Preparing for Painting Abroad

It's been over 15 years since I took a trip solely for painting. I decided to commit to a painting trip this year and to go back to Italy where my journey as an artist began. In 2001 I attended a 3-week workshop, drawing from the figure every morning and painting outside every afternoon, in the province of Umbria just north of Rome. I learned that the organization that ran that workshop shut down a few years ago, but also that a new one now offers independent residencies in practically the same neighborhood. I signed up and will be staying in the town of Monte Castello di Vibio for 2 weeks in mid-June.

As I contemplated what to pack, it occurred to me that while my current outdoor painting set up of a half Jullian easel and a large messenger bag full of supplies works fine for around here, it would not be optimal for a trip abroad.

The 11 pound wooden easel was not going to be fun to haul around, and stretched canvases take up a lot of space (especially if paint is still damp). My goal is to be able to get everything into a large backpack. So, for the last few weeks I've been researching alternatives. I found a new aluminum, lightweight folding easel that's 3.5 pounds and a palette holder (Easel Butler from Canada!) that adds less than a pound. In addition, combined they take up about half as much space.

As for supports, I decided to try out four different kinds of painting panels: two that have a smooth acrylic gessoed surface, and two with acrylic-primed cotton canvas adhered to a panel. All are archival, professional grade and 1/8" thick (a standard stretcher bar is 3/4" thick). Three are 9x12 inches and the small one is 5x7 inches. 

Panel samples, 72 dpi, 300 pix.jpg

At left are the panels fresh out of their wrappers. On the right after I toned them with a thin wash of burnt sienna. Yes, the same pigment on each, but surprising how differently they came out! The gessoed panels are in the middle, so it was interesting that the two canvas panels responded in opposite ways: the one on the left came out a cool pink, while the one on the right came out warm, almost brown.

I tried a quick sketch painting on each, except the for the small gessoed one. Painting on the larger of the gessoed panels, I found the surface too slippery, in other words the paint (especially the dark green) did not adhere well to the surface. Here's a photo of it:

On the other hand, the canvas-on-panels had more traction and the paint held on where I applied it. I felt like I had more control of the paint and it stayed where I put it. I missed the springiness of stretched canvas, but the stiff backing means a tiny bit less effort which can translate into a bit more speed when chasing the moving sun. Can't wait to try it outside!

Waterlil sketch on canvas panel 2, 600 px.jpg
Waterlily sketch on canvas panel 1.jpg

I'll be buying canvas panels now. Next up, a new palette and a way to carry wet paintings....