You are all packed up and ready to travel with your painting gear. You’ve checked your list carefully. Tripod, paints, brushes, pochade box, palette knives, canvas, trash bag, paper towels, brush cleaner…CHECK…You’ve got it ALL and are set to go! Wait a minute, there is one more essential tool. It’s indispensable. The simple bungee cord with hooks is the most useful and versatile “tool” a traveling artist can have. It has served me well in numerous instances of the “unplanned”. By unplanned, I mean the cursing under your breath kind of situation. After a long pause considering what to do – it comes to me. My ingenuity finally kicks in. I may have a solution for the conundrum at hand! The magical BUNGEE CORD!
I believe the first instance of the bungee cord becoming an essential item in my process was during a plein air competition in Virginia. The scenery was stunning, but the rain would not let up. I had a tarp (another useful item!) and bungee cords in my SUV. I was able to put the back hatch up, set up my easel and extend the tarp over my easel using bungee cords to attach the tarp stretching from the back hatch to my easel. Since that time, I have packed them wherever I go to paint! It has saved the day more than a few times during my painting expeditions.
On another occasion, my younger son borrowed my car, leaving me unable to drive. I still wanted to get to a particular location to paint. A bicycle was available, so I decided to attach a child buggy to the back of the bike to hold all of my painting gear and a large stretched canvas. I set off to paint at a nearby waterfront location, feeling rather proud of my makeshift plein air painting transportation. I arrived safely at my spot along the Chesapeake. I completed a painting that I was quite pleased with. How do I get it back home, though? The part of painting on location that can be trickiest is getting your completed painting back to safety without damaging the wet paint. I was concerned that biking back with a large completed painting without messing it up was not going to be possible. I eventually used the cords to thread them through the back stretcher bars and hook them onto the buggy so that the wet painting surface was facing out. I cycled home from that spot quite proud of my ingenuity. All who passed by could see the eccentric woman on her bike with the large painting trailing behind like a huge “I’m an artist” license plate. I rode the few miles back safely to my home. Thanks bungee cords!
July is the most sweltering month on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and that is when Plein Air Easton occurs. I found an unusual location to set up and paint a breathtaking view of a marshy stream stretching out in the distance. This view, however, was located right next to the local Target. The ideal spot to set up turned out to be a sidewalk with absolutely no shade. How would I get shade? I did have a beach umbrella but no base or soft ground to put it in. Fortunately, I had a very stable and strong easel that I weighed down with my gear and was able to bungee cord the umbrella to it. The bungee cord held the umbrella in place at an angle, keeping the morning sun off of me as well as my canvas and pochade box.
While in Santa Fe, NM, I decided to paint from the top of a hill in order to get an expansive view. It was a very windy afternoon. As I was setting up, one of the legs on my tripod broke. The view was spectacular, and I felt committed to figure out a way to paint it. After a bit of contemplation, I used my bungee cord to attach the broken leg to the pole of an old building. This gave my easel some stability and allowed me to paint despite the windy conditions. While it was definitely far from ideal, I was able to complete two small paintings from that vantage point.
Most recently, I had an opportunity to paint in Provence, France. When packing for the trip I was careful not to over pack, as I had to watch the weight of my case for traveling abroad. The items that I was certain to include, however, were a few of my trusted bungee cords! I had traveled with my smaller tripod and pochade box, but didn’t have an easel large enough for the 47” x 47” inch canvas I was supplied with. After collecting potential items from the home I stayed in, I attempted to create something to support the canvas. I ended up using two-step ladders, a couple of plastic crates, and my two bungee cords to attach the canvas to the ladders, with the bottom of the canvas resting on the ladders. It turned out to be the perfect “easel”. Even with strong wind gusts, the painting and makeshift easel stayed in place!
I predict my bungees will continue to be useful in new and unexpected ways in the future. I recommend having at least 3 at your disposal, one smaller and too slightly larger. I certainly didn’t expect to feel moved to write an OPA blog about something like a bungee cord. After giving it some thought, however, I went ahead, and my hope is that it can save the day for my fellow artists. Do you already pack them? Perhaps you have an unusual “essential” that you take with you on painting excursions, or use in the studio? I would love to hear about it! Please leave your ideas in the comment section. Happy painting!