A triumph of surgery

I mentioned this on twitter not long ago, but the sunshine season is coming to Bridgetown (in a few months, anyway) and it’s time to get outside. I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can paint outside, something I’d like to do more often. Specifically I want to be able to carry my paints around with me at the Oregon Country Fair, and be able to be in full art-making mode rather than willfully limited as I was last year. The way I want to input things is always in flux and recently I’ve been itching to do more painting studies out in the world, and yearn for something that blends portability with simplicity. I want all the painting objects to be in one thing. Pallets, brushes, water cup, reading glasses and paper.

The pallets I use are plastic, and two of them are the fold up “travel” kind, though the large one doesn’t snap together like you’d want it to. Usually if my paints need to go somewhere I wrap a cloth around the cover-less pallet, close the close-able ones, tie them all together and stuff them into a bag. It works.

The brushes are of course the real problem. How in the world can one safely get brushes from point A to point B? For a long time I’ve had an ArtBin brand box that has foam holders specifically designed to keep brushes totally immobile — honestly the best solution I have seen. Those bamboo roll-’em-up mats really don’t work with small brushes and letting them jangle around loose in a pencil box is no solution at all. So the foam-in-the-box is great. However the box itself is not great. It is huge — intended for meaty acrylic and oil painting brushes, not the minute brushes we watercolor-type painters use. A lot of unusable space. Nothing apart from paintbrushes could go inside it yet the box itself is large than my largest pallet, and longer indeed than my normal bag could accommodate.

My big pallet actually has a space for brushes. In the past I’ve made a little tube out of paper, taped it shut, and slipped it over the bristles of the brush. That works fairly well except I can only carry about three brushes in this way and in order to actually work on something I need my full range. That’s still only about 5-8 brushes, but it exceeds my travel-pallet’s capacity.

For a long time my solution has been to not bring brushes out at all, partly for the impossibility and partly in an effort to simplify my art-making experience on outings. If I bring too many things I am apt to try and USE them and not pay attention to what I’m seeing. But I have seen some very amazing things, (the Museum of Man building in San Diego for instance,) that — for me — really cannot be captured in any other way than paint and brush. The last time I was visiting home I actually bought a paintbrush and a tube of paint somewhere because I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to express bigger than pen, more colorful than pen. And add to this my last-summer’s work-in-the-park sessions of just sketching when I had actual real painting to do. OR the countless days spent woefully indoors when I could have easily been outside working if only I’d had the means.

So it is that I’ve been in the market for a painter’s box. Nothing fancy, nothing pre-packed with gear I didn’t need. Just an old beat up thing I could trick out to suit my needs. And sure enough, whilst sifting through my favorite antique place for something else entirely, squashed between a fine ceramic bowl and a statue of St. Francis, was my dilapidated painter’s box. It was like destiny.

The ladies behind the counter looked at me with a trace of benevolent doubt as I gushed about my find, clutching it as though it were the a rare bone-china teacup. That saying about one man’s trash is another man’s treasure couldn’t be more true at antique stores. It’s okay. All the better if it was kind of battered — nothing to hold me back from really using it.

And the largest kick I get out of a thing like this is the resurrection of a thing left for dead. With a few modifications it would perfectly suit my needs.

A happy side-effect of this project was that it got me into Hippo Hardware for the very first time. It certainly won’t be the last time. If ever you need to spend an hour digging through a bin of luggage hardware, opening hinges, flexing latches, and solving the puzzle of what is this, and, how might it fit with another piece, and where is that other piece, I have the perfect place.

(This may not sound like flattery to you, but I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon.)

And there you have it! A solution to the problem of the bag-full-of-crap. Now it’s a box filled more neatly with crap. Important crap. Time to go put it to the test.