Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Brian Buckrell's Plein Air Acrylic Set-up and Procedure

I have been plein air painting for about 4 years. In that period I have had the good fortune of taking numerous workshops from skilled painters doing plein air in both acrylics and oils. I am a bit of a gear-head (according to my wife), and as a result I have tried most set-ups and modified most of what I have purchased. Through trial and error, and studying the set-ups of others, I now have equipment that I am happy with.

I have purchased and used the 9x12 and 6x8 Guerrilla Boxes™, the Soltek Easel, and two sizes of the Easy L. I find any of these work fine for me when using oils - although each has its particular advantages. But for acrylics, after trying all, I have setteled on the 9x12 Guerrilla Box™ slightly modified to fit my needs. It is the sturdiest of the bunch and holds the most. I find painting with acrylics requires more supplies and the Guerrilla Box™ handles it well. If I am painting in an urban setting or some place close to my car, I transport my equipment in a folding hand truck equipped with plastic containers held in with quick ties.

I have modified the Guerrilla Box™ as follows: I have attached two bungees across the top of the lid of the Guerrilla Box™ to hold my Slip in Easel. I use the Slip in Easel to raise the base of the panel above the palette. I use a bungee that ties to the handle of the tripod and hooks over to the top of my panel - adequate for panels up to 16x20. For larger panels I put a bungee around the back of the box lid which hooks to each side of the panel. The Sta-Wet palette is held in place by two small nails that I hammered into the front edge of the Guerrilla Box™ and cut off the nail heads. These grab the plastic ridges on the base of the Sta-Wet and prevent it from sliding.
Painting Procedure:

It took a while to get it through my thick head, but I have finally learned that time spent planning is probably the most important time spent when doing plein air. I do at least two thumbnail sketches, selecting what to include and what to eliminate. I try to clearly define a foreground, midground and background. I then transfer the sketch to the panel using water soluble pencil, then re-draw it using a waterproof black marker pen - many brands bleed but some, like Sharpie, do not. I then wash off the water soluble pencil.

Once the sketch is in place I choose a transparent color (generally warm) and, using glazing medium, apply the under painting. Sometimes I apply it evenly and quite heavy; other times I wipe it off selectively, creating a value pattern. While the under painting is drying I select my palette (color choices vary from day to day). Unlike with oils, I do not put out all paints until I require them - and am constantly adding paint as needed (which is conveniently below my palette with the Guerrilla Box™). I begin by putting out the dark transparents and usually just put them on the 9x12 disposable palette which I discard once finished with these. If the weather is not too drying I put them on either the 9x12 plastic palette (using both the lid and bottom - stacking them on the slider) or the Sta-Wet 12x16 with disposable palette paper or, if conditions suggest, I will use the Sta-Wet moistened paper and sponge. I then lay in my darks using the transparent - often quite loosely - creating shape and value as much as possible. I avoid adding white - including colors made opaque with white - as long as I can. I often start with the foreground - using as much transparent as possible - and cut out the mid ground shapes with opaques as I create the background. Once the basic plan is in place I often glaze with transparent darks - often phthalos (green, blues or magenta) sometimes with ivory black added - always with glazing medium and a bit of water. This drops the overall value and creates harmony (a mother color if you wish). Then I come back with opaques and re-develop the lighter values.

I have a history of overworking many paintings. I have learned that I am better off not trying to finish many of my paintings on site - although about 20% of pieces I do call finsihed. The others I return to my studio to finish without reference, trying to make the piece stand on its own. Probably 25% are complete junkers - but that is down from 50% two years ago and I have to remember that these are the ones I learn from. I credit most of my improvement to the advance planning and the application of a correct drawing before I start - particulary in complex urban scenes.

Generally I prefer to paint plein air with acrylics. I find I paint more imaginatively and with more color. I paint fast and furiously. I no longer experience trouble with drying as I only put out paints I am using - and I have painted in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. I have tried the slow drying brands but prefer to keep them for the studio.

- Brian Buckrell
Brian Buckrell.com

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