Carbon Fiber Painting Gear

In my quest for a lighter and more portable plein air set-up I’m currently experimenting with a carbon fiber photography tripod and paint box.

Sirui tripod for plein air landscape painting.

My current camera tripod set-up.

The camera tripod I settled on is a Sirui T-025X with their C-10X ball head. It was originally recommended to me by plein air painter Paul Rafferty who has used one to great success for a year now. Sirui is a Chinese company who, apparently, used to make photo equipment for Gitzo (the very expensive Italian company) and are now making tripods with their own brand name. The tripod folds up to be tiny and weighs only 1.54 lb (0.7 kg) -slightly less than the Fome aluminum easel I’ve been using for a while. (For anyone thinking of getting the Sirui, you can find one on Amazon and support my site).

The tiny Sirui T-025x all folded up.

Sirui T-025x. Banana for scale.

To use sight-size one’s panel or canvas should ideally be at eye-level. This puts the surface quite high off the ground where stability becomes an issue. On the other hand, after years of working on canvas, I don’t really mind a little give while I’m applying paint. Even with my extremely light backpack hanging off the supplied carabiner, this set-up becomes stable enough for me to paint comfortably.

Sirui tripod for a painting easel.

The mast bolted to the Sirui quick-release plate.

I also don’t like the pochade-box-on-camera-tripod system that most plein air painters use. With sight-size it means the paints are right under my nose. The solution for me is to use a mast to get the panel high enough, and attach the paint box to the bottom. For the mast of this set-up I picked up a pre-made carbon fiber slat, drilled a hole with a 1/4″ drill-bit, and bolted it to the quick-release plate of the Sirui. The Sirui quick-release plate has screw threads out, so one can switch to a longer bolt without permanently affecting the tripod. One could drill a hole in the aluminum or steel mast of the Fome easels and get an even stiffer design. I settled on a shorter mast to be able to pack it in a suitcase easily. With the taller camera tripod it is still big enough for my 11″ x 14″ (25 x 35 cm) panels in a vertical position, even if I have the easel set up downhill.

Carbon fiber painting box for plein air landscape painting.

Carbon fiber ‘cigar box’ palette.

I’d love to be able to triumphantly declare that the carbon fiber painting box was a great success and is the future of plein air painting equipment. Unfortunately, after an annoying amount of time and money spent, I have to admit that a $5 dollar Ebay cigar-box works just as well. Leo Mancini-Hresko has written a good blog post on making one. The carbon fiber isn’t any lighter or sturdier, and it lacks the charm to boot.

Carbon fiber cigar box style palette.

Carbon fiber painting box.

7 comments

  1. This is great Marc! I use the exact same tripod for my watercolor plein air kit….it’s really well made and holds up to constant use.

    Can you pls share with me where you bought the fiber carbon slate from? What dimensions does it have? Also, did you make the hooks for the palette yourself or bought them?

    • Hi Alex, I picked up the Carbon Fiber Rectangle, 0.196″ x 0.787″ x 24″ (5 mm x 20 mm x 0.6 m, 89.2 grams), item # T796L2 for $16.65 from this site: http://www.cstsales.com/Carbon_Fiber_Strips-ss3.html (shipping was $6). It works ok, but I think a slightly stiffer mast would work better so I wont recommend this one for now. The good things about this mast are that it is very light, just the right size, and it fits the parts to a Fome easel perfectly, so if you already have a Fome easel (with either the square or the rounded panel holders) you can use those. As for me, I plan on making my own soon.

      The carbon fiber hooks I made myself. As a kid I made skimboards out of fiberglass so I had some experience with the cloth+resin method of making carbon fiber gear. It takes too much time (and a lot of youtube videos) to get it right to be worthwhile.

  2. Great, thanks for the reply! Please keep us updated on your progress with this, as i’m very curious to see how you like and develop this setup in the long run.

    I also noticed you’re not using anymore the backpack from Reload…did you stop liking it or it was too heavy?

  3. The Reload bag wasn’t too heavy, and I like the look of it, but I find these smaller technical bags to be much more comfortable if I’m scouting for hours with all my kit on my back. Having waist straps also lets me switch the weight from my back.

    I also need more pockets for organization than the Reload bag has. This Fall I’ll have a bag custom-made with exactly the pockets I need for everything.

  4. I love your lightweight set-up.
    I also use a carbon-fiber tripod and thought I was pursuing the same goal until I saw your Carbon Fiber palette!
    I just bought a 2.5 Kg Strada easel…
    However I am a little intimidated by your tiny mixing palette!
    Are you incredibly tidy, or forced to scrape your palette clean many times per session?

  5. I mix into other colors most of the session Oliver. If I need a clean mixing area I move along on the palette, and if everything is covered I’ll clean it. It’s very rare that I need to clean a space though.

    The small palette you see here is three times larger than the one I’ve been using for the last five years.

  6. We’re the manufacturer of carbon fiber camera shaft in China for many years,with good quality and attractive price.

    Hope to cooperate with you in the future.

    Best regards,
    Kitty

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