Gurney Journey | category: Painting Gear


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes
On Instagram, Paul T Levin asks: "James, you did a video about plein air nocturnes a while back where you talked about good lights but I can’t find it. What do you recommend if I may ask?"

I answer: I don't know to be honest, since everything is changing so fast in the LED space. Anybody have a suggestion for good book light or headlamp with adjustable light levels?

Cleve Page answers: "I got a Lumecube 2.0. It has adjustable light levels and there are attachments like barn doors or snap-on color filters. It's an excellent product. It also has 1/4-20 threads so you can add it to a separate structure. It's more pricey than a headlamp, but it's much more capable."

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air NocturnesFiona Fleming adds: "I just purchased a Vekkia 19 LED Music Stand Light with a nice substantial clip, and a flexible arm…the light alters to warm, medium or cool and can be directed right onto the surface. I haven’t road tested it on the easel at night yet, but I might tonight! It charges with a USB cable."

J. Owens says: "(There are) a few different headlamps for camping and I believe most have adjustable levels. Mine is a PTEC, (Princeton Tec) it has three levels along with a red light."

    Drew Baker I've mused about putting something using srtip LEDs from Waveformlighting. My thinking is a very high CRI source would be a better approach than something with tunable temperature and questionable CRI.

    Edgeprogear sells a light for their pochade boxes. It's essentially a Vidpro LED-230 on a gooseneck, with a bespoke mount for the Paintbook. (At least, that's what mine is.)

  • Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes
  • Brian Meyer I paint at night, at concerts, etc. Basically I have bought every light you can get. The ones I prefer now are rechargeable, which can last 2-3 hours.

    The last one I got is the best so far, its designed for musicians, its battery on bright lasts an entire session of 5 hours, and it goes from 4 to 3 on its power display, I have used it two sessions in a row without recharging.
    (photos from Brian Meyer)

    Vekkia clip-on book light.

  • Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes
  • The issue with most lights is the bulb is exposed, which is blinding if you have an audience, this light has it in a recess so all the light is directed towards the paper. Prior to this I was setting up a hood.

    Julie Bloch I got little clip on rechargeable LED lights that are tiny. I bought 2 for my plein-air backpack.

    Damian Kinsella I try to limit the light as much as possible so these do well to not give me so much light that I lose the sense of what I'm looking at. Eric Merrell brought up the idea of taping a piece of vellum over them and that diffuses the light a bit more and warms it up slightly as well (depending on the vellum). They don't work well with my Yarka rig, but for a Gurney-style flip easel they're practically perfect.
    The kit I purchased can run off the included 12-hour lithium batteries so this would allow painting on location far away from any other electrical source for an extended period of time.

    Although I haven't used them for an en plein air nocturne, I do plein air oils and am always looking for an efficient means of transporting my gear. I can envision these old bones including such a light in an excursion. The kit essentially could be doing triple-duty (copywork, studio painting, and night painting on location) if I decide to try a nocturne. Their use in conjunction with polarizing filters on the lights and camera lens makes a remarkable improvement when copying art. Because of such versatility, they may be worth consideration.

    I paint at night, at concerts, etc. Basically I have bought every light you can get.The ones I prefer now are rechargeable, which can last 2-3 hours.

    The last one I got is the best so far, its designed for musicians, its battery on bright lasts an entire session of 5 hours, and it goes from 4 to 3 on its power display, I have used it two sessions in a row without recharging.

    Good for extra light, like on your palette and paint mixing areas, or as a backup main light. Its also better light, good for when recording with a GoPro.

    Always plan on the batteries dying and have a spare.

Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

On Instagram, I posted about this plein-air still life in oil, and some of you had questions:

Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

fefecru: "Can I ask you what umbrella is that? Anyone in particular you’ll recommend? 
A: It’s a Jullian umbrella, designed to clamp onto a French easel, but I keep it on a C-stand so that it doesn’t blow over and bring my painting into the wreckage."

agustin.poratti "How'd you build that camera trípod easel?"
A: That’s an Open Box M easel, which may not be made anymore, but there are others like it, and there's a Facebook group about building your own.

bencrastinate "Does painting with an easel help? Ive always painted my canvas flat on my desk. What are the benefits of painting on a vertical surface?"
A: I find it helps my speed and accuracy to have my painting set up perpendicular to my line of sight, and directly adjacent to, the same size as, and in the same light as my subject.

Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

grinningink "Since you used oil here, wasn’t it still wet when you sold it that same day? Was there something to protect it when the customer took it?"
A: Yes, this was for a paint-out. I framed it and it was auctioned same day. I knew the owner, and after it was thoroughly dry I borrowed it back to varnish and photograph it.

Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

thefrankryan "Is this palette approach inspired by Carolous Duran’s method?"
A: A lot of oil painters have used premixed colors. I was thinking mainly of Frank Reilly, but using an adapted version of his practice.
Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

 "Please list the names of oil colors on the pallet, looks like three primaries and white." 
It’s the 5-color palette recommended by John Stobart in his book The Pleasures of Painting Outdoors: titanium white, cad yellow light, pyrrole red, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. You can paint almost anything with those five colors.

 "Would you also premix your colors when you paint with other mediums?"
In theory you could premix with water media, but the pools of color would tend to dry too fast.

Related previous posts: Painting Pumpkins 

Turner's Small Watercolor Kits

Turner's Small Watercolor Kits

J.M.W. Turner's super-portable watercolor set consisted of a small set of cake colors in a leather pocket pouch.

Turner's Small Watercolor Kits

He also had slightly larger sets with flasks. This is his paintbox, found in his studio after his death in 1851

(Tate Archive 7315.6)

To learn more about 19th century watercolor sets, check out the website or the Tate Archive

Can you take casein on an airplane?

Paul asks: "Have you ever taken the plane with casein? Is it possible to travel with it (either checked in or in carry-on)?"
Can you take casein on an airplane?

Paul, there's no problem packing the tubes of casein in your checked luggage. If you want to take them as carry-on, it's also OK because the tubes are smaller than the 3.4 ounce maximum limit. The average Richeson tube is 1.25oz. But be careful because the big tubes of white are 5 oz. or 150ml. 

The good thing about casein for a remote painting adventure is that you don't need to worry about bringing mineral spirits or oil solvent, which you can't take on an airplane, checked or otherwise.

However I would not recommend casein for actually painting in airports, or other enclosed spaces. That's because it has a rather strong smell that not everyone loves. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you paint with it, you'll need to clean up fairly quickly after finishing the painting. If it dries on your brush, the dried paint can wreck the fibers. That's not such a problem with gouache because you can reactivate paint that has dried on your brush.

Portfolio Sketching Easel

Drawing with your pad on a flat table or desk is not ideal, because your drawing surface should be perpendicular to your line of sight. If it's oblique, it's bad for your posture and harder to achieve accuracy.

Portfolio Sketching Easel

In an old art magazine, I found this ad for "The Criterion Portfolio and Sketching Outfit."

The portfolio easel sets up on top of a flat table. It's easy to make one yourself. It consists of two thin plywood boards hinged at the top and held at a maximum opening angle by a string or chain between the backs of the boards. It folds flat for carrying or storage. In this complete kit, elastic loops on the outside hold onto the pencil, ruler, compass, triangle, pad, and envelope for finished drawings.

What's in Your Kit?

Charlie asks: What’s in your kit?
Everything I need for drawing or basic painting lives in a belt pouch which I bring everywhere. It's small enough to take everywhere and big enough to hold a whole painting kit.

What's in Your Kit?

What are your favorite watercolor art supplies to use? 
I have a 12-color watercolor pan set and a small, changing set of gouache. 

What brands do you prefer in watercolor and gouache? 
I keep coming back to M. Graham and Winsor and Newton, but I have samples of most brands. I keep a several different brands in play at any given time, and combine colors from more than one brand in any given painting. Holbein makes a good starter set, and Shinhan Pass makes a watercolor/gouache hybrid set that is quite reasonable with a wide variety of colors. People who watch my videos know I also use Richeson casein occasionally, both for doing finished paintings, and for underpainting. 

What brushes do you use?
I use flats and rounds the most. A good starter set is the short-handled travel brush set made by Richeson.

What kind of paper do you recommend? 
I use a Pentalic watercolor sketchbook, which has heavyweight, medium-textured watercolor paper that works for all my water media paintings and sketches. I use illustration board and linen canvas for my separate framable oil paintings. 

What cameras and audio do you use to capture your videos?
Lately, I've been using a Canon M6, which is great for video, stills, and onboard timelapse. I keep a compact point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot Elph on a belt holster. For a digital audio recorder, I use a Zoom H2N, and that's handy for capturing voiceover and for room tone. I also include a Rode Video microphone.

What's in Your Kit?

What else do you carry?
I also carry a couple of water cups with lids that hold on well. In the metal box I carry a water-soluble colored pencil set, plus graphite pencils, a few pastels, a fountain pen, erasers, and water brushes, which work with the colored pencils in tight spaces. And of course I need a paint rag. 

Where can I learn more about your easel?
I use a homemade sketch easel and a tripod. Here's a link to a tutorial on how to make one, and here's a link to a Facebook group of other builders.

Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations

Meredith Moles shared her build of a sketch easel:

Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations

"I wanted a perfectly flat easel made from only two pieces of wood. I chose 1/4" cherry plywood, which was a fraction thicker than the oak plywood at my local store. The T-nut for holding the quick-connect plate would have protruded, so I cut it shorter with a Dremel. It still holds the quick-connect quite securely.

Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations

"My solution for the hinges is inspired by the one on your blog from Paul Savoie. I used nylon flat head screws, and deepened the holes for the screws with a countersink drill bit (very gently, with a hand crank drill, after breaking a hinge with a power drill!). Here they are installed.

Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations

"The combination of countersinking and the give in the nylon allows the easel to close, even without recessing the hinges. The easel sits a bit open naturally, but closes all the way with gentle finger pressure, which I figure means that whatever happens in my backpack will be fine.

Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations

"Here is the easel all set up. Two cup-holder binder clips hold five things: Brush cup, water cup, paper towel, test paper, and cloth towel. The cup-holder clips happen to fit 4 oz and 8 oz Nalgene containers perfectly. A modified merchandise sign clip, using the wide parts of two clips, holds a light diffuser. It's probably not sturdy enough for windy days, but works great otherwise, providing a completely adjustable angle. I built the easel with a tab for holding the diffuser clip, so the rest of the panel fits my sketchbook precisely and the clip doesn't get in the sketchbook's way. The diffuser itself is made from translucent corrugated plastic, which lets more light through than white corrugated plastic.

Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations
Meredith's Sketch Easel Innovations
"This easel -- and probably most other folks' builds as well -- can simply be turned 90 degrees to work in portrait mode, using the two panels side by side."

Thanks, Meredith!
Check out our Facebook group, "Sketch Easel Builders"
Download the video "How to Make a Sketch Easel"
DVD: How to Make a Sketch Easel

Sketch Easel with Side Flanges

Riko Colin Chock shared the following sketch easel design on our new Facebook Group page.

Sketch Easel with Side Flanges

I love the side flanges, which held on with additional adjustable torque hingesHe says:

"Here is my easel. Built from ACM (aluminum composite material). The wing with the fountain pen tray liner can be tilted down for brush drying. I stitched it with a cut piece of hair elastic to hold the brushes, pencils, etc. in place.

Sketch Easel with Side Flanges

"The palette is held on currently with Blu Tack. I've epoxied magnets to the underside of it and will maybe mount a thin sheet of tin to the platform of the easel.

Sketch Easel with Side Flanges

"Canvas clips and clamps hold the bottom of the book/panel. Shelf liner is used to give the book/panel a little bit of grippiness so it doesn't slide around. Water cups have magnets on the bottom and cap which attach to the binder clips and arms.

Sketch Easel with Side Flanges

"Folds pretty flat, maybe an inch or so. Pardon the camera shake on the last pic which is the bottom showing the nuts and bolts (and the few corrections on placement!). Also, pardon the clutter in the background!
Check out the Facebook group Sketch Easel Builders, and share your design.

Improved Diffuser

Here's an improved diffuser for your plein-air easel. It delivers beautiful light on your painting panel or sketchbook, and it's lightweight, robust, adjustable, and easy to build.


I have released a video showing how to make the sketch easel plus four different diffuser designs. It explains what tools and materials you'll need, and demonstrates all the steps.

The HD download of "How to Make a Sketch Easel" is more than an hour long and costs only $14.95.

It's available now from Gumroad and SellfyThe DVD version is available for $24.50, and it includes a slide show. The DVD is also available on Amazon.

There is also a Facebook group called "Sketch Easel Builders" where you can share your build or ask questions of fellow builders. It's free to join.

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air NocturnesYour Questions about Plein-Air Painting in OilTurner's Small Watercolor KitsCan you take casein on an airplane?Portfolio Sketching EaselWhat's in Your Kit?How to Make a Lego-Powered Camera SliderMeredith's Sketch Easel InnovationsSketch Easel with Side FlangesImproved Diffuser

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