Stephanie Bower

Stephanie Bower | Architectural Illustration: | Sketching Workshops: | Sketches: on Instagram at @stephanieabower & | Urban Sketchers Blog Correspondent | Signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society

Monday, May 30, 2016

Travel Sketching Essentials--the easel and travel stool I use

I have searched high and low for tools that will work...small and light, that fit in my carry on back and backpack.  With some tweaks, this is what I use for the big equipment.

Easel in action, with Beliza, Anne, and Susanna in last summer's
workshop in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy.  I'm leaving soon for this year's
workshop!!   This shows the larger surface and tripod #3.
En Plein Air Pro Easel surface ($79) (I cut mine down to fit into a backpack) with Sony VCT-R100 Lightweight    Compact Tripod with 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head (about $40 from Amazon)

Story: I bought the entire watercolor travel set at En Plein Air Pro, but most of the stuff is too big and heavy.
So I ditched the tripod, carrying case, etc. that comes in the set and now only use the angled plastic surface with a ledge for holding my sketchbook/pad while I paint. You can buy this ledge individually from En Plein Air Pro for about $80.

Last summer while sketching in Venice with Marc Taro Holmes (someone pinch me, did I really just write that?--YES!) I noticed that his was easel made by the same company was smaller than mine, he said it was an older version.  So I got an idea. When I got home from Europe before heading to Asia (did I really just write that too?), I cut about an inch from the top and one side, very carefully using an x-acto knife to score a line, then using pliers to bend the plastic back and forth until it snapped, followed by a mild sanding of the sharp edges.  And voil√°, it now works GREAT and fits in my backpack with ease.

In my search for a lighter tripod, I bought and returned four others until I found this Sony.  It doesn't have the quick release mount which is unfortunate, so I end up just screwing the easel table onto the top of the tripod. Not a big works great...the lightest, smallest tripod I could find. Bought it on Amazon. Has a nice light carrying case too.

This stool is great, although I sometimes feel like an elephant sitting on a is just so light and tiny!  

Story: The day before leaving for Asia, I found this on Amazon, and with same day delivery, it arrived that same evening!! By 9pm I was repacking everything into a smaller suitcase and left for Asia the next morning!
It comes with a small carrying case. Amazon and Tribe are sold out at the moment, but I contacted Tribe and they are producing more of these.

Another option is a new 3-leg stool available through REI. I don't own it, but it is light, a little bulkier and heavier than the Tribe, but probably better if you don't want to sit so low to the ground or need a heftier stool. Only costs $25.

The tiny Tribe Provisions stool I use,
this photo from their website.
Using my stool as an easel in a pinch, with the talented Don Low who stood guard and entertained the onlookers.
Another thank you Laurel Holmes for this photo, this is in Singapore before the symposium last summer.
The best part of finding this easel, tripod, and stool, is that I can now travel only with a carry-on Travel Pro Max-Lite 3 spinner...this has made a huge difference when flights have been cancelled-- and no lost luggage.  Even with all my supplies, I now only travel with a carry-on and a backpack and a small purse!!!


  1. Stephanie, I'm impressed that you are able to pack so light. I thought I was doing well until I read that you can fit everything into a carry on! My bag is the next size up.
    Also, I couldn't get by without my set of Eagle Creek compressing packing cubes. They are just the best for organising the inside.

    1. Hi Anne, I've learned to pack light from sheer desperation at having the larger luggage...About 10 minutes into my trip, I realize it's a has driven me to search high and low for smaller equipment!
      I have seen those Eagle Creek cubes, I'll have to give that a try! Thanks for the tip~~

  2. I was waiting to save up enough to buy the tripod Marc Taro Holmes uses but it costs 3.5 times more than yours does. Thanks for the tip, I just ordered it!

    1. Hi Carol, that was one of the four I have already bought too! I purchased the same one Marc uses and found it too long to fit in my backpack, and little too heavy. I've been happy with this Sony--let me know how you like it!

  3. I'm a devotee of carry on luggage only as well. Our 3 weeks in Europe last fall was managed with a carry on and 'personal' bag each. I tried the packing cubes but didn't find them helpful. Instead I'm a firm believer in roll packing. Everything is rolled tightly. I'll lay 2-4 tshirts together, smooth them and roll tightly - minimal wrinkles and I get more clothes (or art supplies) in the bag. My husband didn't believe me till I repacked his suitcase and gave him more room. I'm here to say, it works! Have a fabulous trip - I'm looking forward to pics and "seeing" what you see!

  4. I take a folding stool but usually paint on a plastic board on my lap instead of having to bring along a tripod. I can get by with a carryon and a backpack, and just stick my small purse inside one of the bags when it's time to go thru security or board the plane so I only have "2" items.