Travel easels for plein air painting

Homemade carry bag, the oil-acrylic easel, and the watercolor easel. The watercolor easel must be disassembled to fit into the bag. I can’t get both of the easels in the bag simultaneously, either.

Compare the oil-acrylic ease with the watercolor easel. The first is a bit taller than the latter when the legs are extended fully.

I thought I would elaborate a little more about the benefits of plein air easels and the differences.  Last week I mentioned the French easel which is made of wood.  It contains most of your equipment but it is heavy.  Also, the pochade box which is very attractive but limited to the size of canvas or panels you can use.

My main two plein air easels are both by Stanrite.  One is a watercolor easel which will tilt to many angles and has extendable legs. It has clips which will hold a board to which I’ve attached my watercolor paper.

Closeup of the watercolor easel showing the tilt adjustment.

Stanrite watercolor easel.

The other easel, and my go-to easel in the field, is for oils or acrylics.  It, too, has collapsible legs, plus it has fold-out spikes which can provide extra security by stabbing into the soil.  The easel will take canvases up to 18 x 24, maybe a little larger.  The two hooks will adjust to hold panels or canvasses of different depths, too.

The oil – acrylic easel showing the adjustable supports at the bottom and the clamp at the top. It, too, is adjustable.

Stanrite oil-acrylic easel showing the fold-out spikes to secure the legs to the ground.

Close up of the top clamp for the oil-acrylic easel

I have used these easels for years.  They each fit into a homemade carry bag (made from a pair of old blue jeans) which I can toss over a shoulder or attach to my bicycle.  Neither weighs more than a few pounds.

There are some new light weight aluminum French easels but they’re a bit pricey.  I probably didn’t pay more than $40 for either of these easels.

In the end, it’s all up to you and personal choice.  What works for me may not work for you but these are some nice options for travel easels.

Plein air painting – oil and acrylics, tips and tricks Part III

Plein air painting on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Duck on a Rock is the name of the formation. It was very, very windy that morning so I had to secure the easel.

My last post about plein air painting addressed how to do watercolors.  In this final post, I will address how to do oils and / or acrylics.

There are many similarities with painting plein air in oil or acrylics. Same supports – panels or canvasses, same (similar) brushes, same easel, etc.  The biggest difference is that oils take a long time to dry and use some volatile chemicals, such as, mineral spirits.  Acrylics are painted with water and dry in less than fifteen minutes.  This makes a big difference if you are transporting the canvasses.  Oil painting will smear and get everywhere, whereas, acrylic paintings will dry quickly and be ready to transport within minutes.

Although I painted in oils for over a decade, now I do plein air painting almost exclusively in acrylics.  Mostly for the ease of transport and quick drying times.

This is a typical French easel. It is a wooden carry box and easel all together. These have been around for over 100 years. There is also another smaller French easel called a half-easel. Both weigh quite a bit and, in my opinion, not too comfortable to lug around.

As always, my main concern in plein air painting is weight and ease of transport.  There are many wonderful easels but the most common is the French easel which has been around for over 100 years.  There is also the half-box easel and new aluminum easels which help a bit with the weight.  Another option is the pochade box, either homemade or purchased.  It seems everyone is trying to get smaller and smaller.  I have a pochade box which is a beautiful piece of art furniture, but not really practical for my needs.  I never want to get it messed up!

This is a beautiful little pochade box, similar to the one that I have. It is so exquisitely made that I hate to get it dirty. One needs to use a camera tripod to attach to the bottom as it doesn’t come with legs. However, you can just set it on a table or bench to use. The one that I have will hold a canvas up to 16 x 20 but that is not very practical for this size.

As usual, my main concerns are with weight and portability.  I use another light weight aluminum easel (Stanrite 100) this one with spikes which fold out, but the whole thing collapses to about 25 inches.  That I carry in the same homemade carrier as my watercolor easel.  And another backpack devoted to acrylic (oil) painting.  For some reason, Stanrite quit making these easels but I expect that is mostly because they last so long.  You can probably find them on Ebay or one of the resale sites.

The typical gear that I take with me for acrylic painting. Backpack, selection of brushes and paints. portable travel palette, sketch book, panels and canvasses, gloves, water. Not shown would be a container for water. For oil paint, there would be two containers of mineral spirits and a portable oil paint palette.

Many of the items that I carry with me are the same, but some are devoted to acrylic painting.  Paints, types of brushes, larger water jar, rags, etc.  For oils that would be oil paints, brushes, and two jars of mineral spirits (one for cleaning brushes and one clean).  Backpacks are cheap so just keep one packed for each of the type of work you wish to do.  I have made separate lists for each type of plein air art activities that I do to remind myself what to take.

Easel

Chair / stool

Umbrella / bungees

Bag

Paper

Support

Clips

Acrylic travel palette (Mijello)

Or…oil travel palette

Brushes -assorted

Paints – assorted

Water and cup

Or Mineral spirits (two jars)

Spray bottle

Pencils/pens

Sketch book

Tape / clips

Multi-tool / pliers

Paper towels / cloth rags

Sponge

Bug spray

Sunscreen

Hat

Camera / cell phone

Apron

Scissors / knife

Snacks

Business cards

Some folding green stuff (money)

Bandaids

 

My backpack will hold canvasses or panels up to 11 x 14 inches.  Larger canvasses will have to be hand carried or strapped onto your pack.  When I travel, I will keep a plastic bin to contain all my canvasses.

These are the reminder cards that I keep in my kits. They remind me of what I need to take. I’ve used these kinds of cards for many things, vacations, camping, etc.

Most of the other equipment is the same as listed in my previous post about watercolor painting.  Bug spray is a must to ward off mosquitoes or biting flies.  I once had a guy who was hauling manure and (I think) deliberately let some out near where I was painting.  Bungees help to anchor your easel or attach an umbrella.  Very disappointing to return to your easel only to discover it face down in the weeds.  Oh, well, such is the life of the artist.

And, yes, it is OK to tweak your painting when you return to your studio. Yes, there are some purists who think that is awful, but, hey, it’s your art and you can do what you like!

The main thing is to relax, enjoy yourself and have fun. It’s not a competition; it’s an adventure.

This is what can happen when you don’t anchor your easel on a windy day.

Using my beautiful little pochade box.

On a bluff overlooking the White River in Loogootee, Indiana.

Italian Eating Italian: Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread Series

Italian Eating Italian – Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread Series. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30. Kit Miracle

Painting a portrait head on is a bit challenging.  However, the distinct lighting of this portrait helps define the features.  The painting has a very robust feeling; a man eating a piece of bread and drinking some vino.

Italian Eating Italian, detail, chin. Notice the reflective light on the chin and neck. Also notice that I rarely use a direct white paint. Most of my whites are mixed to add more vibrancy.

If you look carefully at the closeups, you can see that although I paint in a loose impressionistic style, the brush strokes are sure and vibrant.  I’ve been working with some colorful and contrasting lines which add a bit of spark to the painting.  The colorful outlines are not always related to the painting as far as contrasts go, but sometimes they are.

Italian Eating Italian, detail, hand and glass of wine. Here you see the wine glass, slight angle, gripped by the hand but all loosely painted.

Italian Eating Italian, detail. Hand with piece of bread. The challenge here was to paint a piece of rustic white bread against a white shirt.

This is another painting in the Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread Series.

Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread. A new series.

Alone. Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread series. Acrylic on canvas. 30 x 24. Kit Miracle

A few weeks ago I showed some of the NOTAN studies for my next series of paintings.  If you recall, this is where the artist breaks the composition down to black and white abstract shapes.  This is the first painting in that new series.

Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread is a rather ironic title for the series considering the times we are currently living in.  However, this series was planned out in December, long before we knew what the pandemic would do to our socializing.  No more public meals, family gatherings, etc.

So it only appropriate that the first painting is titled Alone.  The lone figure, distanced in the deserted restaurant.  The hard back lighting and reflections on the tables and chairs.  The even more ironic title of the sign inviting him to “Join” the team.  The painting evokes the feeling of loneliness, being alone, as in Hopper’s Nighthawks and some of his other paintings of solitary figures.  Even though there are some quite bright colors in the painting, the main palette is subdued, echoing the feeling of being alone.

Alone, NOTAN study. Although I don’t usually add middle tones to the NOTAN study, I did here to add more body to the image.

Alone. Charcoal sketch 24 x 18, Kit Miracle. Here I have added middle tones but it still keeps true to the basic NOTAN study.

Plein air painting in watercolor – tips and tricks, part II

Plein air at Patoka Lake.

It’s a great time to get outside and do a little plein air painting as the season turns from spring to summer here in the Northern hemisphere.  It’s also a great way to socialize while keeping socially distant in this challenging time.  Not to mention getting some fresh air and just enjoying the great outdoors.

In my last post, I discussed some of the background of plein air painting and some general tips.  Today I’m going to elaborate on how to do plein air painting in watercolor.

This is my old Stanrite watercolor easel. The legs are adjustable and it will collapse to a pretty small package. The top tilts which is handy for watercolor since most painting is done horizontally. And it has two adjustable clips to secure your board. I’m not sure if this is made any more but grab one if you see it. This one is at least twenty years old and has proven to be very sturdy and reliable. Stanrite No 5, Watercolor

Plein air painting equipment can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish to make it.  I tend to lean toward simple and light weight.  Instead of using a French easel (which I find heavy and cumbersome), I like to use an aluminum watercolor easel (by Stanright).  The easel has legs which expand to various heights and a top section which tilts to many angles.  The top also has two clips for securing my watercolor board.

My favorite watercolor paper is d’Arches 140 pound cold press.  For ease of transport, I cut the 22 x 30 inch sheets into quarters and attach them to a luan board which is a little larger.  I find trying to paint outdoors on full size sheets of paper to be awkward but that is just my preference.  Since the smaller paper is only about 11 x 15, it can easily be attached to the board by painter’s tape or clips and does not need to be stretched to prevent buckling.

Plein air watercolor equipment that I keep in my bag. See the list in the body of the post.

I usually keep a bag packed with items just for watercolor painting.  I find this helps speed up the process of packing when I’m ready to get out of the house.  The bag I use is a multi-pocket computer bag which I bought for $5 at a resale shop.  It has a nice shoulder strap which is very comfortable and plenty of zippered compartments. I removed the extra padding.

The used computer bag that I use as a plein air bag for watercolor. I love the many zippered pockets and the comfortable, adjustable strap. I paid $5 for this at a resale shop. Then removed the foam padding.

A very big help to me is that I have color-coded index cards for each type of plein air painting that I do.  This helps to remind me what I need to take just in case I have removed something from my bag.

My list of items to take in my watercolor bag are:

Easel

Chair / stool

Umbrella / bungees

Bag

Paper

Support

Clips

Watercolor travel palette (Mijello)

Brushes -assorted

Paints – assorted

Water and collapsible  cup

Spray bottle

Pencils/pens

Sketch book

Tape / clips

Multi-tool / pliers

Paper towels / cloth rags

Sponge

Bug spray

Sunscreen

Hat

Camera / cell phone

Apron

Scissors / knife

Snacks

Business cards

Some folding green stuff (money)

Band-aids

 

Even with my list, I have forgotten items before.  Once I forgot my collapsible water cup so I cut a spare water bottle in half.  The bug spray will be really welcome if the mosquitoes or flies find you.

Various layers of clothing might be warranted if the weather is likely to change, as is a poncho, etc.  I always keep a travel blanket in the car which I have found handy to wrap up in on particularly windy or chilly days.  The bungees can be attached to your bag and easel to prevent it from flying away, or used to secure your umbrella to your chair for shade.

I usually use a small sketchbook to make thumbnail sketches but sometimes I’ll paint in a watercolor notebook.  It’s important to be flexible and not get bummed out if you forget something.  I have a friend who paints with sticks (and the results are amazing).

Depending upon where I’m painting, I might even take my Square-card reader…just in case a passerby decides that they must have that painting right then and there.  Be prepared, I always say.

All in all, the whole kit – bag, easel, chair, etc., weighs about twenty pounds or less.  Although I’ll throw some things into the car, I don’t always  lug everything out.  For instance, a rock, bench, log or wall might be the perfect seat so I can leave the chair.  Maybe it’s too windy for an umbrella so that stays in the car, too.  But I do like to have these things with me, just in case.

I have even been able to organize all my equipment into a couple of panniers for my bicycle.  Then I can really tool around without even looking for a place to park.

Bike with panniers and equipment for plein air painting. I don’t do much of this anymore but I put thousands of miles on my bikes. With the distraction of cell phone usage now, it’s a little too scary to bike regular roads.

https://www.jerrysartarama.com/mijello-fusion-air-tight-watercolor-palettes

https://www.jerrysartarama.com/faber-castell-clic-and-go-cups-brushes

I can’t find the Stanrite No.5 Watercolor easel anywhere but there are some other makes available.  I would opt for the light-weight aluminum over the wood.  You might also be able to find a used one on Ebay.

Plein Air Painting – Tips and Tricks

Perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon. This was from 2011 but I went back to the same spot last year. Not much had changed.

I have been painting en plein air for many years.  This is just a fancy French term for outdoor painting. The practice has been around for a couple of centuries but the activity has really exploded in the past few decades.  There are magazines and organizations, contests and exhibits of plein air paintings all over the world.  This doesn’t even take into consideration the books, videos, YouTube, and other outlets for this art activity.

Turner, J.M.W.; Travelling watercolour box owned by J.M.W. Turner, R.A This little watercolor box is a couple of hundred years old.
Credit line: (c) Royal Academy of Arts

Over the years I’ve had many people say to me, I wish I could do that.  Well, I’m here to tell you that you can.  You just have to start.  This will be a three part post about helping you get over the hurdles and begin painting outdoors.  Today I’ll cover some of the basics, including equipment, drawing, where to go, etc.  Then the next  post will cover watercolor and the final post will add tips for acrylic or oil painting.

So let’s get started.

What kind of equipment do you need?

This can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  A sketchbook and a pencil or pen is a good place to start.  Just get used to carrying one with you all the time.  One of my favorites is a small hardback sketchbook (ProArt) which is only about 3.5 by 5 inches.  It’s small enough to fit in a purse or pocket.  I’ve used it on beaches and mountains, in museums, restaurants, and theatres.  (Not all plein air painting is done outdoors.)  It’s good practice to just to sketch.  It trains your eye to see.

From a simple sketchbook you can climb up to spending a whole lot of money on fancy easels and other equipment.  But you don’t have to and it won’t necessarily make you a better painter.

My personal philosophy is to keep my equipment portable and lightweight.  I currently keep a backpack or other carrying bag (purchased used at a resale shop) packed for each type of medium I use.  The messenger bag that I use for watercolor was $5 at St. Vincent de Paul.  The bag I use for acrylics or oils is an old backpack.  I even keep a backpack with gear for framing if I should be at a competition where I need to submit a framed painting.

I have a couple of lightweight aluminum easels, one for watercolors (it tilts) and the other for vertical works on canvas or board.  They have extendable legs and even have spikes which are handy for anchoring your easel.  But, you can use your lap, a rock or fence, or other handy surface to support your work.  You can even make your own.  (Check here for instructions from James Gurney.)  I carry my easels in a bag that I made from an old pair of jeans.  You can’t imagine where that bag has traveled.

A stool or portable chair is also handy.  It can get tiring standing for several hours and I’d rather be comfortable.

Painting at Jackson Lake, Wyoming. I was watching for bears but sure don’t know what I would have done if I saw one.

Cathedral Rock, Arizona.

Where should I paint?

Frankly, anywhere you want to.  If I don’t have much time, I’ll just go out in the yard and paint some flowers, or trees, or landscapes.  I’ve dragged my equipment all over the country and even to France.  I’ve even rigged up a way to pack it on my bicycle and travel with it.

I’ve done sketches leaning against a building in Times Square late at night, on the edge of the Grand Canyon, along beaches, in the woods.  One time I was even next to a railroad track when a train hammered through.  A little exciting, for sure.

Using the lift gate as an improvised shelter during a drizzle.

When should I paint?

That is a personal preference but I like early morning or late afternoon because of the dramatic shadows.  But if you only have a little time, then take what you have and find somewhere.  There will never be a perfect place.  But you will make it perfect by selecting the composition.

Weather can be a factor.  I have painted in the rain either under the gate of my car or under an overhanging porch.  If it’s windy, you definitely want to anchor your easel with some bungees and your backpack.  If you’re painting in the snow, take some hand-warmers, scarves, and a hot beverage.  You can even paint in your car and make your steering wheel into a prop for your work.

Painting with my friend Bill Whorrall. It’s interesting how two artists can paint the same subject at the same time but come up with totally different paintings.

Is it better to paint alone or with a group?

This is really personal preference.  I mostly paint alone more for my convenience than anything. But I know two ladies who have been painting together weekly for over forty years!  Some people enjoy the camaraderie of painting with a group or the excitement of a timed contest.  I just like to set my own pace without worrying about another person.  Except for my husband who enjoys fishing so we both get to do what we want together.

There is also the safety issue.  Being aware of your surroundings is always good, whether from beast or human or falling off a cliff.  Don’t do that! I’ve had both good and bad encounters with dogs.  One old guy just lay under my easel for the entire time I was painting.  A couple of others followed my bicycle looking at my leg like a steak.  Hot pepper spray has its uses.

The Saturday before Mother’s Day found me in the gardening department. The staff never bothered me but I did have someone come up and ask if I could help them. I was wearing my paint apron so they thought I worked there.

I’m embarrassed to have other people watch me while I work.  What do I do about gawkers?

People are naturally curious, especially about seeing an artist in the wild.  Most are very polite and won’t even interrupt you but just watch for a bit and move on.  I often use a set of earphones (listening to music or not).  Sometimes I’ll only unplug one ear as I answer their questions, then (while still holding the earpiece) kind of turn around.  They get the message and move on.  Other times, take the opportunity to talk with your audience.  Ask about the scene and what they know of the area.  Educate them on what you’re doing.  Maybe you’ll even sell your painting if the scene holds special meaning for them. Frankly, you’ll quickly become comfortable working in front of people.  Believe me.  Really!

Make lists.

I have lists made for each of the type of medium I plan to use for the day.  Although my bags are packed, invariably I will forget something if I don’t look at the list.  Do I have water for painting acrylic or watercolor …and a container.  One time I forgot my palette.  I improvised by using an extra canvas that I had with me.  Lists are just a nice way to relieve your brain from the last minute frantic packing and getting ready.  I’ll share my lists with you in my next post.

This is a long post but I hope it encourages you to get outdoors and do some artwork.

Back to the River

It’s still too early to do much planting although I have onions, snow peas, lettuce and kale growing. The garden is tilled but we have to wait another couple of weeks before planting the whole thing.  We’ve done some trimming and tidying of the flowerbeds.  The spring flowering shrubs are next.

Plein air painting along the Blue River in Southern Indiana. As you can see, my easel is actually sitting in the water. What we artists won’t do for our work!

Monday was beautiful and balmy.  A perfect day to return to the Blue River for some more adventures.  This time my husband brought his fishing gear and I brought my painting kit.  It was so peaceful and quiet.  A week since our last visit but I noticed changes.  The redbuds are waning and the dogwoods are coming out.

Blue River, plein air painting. Acrylic, 11 x 14. That spring green will only last for a few weeks.

Bridge over the Blue River. Watercolor / pen and ink. Kit Miracle Created from photos taken on our previous visit last week.

As you can see, I had to set my easel in the water to get the view that I wanted.  I nearly tipped in myself but this is the price an artist pays for the adventure of plein air painting.  My husband got his line wet but not much luck until right at the end when he caught a nice bass.  (He returned it to the river, of course.)

Fishing on the Blue River. My husband actually caught a nice bass but he released it. We peeled off our sweatshirts as the temps warmed up quickly. Spring is here!

Another wandering drive on the way home took us past a little greenhouse.  Of course we stopped.  Although we have some tomatoes and peppers started, I had to buy a few more.  Hey, it’s that time of year.  All you gardeners understand what I mean.  (BTW, I was the only one at the greenhouse wearing a mask!) Later in the week the mice in the greenhouse started nibbling the plants.  Dirty rottens!  I wouldn’t have thought they would like nightshade plants but now I know they do.

So, that’s pretty much my week.  Finished the plein air painting in the studio and did a watercolor/pen and ink of the bridge over the Blue.  Some gardening.  Reading.  Oh, and cleaning the attic of my studio but that’s another story.

A drive through the country

Bridge over the Blue River. We crossed the river several times and followed it quite a way.

We opted for a change of scenery this week and went for a drive in the country, mostly in our own county.  I love the spring greens, you know, that yellow-green color in your box of Crayolas.  It doesn’t last for long so you have to catch it while you can.  The redbuds were out adding a bright touch of color but the dogwoods were a little behind.  It was an in and out spring day with sun and clouds.  Towards the end of the afternoon, rain showers moved in.

If you’re not familiar with Southern Indiana, I should tell you that it’s quite hilly and beautiful.  Our county borders the Ohio River and has several other rivers.  Especially notable are the Blue River and the Little Blue River.  They get their names from the color of the water which is a bluey-green.  They’re also very popular with kayakers and canoeists in warmer weather. It was a perfect spring day for a picnic beside the river.

So taking 62 west out of Corydon, we just followed our noses.  This is what we saw. It was refreshing to get out of the house and turn our thoughts to more pleasant things. I’m sure I’ll be back soon for some painting adventures.

The road follows along the river for many miles. It is lined with redbuds this time of year. The dogwoods were just coming out.

Blue River with bluebells. The hole in that sycamore goes all the way through.

Looking north from the canoe ramp. I love the overhanging sycamores. They’re just as striking in the autumn with the fall colors.

Blue River looking south from the canoe ramp.

Blue River Chapel right on the Blue River.

This is Artists’ Point overlooking the Ohio River. Not exactly on the way to anywhere, it’s worth the trip to find it. I have actually seen eagles riding the thermals up from the river right in front of me. That is Kentucky across the river.

A spring tour of the yard

One of my favorite views is of the front yard and the old woodshed. The white patches are swaths of spring beauties, a delicate tiny white flower with faint pink stripes. The forsythia are past but the lilies of the valley are coming in as are the day lilies.

After an unseasonably warm early spring with temperatures in the 70s and even up to 80, the flowers and other signs of spring are nearly overwhelming.  I love spring!

This old house had an abundance of established trees and flowers when we moved here but we have added many ourselves over the years.  Plus, I’m a great one for digging things up and moving them.  I’ve also shared many plants over the years with friends and family.  Did I mention how much I love spring?

Come take a little walk around the yard with me to see what is happening.

The east field is a study in various shades of green. The yellow flowers are actually weeds but they’re pretty this time of year.

Crabapple from a start from another tree in the yard. Before is a white magnolia (not in bloom yet) with shiny leaves.

Columbine. No work at all except that they spread everywhere. Such a beautiful, delicate flower.

These bluebells are so easy to grow and require no maintenance at all. They totally die back to come up again next year. I love the way they start out as pink and then the blossoms turn a beautiful sky blue. I’ve moved them all over the yard. The little white flowers are spring beauties, along with grape hyacinths, and some spent daffodils.

The lilacs were here when we bought the place. You can smell their perfume all across the yard.

Not a flower but the martin nest built on the porch of my studio. Yes, we have a martin house but the bluebirds live there. The martins usually build on top of their previous nest but it finally fell down last year. It took them about two weeks of bringing mud, weeds and moss to make this new home.

Narcissus take over after the daffodils are done.

Violets are wildflowers that some people think are weeds. But I love their beauty and variety of colors from blues to deep purples to variegated to cream.

The redbud is a delicate under-story tree which grows from central Indiana and south, throughout the Midwest and southern mountains. The flowers are directly on the branches. The heart-shaped leaves don’t come out until later. They pair well with dogwoods which are just starting to come out and the woods are loaded with them.

I love tulips but they’re difficult to grow around here. The deer think they’re candy and they often don’t make it to bloom.

We call this a tulip tree around here but it really is a variety of magnolia. It’s a new addition to the yard so we were surprised to see it bloom this year.

Azaleas. This color pairs great with the orangey/peach azalea next to it.

NOTAN studies

Like nearly everyone else, my mind has been distracted with the current state of affairs in our nation, indeed, in our world. But I’ve cut back listening to the endless stream of news broadcasts which has helped bring some peace to my mental world.  This has allowed me to get back to my next series of paintings.  The theme of the series, which I planned out late last year, is Breaking Bread.  A bit ironic since we can’t go out right now, and only share meals with our own families or pets.  In this case I searched through hundreds (thousands?) of my photos from the past decade or more.

Italian Eating Italian. Charcoal sketch 18 x 24. Kit Miracle Again, the strong lighting is emphasized based on the NOTAN study but some middle tones have been included.

Italian Eating Italian, NOTAN study. As you can see, I’m playing around with the size and shape of the composition, square or rectangle?

The photos are taken in color but to distill them to their essence, I convert them to black and white, and then push the contrast of the black and white.  You can do this in person by squinting at your subject or using the red gel trick that I have discussed before.  I usually make quick NOTAN sketches when I’m out doing some plein air painting.

Alone, NOTAN study. Although I don’t usually add middle tones to the NOTAN study, I did here to add more body to the image.

Alone. Charcoal sketch 24 x 18, Kit Miracle. Here I have added middle tones but it still keeps true to the basic NOTAN study.

The whole idea of the NOTAN sketch is to find the best pattern for your subject.  Definitely not meant for every style of painting but very helpful to establish the overall effect.  As a rule, you will not want to have exactly the same amount of black and white areas in the NOTAN subject.  Also, look for pleasing patterns.  Don’t worry about details at this stage.  As you can see, the NOTAN subjects that I’ve created here are about 5 x 7 inches, made with a Flair pen and a black art marker.

Old Man, NOTAN studies. I did two studies of this subject. The top one is more detailed with three tones – white, black, and middle. The bottom image is a more traditional NOTAN study and is very abstract.

Old Man, charcoal, 18 x 24. I will probably simplify the background of this painting to match the NOTAN study. There’s a lot going on but I like the contrast of the horizontal and vertical shapes.

After I have created the NOTAN sketches, I then do a larger (18 x 24) charcoal sketch of the subject.  The NOTAN study helps keep me on track for the composition, but the charcoal sketch allows me to add some middle tones. Most of the NOTAN sketches only take about five minutes or less.  The charcoal sketches usually take 30 to 60 minutes.  I sometimes do more charcoal sketches of details or to try different compositions.

Late Night NOTAN. This is an example of extreme abstract shapes created by the NOTAN drawing. There’s a rhythm of ovals and rectangles within the picture plane.

Late Night, charcoal sketch 18 x 24. Kit Miracle. Although the oval shape in the foreground (back of a chair) captures the eye first, it is then directed to the group of teens in the right rear of the picture plane. The dark window provides a perfect foil for their shapes.

After these steps, I may do some color sketches but I always keep referring back to these black and white pieces when I’m working on the final painting.

Here are some links to previous postings about using NOTAN sketches for your work.

https://my90acres.com/artwork/wings-beach-painting-step-by-step/

https://my90acres.com/2019/02/17/little-stone-church-provence-demonstration-painting-from-photographs/

https://my90acres.com/2019/04/14/the-importance-of-preliminary-work/