Plein Air Tip: Go Vertical

Here's a helpful tip when you're painting outdoors. Try to arrange the angle of the painting surface to be:
  • 1. Vertical (or perpendicular to your line of sight) 
  • 2. Adjacent to the view you want to paint, and 
  • 3. About the same size as your field of view. 

Oil painting in progress on an Open Box M pochade easel.
And try to arrange the palette to be:
  • 1. Close to the painting,
  • 2. Vertical also, or parallel to the painting surface,
  • 3. In the same light as the painting.

If you can do all these things, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of drawing or painting what's in front of you. When you have to look 90 degrees to the side or down to your lap, or if you have to allow time for your eyes to adjust for brightness differences, it makes it harder to make accurate observations.

Getting this setup right may take a little while, because it involves coordinating a lot of separate factors: whether you're sitting or standing, the size of your panel, your distance from the subject, and your easel adjustments. And sometimes this set-up isn't possible, such as in a subway or a restaurant, but if you can prop a sketchbook up on your knee, it helps a lot.

This is the same basic idea as the sight-size method used in art academies, but I follow the method a little less strictly, and I try to match my painting size to my view at the given working distance, not to the actual size of the subject.

Here's my new DIY sketchbook pochade easel in action. The pochade mounts to a lightweight camera tripod. The sketchbook is clipped to a plywood board, below which is the palette holder, attached to the board by friction hinges  The palette is the metal lid from a pencil box spray-painted white and held on with Velcro. Some of these refinements come from your suggestions--so thanks!

The angled camera bar has various holes for mounting video cameras. At the moment it's holding a GoPro on a kitchen timer. The camera bar swings up and down, and is held in position with the friction lid support at left. It is currently out of the way in the down position.
Read more:
Marc Dalessio video showing his sight-size landscape setup
Darren Rousar's website explains sight-size method
David Kassan demos his "Parallel Palette"
I explain the DIY sketchbook pochade in the recent cicada video
Sources for gear:
Open Box M pochade easels
Friction Lid Support
Southco adjustable friction hinge
GoPro Hero
IKEA Ordning Kitchen Timer
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