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Ask the Experts: Technical Questions Answered for Artists
by Michael Chesley Johnson
How to Travel With a Wet Canvas
Q. What tips can you give me for packing wet canvases for travel?
A. If you paint in oil en plein air, you have a problem that painters in acrylic, watercolor and pastel don’t have: after laboring all morning over a painting in the field, how do you get the picture home without smearing the wet paint? A variety of devices have been invented over the years, but if you paint on panels, the simplest way to transport them when the paint is still wet is to take two cheap frames the same size as your panels, sandwich them together front-to-front with screws, and then attach turn buttons to the backs so you can secure your panels in place between the frames. (Some frames already come with turn buttons.) This contrivance makes a neat package that can carry two wet panels easily.
If you paint on stretched canvas, double-ended pushpins will do the trick; however, you’ll need two canvases to make this method work. On the wet side of your canvas, push a pin into each corner (make sure the pins go fully into the stretcher bar). Then place another canvas—painted or not—facedown on the pins protruding from the first canvas and push down gently at each corner to secure the pins into the second canvas. You can also buy special clips called canvas carrier clips, which enable you to carry two facing canvases without piercing the edges.
These options work well for one or two paintings, but if you have more, consider a wet canvas box. Guerilla Painter Handy Porter is one model that comes in several sizes. Made of cardboard, it contains foam inserts that allow you to carry two stretched canvases or four panels. Some manufacturers make wooden boxes that can carry many more panels or panels of several sizes at once. Artwork Essentials makes the ezPort, which has adjustable slots. For example, one configuration lets you carry four 12×16-inch canvases and six 9×12-inch canvases at once.
Another option is a pochade box, which comes with wet-panel storage space. When I’m going on a long painting trip, I’ll take wet-panel boxes to match the size of the paintings I’ll be working on—an 8×10-inch box, a 9×12-inch box or a 12×16-inch box—but if it’s a short trip, I’ll just fill up my 9×12-inch Guerrilla Painter box to its maximum, which is four 9×12-inch panels.
Michael Chesley Johnson, longtime contributor to Magazine and the author of Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil Pastel, teaches plein air workshops throughout North America. View free previews of his video workshops at artistsnetwork.tv. Visit his website at www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com.