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.

February 17, 2017

How to Cheat at Perspective pt1

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 3:43 pm

This post and the forthcoming ones are for anyone who has had perspective explained to them, but found that their brain started to close down causing them to feel an irresistible urge to get as far away from the person explaining as possible and have a quiet coffee and read OK magazine because it is certain there will be no article on perspective in it. Every now and again I am in the position of the abandoned explainee when I have to explain some of the finer points of perspective to a fellow painter. It starts off fine when I say, “Hold up your brush as close as you can and as level as you can, right in front of your eyes.” They do this and I pronounce. “You see where it cuts across your vision, that is always the Horizon line.” Over the years I have mastered the skill of saying horizon with a capital ‘H’.

They mostly just accept this, but some say, “What about if you are up a mountain, won’t it be lower?”

Fixing an irritatingly patronising smirk on my features I reply,”No, if you hold up your brush when you are on the very top of mount Everest it will still mark the horizon.”

“What about in space?” The smart-arses come back.

My smirk slightly morphs into a pout at this point…”When exactly are you going to paint in space…?” I enquire.

“So it doesn’t always work! What is the use of that then?”

So there we are, the rules of perspective are rules that don’t always look right on the page when you follow them. In actuality, as I have written in other posts, the whole business of linear perspective is a crude approximation of what and how we actually see. It is convenient I suppose that one point perspective is fairly easy to explain, with railway tracks meeting at the horizon etc. However once you are in the territory of 2 and 3 point perspective and quite wide angles of view your explanations gain an ever increasing degree of complexity which are going to glaze over most painter’s eyes. Also linear perspective assumes you only have one eye and a flat retina. Also it is taken for granted that neither your head or your peepers can swivel. I don’t know about you, but when I paint something I do a fair amount of swivelling and general rubbernecking!

Many artists avoid the whole thing by never doing town or cityscapes at all, or if they do they look way off into the distance which is where linear flattens out into cardboard cutouts. Most of us who don’t avoid such subjects stick to the safe territory of one point perspective and a tight view. Where it all falls apart though is when we take that slightly wider view.

Time for one of those diagrams, but don’t click away, there will be no equations or hyperbolic geometry.

Perspective drawing

Here we are in a town with mostly one point perspective, there are only a few bits of sticky-out shop and rooflines that don’t recede from us. The rest tapers off to meet at the point on the horizon in the middle of the street. I’ve gone quite wide too and all seems well. I have cheated a bit though. If I had stuck to the constructed rules of perspective the shop on the far right would be sort of stretched out; indeed in a photo that is just what happens. So a skinny man standing in the middle of a photograph will look like a fat man if he goes to the far side of the frame. We are so used to this effect in photos we no longer notice the distortion. Just for fun below is an image where those perspective rules that you have never quite understood start falling apart.

perspective drawing

The wide-angleness of this image is not far off a point and click camera or your phone. As you see we have a straight row of perfectly identical computer generated men. Well call me picky, but to my eye the chap on the far right has had a few more iced buns in the last month than his friend in the middle… but they are identical models just duplicated, the distortion is purely caused by using the rules of linear perspective. To make it worse the chap on the right is about twice as far away from you the as chap in the middle… now I always thought the “rules” said things got smaller as they got further away. The blimps in the sky, by the way,  are all perfect spheres… it is a property of spheres that they always have a circular outline wherever they are in your field of view. These appear to break that rule with enthusiasm. To recap, if you got a set of bald grey elevenplets (rarer that triplets I hear) and stood them in a line in front of your point and snap this is how they would look in your photo.

perspective drawing

Here we are back in our city. We have stepped back a bit and widened the view. This is version one. At first glance this looks sort of OK. However the building on the far left has a corner that should be closer to you than the point at which it leaves the picture on the left of the frame. Yet following the rules of linear perspective it causes that face of the building to get taller as it gets more distant. The very opposite of what our eyes see in reality. Below is my guestimate fix.

perspective drawing

Take a moment to compare versions one and two. I have made two simple adjustments one quite obvious, one less so. Firstly can you see that this looks more likely than the first version? If not can I suggest a quick coffee and a copy of OK? Ahem… the big change is on the left. The vanishing point has flipped from right to left so the building goes away from you as it should, you might also notice that the chimney stacks and the zebra crossing make more sense and the corner feels properly square. The other change is to the shop corner to the right of the picture. I have slightly curved and flattened the angle of the perspective as the lines reach the square corner. This helps the building on the left fit in better, though beware if you over do it things start to look bendy!

Linear perspective is fine as a starting point, but you do have to make subtle corrections to make up for its considerable deficiencies. Essentially you need to make some straight lines a bit bendy in order to get things to make better sense. My own take is to not over do it and get into fisheye territory, but to do the least possible to reduce any inconsistencies. I do get asked, “How can straight lines be bendy?” they will often hold their ruler against the offending roofline and go, “See it’s straight.” Instead of telling them the unwelcome fact that they are seeing their ruler bendy too, I usually suggest a coffee…

I am doing these little tutorials in small bites to make them a bit more digestible. If people have perspective questions post them below and I will try and cover them in future posts.

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