The painter Edwin Dickinson called his plein air paintings “premier coups”. — first cuts — His goal always was to paint as immediately as possible in the wild.

I’ve always loved this idea — a strategy for painting outdoors that focused on making quick and precise marks, detailing the experience of what you were seeing.

Great pleinair painters have a capacity to translate a landscape into layers of tone and mark — a shorthand describing the environment.

Amazing in itself, even more amazing when you consider that frequently a painter is out in the early morning, trying to capture the light — bundled against the cold in a lot of cases, battling wind and weather to make something somewhat delicate.

I have hauled my pochade box across the desert and through the mountains in Colorado.

I have had some crazy set ups and some not so crazy set ups — what I have learned from the experience is that I have not only have a strategy for painting, but a strategy for setting up my gear.

In May, after leaving my previous job, I went to Italy for a month.

We were going to be in Rome, Tuscany, Venice and the Alps, and a few places in between.

I wanted to be able to paint while I was there. Between the history of Rome and Venice, and the beauty of Tuscany and the Alps, it was, what you would call, a target-rich environment for painting.

I also had a commission I needed to work on while I was travelling — so I needed to do a lot of sketching during my free time.

I couldn’t carry a pochade box — too cumbersome for the trip. I needed something that kept my supplies somewhat organized, and my brushes somewhat free from getting damaged during the travels.

I set about designing an art carryall to match the plein air that I could carry either by itself or as part of my messenger bag.

I had to be able to carry brushes, paint, paper and whatever pens and pencils I thought I needed.

And I had to be able to set up and tear down my ‘station’ easily.

“Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem — the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible — his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth. — Charles Eames.”

I love that quote because it sums up my design strategy perfectly.

Set the constraints — set the context — before designing. Here was my list of constraints for this project:

  1. It had to not only carry pens, pencils, erasers, brushes, paints, and palette, it also had to carry a drawing tablet, anything up to the 12×18 inch variety.
  2. It had to carry these things in an organized fashion — just for ease of use, I needed to know where things were.
  3. I should be able to carry it by itself, but it had to fit within the bag I carry daily.
  4. It had to look good.

Everything else — color, material, etc, was beside the point for the moment.

plein air art redesigned original

To figure out how to build what I needed, I sat down with InDesign and made a sketch.

I measured the length of my Art Bag messenger bag to find the space I was dealing with, then I divided that number by 1.618 — the golden ratio.


Because it makes me happy to work with proportional systems.

I cut the cloth and sewed up the prototype — There were definitely construction issues I would need to work out in future iterations, but I had a working version.

It fit inside my messenger bag, and velcroed to the lining, so it was secure and accessible. It made travel super-easy because it fit as part of my carry-on baggage.

The prototype did a great job getting around both Italy, and then later, Paris.

What I enjoyed about the experience of using it was that I could carry it in my messenger bag, or carry it by itself.

It lent itself to whatever environment I happened to paint in. I could set up in a field, or I could surreptitiously set up in a museum and work.

I did make some changes based on my experience.

In the photo above, you will note that the brush holder is a long pocket. I didn’t like how the brushes jumbled together — the more delicate brushes would get mussed by the bigger brushes.

When I came home, I sat down and redrew the bag based on my experience.

It really satisfies my geekish desire to organize my stuff and be able to carry around a bunch of art supplies.

I also like that it looks good with paint on it.

Because paint gets on everything.

I am still honing my premier coups — still finding the right brushes and the right traveling paint to make the kinds of marks I want — but now I know I can have options.

-Ben Trissel

About Ben Trissel

Ben is the Founder of Sidgl, 4th generation craftsman and designer that believes in thoughtful design, sustainable manufacturing and functional beauty. Sidgl makes handcrafted bags that are designed to look good, feel good and above all function well.

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I am constantly in pursuit of my 3-goals for sidgl -- better design, greater sustainability and working with a community of like-minded individuals.  Join me as I explore this fashion revolution. --Ben


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