to the track. The brush roll is… well a brush roll.

Here it is all set up and ready to paint. It takes about 2min to set up ready. If you want to you can rotate the whole lot 9o degrees so that your palette is by the side of your painting.

…and the rear view. The “T” track has a quick release plate attached to it, but it does not have to be removed to pack the whole thing up.

Here is a close up which show how everything hooks on to the track. If I want to adapt it then other bits could be made that fit on the same basic track.

To pack up it all stays on the tripod. The Wetbox clips to the palette making a lid but also supplying a board for doing watercolours as you can see here. Watercolour stuff, colour box, water, sketchbook  and brushes just go in my pockets. I like to have both media with me if possible. The wet box becoming an angled board allows me to work standing up which I prefer in most cases.

Here it is all packed up ready to fix on the straps.

This is with the rucksack straps attached. The tripod stays fixed to the quick release plate. The Bungee just holds the bottom of the strap panel in place and stops anything flopping about. The ties of the brush roll are knotted round the “T” track but I might think of a better way in due course.

Here we are ready to go. On the left you can see the knurled knob that holds the rucksack section in place on the “T” track. I would always advise getting a rucksack with a waist strap and decent padding as this one has. It was sad to cut up a perfectly good rucksack but it wasn’t an expensive one.

So that’s it, this is really just a prototype so I shall make a more streamlined version in due course.

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