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:
- 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.
- It had to carry these things in an organized fashion — just for ease of use, I needed to know where things were.
- I should be able to carry it by itself, but it had to fit within the bag I carry daily.
- It had to look good.
Everything else — color, material, etc, was beside the point for the moment.
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.
- Designing for Comfort - April 16, 2018
- Style, Comfort, Accessibility and Personal Expression - December 5, 2017
- Improvements to the Art Bag - September 19, 2017
- Fit Matters: Design As An Extension of The Self - June 30, 2017
- A Tale of Two Bags - June 25, 2017
- Designing for the MVP – Backpack Edition - March 19, 2017
- The Consumers Role in a Sustainable Marketplace - February 28, 2017
- When an Opportunity Is Masked As a Problem - February 21, 2017
- The Big Book of Sustainable (What Does Sustainable Mean) - February 11, 2017
- Painting In The Wild With My Plein Air Portable Art Studio (30 Days In Italy) - August 30, 2016