Derek Davis, like many artists, doesn’t hesitate to modify his equipment to suit his needs. But his changes to a Guerilla Painter 6 x 8-inch thumb box were significant — and smart.
Davis had a herniated disk in his neck that wouldn’t allow him to look down, so he needed to orient his easel so everything was vertical. He also was dissatisfied with the mixing area on his thumb box. “That’s the main problem that I’ve had with any of these pochades — there’s not enough mixing area,” says Davis. So he started to tinker.
Davis’s setup is sturdy enough to allow the painting of 16 x 20-inch plein air pieces.
He noticed that Betty Billups expanded her palette by taping boards together, with the tape acting as hinges to allow the boards to fold up. Davis cut 1/8-inch Plexiglas into three sheets that would fit inside the thumb box, and taped them together with strapping tape. They fold up inside the paint-storage area with enough room left over to allow for a palette with a lid to hold dispensed paint. “That strapping tape is impervious to oil, water, and solvent,” says Davis. “I mix on the Plexiglas and use the taped areas to hold piles of paint and maybe a mixed ‘mother color.'”
A few heavy-duty binder clips hold the fold-out mixing area to the bottom part of the box, which Davis mounts at an extreme angle to make the surface almost vertical. “The chiropractor said I can’t look down anymore,” he explains. To keep the lid of the thumb box from slipping out of place, he jams a length of quarter-round molding under the hinge in the back, so the lid can rest on it. The quarter-round is held in place by Velcro.
With the help of a bungee cord, Davis can strap a panel up to 18 x 24 inches onto the little thumb box. He cuts off the top of a soda bottle and attaches that behind one of his mixing panels to hold his brushes, and slips his paper towel roll up the foot and lower leg of his tripod to keep it handy. Davis even fashioned a strip of magnets attached to the sliding door of the thumb box so his palette knives have a place to hang at the ready.
The back of the easel shows how a bit of quarter-round molding gives the lid of the box something to rest on.
Davis says he needs to make sure the quick release on the bottom of the thumb box is very tight to keep the whole contraption from rotating on the tripod head. Other than that, he is satisfied, and he says he can set the whole thing up in just a minute or two. But is it stable?
“It looks like it’s pretty floppy,” he admits. “But as one older artist once said about his modified setup, that’s just relative. Who really cares? It’s not going to stand up to a tornado. It’s just a painting outfit. The panel does move a little when you hit it with a brush. I was pickier about that when I was 20 years younger. But I won awards in 10 plein air contests this past summer with this rig.”