Our Simple, Portable Plein Air Setup

If you've ever set up a French easel, you know it can feel like wrestling an octopus.

That's how I felt the first time I set up my French easel as an art student. Little did I know that my awkward struggle would become legendary. Years later, I learned that our instructor had observed my clumsy attempt that day—and had been using it as an example to students of what not to do!

There is a way to set up a French easel quite easily. But the easel's bulkiness, along with joint-tightening issues in some brands, have caused some artists to seek alternative solutions.

Plein air painting has grown hugely popular in recent years, and with it, many easel solutions have become available. Andrea and I don't claim to have the best solution, but we like our setup because of its portability and ease of use. Plus, it was partly homemade, making it fairly economical!

In this post, I'll break down our plein air setup for you…

Palette Box

Our palette boxes were made with love by my wonderful wife! Andrea created them by modifying paint boxes similar to this one (shop around for best price).

She cut the lid of the box into halves and attached these halves to either side of the box with hinges (A). These new lids serve as trays for brushes, towels, etc. They also hold the palette in place when the lids are closed. In one lid, she added a compartment to hold our brush washing containers (B). Clasps on the front keep the box shut (C).

The palette is a piece of plexiglass (D). The back side is painted with middle-value gray acrylic paint, which makes it easier to judge values when mixing colors.

Our plexiglass palettes are lightweight and durable, making them better for travel than glass palettes. However, a razor blade glass scraper can gouge them, so we try to clean them off promptly with a palette knife after use.

Underneath the palette are compartments to store supplies (below).

Andrea's dad cut angled brackets for the palette box, so it can hang over the legs of our tripods. Below are several pics of the brackets, in case you'd like to make your own.

My palette box (not including brackets) measures about 15" x 10.5" x 3.25" when closed.

Don't Want to Make Your Own?

Andrea designed our easels after James Coulter's Coulter Easel, which you can purchase in a variety of sizes here. The difference between our setup and Coulter's is that, instead of using a separate piece to hold our paintings, we use a tripod easel to hold both our paintings and our palette box (see below).

Tripod Easel

Andrea and I use Italian steel tripod easels from Richeson (Shop around for best price). We've broken other brands, but the Richeson easels have held up well. Plus, they come in a variety of fun colors!

My favorite thing about this easel is that it can hold my painting high enough so I don't have to bend over to see it straight-on. I like to stand while painting, and having to bend over hurts a tall guy's back after awhile!


Best of all, everything fits inside our matching backpacks! Aren't we cute? ;)

It's one thing to have the right painting equipment, but it's another thing entirely to create a compelling painting! I'll share how to communicate the beauty of portraits and figures in my upcoming online video course, "Learn to Paint Dynamic Portraits & Figures in Oil." Click the button below for more info!

Learn More About Online Video Course

Until next time,

Virtual Tours of 3 Major Art Exhibits

The Art Renewal Center International Salon (Photo by ARC)

We are so excited to share with you the adventure we had recently!

Last time, we mentioned we would take you on a virtual trip to see Adam's painting in a New York City art show. Well, as you'll see, that trip grew into an even bigger adventure. Due to a very unexpected surprise, we were able to attend 3 major art exhibits in 2 cities in just 24 hours!

Come along with us for the ride!
First stop: New York City…

There and Back Again:
An Unexpected Phone Call

Despite careful planning, our family vacation to New York City with Adam's parents did not go as expected.

We had scheduled our trip around the private opening of the Art Renewal Center (ARC) International Salon, an exhibit that included Adam's painting "Knitter's Gift." Little did we know, we would not make it to that opening!

On our 4th night in NYC, Adam received a phone call that took his breath away.

"Book Club" by Adam Clague
Oil, 23x32

Now, a couple months prior, another of Adam's paintings, "Book Club," had been accepted into the Oil Painters of America (OPA) National Exhibition. The phone call this evening came from an OPA officer to notify Adam that his painting had won a top prize at that event! She was wondering if Adam might be able to come to the awards ceremony to receive the award in person.

We were ecstatic, but there was just one problem—the OPA awards ceremony was the following night—the same time as the ARC opening—but in Cincinnati, Ohio!


Art Exhibit 1:
Oil Painters of America
National Exhibition
Cincinnati, OH

As you can see, we decided to go to Ohio! We left the next morning and arrived at the reception just as it was opening.

(Photo by Eisele Gallery of Fine Art)

See the Entire OPA Show
Adam was all grins as he received his award:

Dorothy Driehaus-Mellin is one of today's most generous patrons of representational painting. Mrs. Mellin funds awards for 4 OPA competitions every year. This includes a $20,000 cash prize given at each annual OPA National to an artist of Dorothy's choosing. We are grateful beyond words that this year, she chose Adam!

Mrs. Mellin started this prize to give artists "the unique opportunity to embrace his/her full potential as an artist unencumbered by financial constraints." Needless to say, this award is a tremendous financial help to us, a career milestone, and an incredible blessing from the Lord. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Mrs. Mellin!

Although we missed the ARC private opening that night, there was another opportunity to see that show—a second, public opening the very next day from
11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.. We just had to get back to NYC in time!

Art Exhibit 2:
Art Renewal Center
International Salon
New York, NY

Fortunately, there was a 6:20 a.m. flight back to NYC. But since the flight was so early and the OPA festivities had ended so late, we decided there was no point in getting a hotel room. We spent the night at the Cincinnati airport!

It was a dinner of Snickers bars from the vending machine and a night of spotty sleep. We're such crazy art nerds!

We made it to the ARC opening at the Salmagundi Club around noon the next day, where we rendezvoused with Adam's parents. What an incredible show!
See the Entire ARC Show

Adam's painting "Knitter's Gift" received a Purchase Award in this competition. This means the Art Renewal Center purchased Adam's piece for its personal collection. In the Fall, this exhibit (including Adam's piece) will travel to the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona, Spain.

Us with Adam's proud parents :)
God has especially blessed us through this painting. Prior to this event, the piece received 2 other awards—
  • 2nd Honor Award
    2014 Portrait Society of America International Competition
  • Best of Show
    2016 American Impressionist Society National Exhibition

Due to our REM-deprived night at the Cincinnati airport, we were absolutely exhausted by the time the ARC show closed at 3 p.m.. And yet, the day was still young! Besides, you can't go to NYC and not visit the MET!



Art Exhibit 3:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY

We had visited the MET once before, but one of the most famous paintings by one of our favorite artists was not on display. This time, it was!

 Madame Pierre Gautreau ("Madame X")
By John Singer Sargent

We soaked up artistic inspiration at the MET until 8:30 p.m., when we had to admit we were completely spent. Andrea nearly fell asleep standing up—twice!

Our exhaustion matched our excursions—it had been quite an incredible adventure!

Did you know the MET's website has thousands of high-res images of its masterpieces you can download for FREE? Just click the button below and search for your favorite artists! You're welcome :)
Browse Hi-Res MET Masterpieces


Thanks for joining us on this virtual tour!
—Andrea and Adam

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Our Favorite Brushes & How We Use Them

Painting is hard enough without having to deal with crummy brushes!

When I switched to Rosemary & Co. brushes, it felt like driving a Lamborghini after years of driving clunkers. Have I ever driven a Lamborghini? Well, no… but I imagine it feels like using Rosemary & Co. brushes! And no, Rosemary didn't pay me to say that. :)

Rosemary Thompson (owner of U.K.-based Rosemary & Co.) and her crew hand-craft fantastic brushes that are used by many of today's leading artists.

First, just a few disclaimers
to get out of the way:
  • There are many other brands of brushes
    that Andrea and I have never tried.
  • There are several other varieties of
    Rosemary & Co. brushes that we've never tried.
  • We use the brushes mentioned below because they are well-made and give us the results we want. In the end, I recommend you try a bunch of brushes and discover which ones work best for you!
With that said, here are the Rosemary & Co. brushes we use and how we use them:

Ultimate Bristles


"We take two equal amounts of best quality Chinese bristle
and set them opposite each other so that the natural curve
is facing inwards… this gives the artist a hard wearing brush
which keeps its shape for a very long time."

—Rosemary & Co.

Ultimate Bristles can pick up and lay down large amounts of paint, making them perfect for blocking in. Andrea and I use flats and filberts in a wide range of sizes. These have become our main "workhorse" brushes.



"The Ivory is synthetic bristle at its best,
a cross between the feel of nylon and hog bristle."

—Rosemary & Co.

Ivory brushes are not quite as stiff as traditional bristle brushes, so we prefer the Ultimate Bristles for blocking in large areas. However, the Ivory brushes can achieve sharper edges, so they're ideal for drawing precise lines and making sharp-edged shapes. We use flats, filberts and riggers in medium and smaller sizes. We generally prefer the "springier" feel of the regular-length hairs over the longer hairs.

Pure Red Sable


"...a good choice when flexibility is needed, [and it]
carries the paint with flow and precision. So many marks
can be produced from just one good sized pointed brush."

—Rosemary & Co.

These brushes are extremely versatile—the soft hair is great for softening edges and creating smooth blends. In addition, the brush's ability to retain its shape makes it able to create razor-sharp edges. We use Series 7320 Pure Sable One Stroke brushes in medium and small sizes.


Choosing the perfect brushes is one thing. Creating a great painting is quite another! In my online video course, I'll show you how I communicate the beauty of portraits and figures from start to finish.

I plan to launch the course October 7, 2019, but you can start the course today for free! For more info, please click the button below.

Learn More About Online Video Course

Rosemary & Co. brushes can be purchased through their website or from their U.S. supplier, Wind River Arts.

See you next time,