At the root of painting is not only art, but engineering. You have to ask yourself questions like- how do I fit all these wet paintings in my suitcase? How many wet paintings can you have in a car before you start to damage them (and get paint all over your car)? Who builds the best little portable paint box (for the record, I do, and I am starting to think about how to produce these little boxes to sell). Put enough artists together and eventually they will start talking about their materials, and hanging out last month with Russian friend Viktor Butko reminded me of a couple of his really good ideas-as he called them, “Russian Engineering”. I thought I should share them here.
Viktor’s a resourceful guy, but although most artists are handy, part of it may come from his history- he’s from an artistic family. He’s a third-generation painter, and works in Moscow in his Grandfather’s studio (which is one of the old Soviet Realist studios, one of my favorite Russian artists Arkady Plastov also worked in the building). His Grandfather’s name was Viktor Chulovich, and it’s really worth taking a look at his paintings online, I come across them from time to time, he was an excellent painter. When our group visited Viktor’s studio in 2013, we were taken not just with the building, its history and his work, but this totally radical easel-chair that Butko had found in the attic-it’s really compact, check this link for a video of it that Dalessio took.
Idea One, “The Viktor Rack”:
This seems simple, but it’s ingenious. I now keep a length of rope in my car that can crisscross between all four of the car roof handles, making a small rack to suspend a painting between your head and the roof. When we got in Viktor’s car in 2013 and saw a perfectly suspended painting hovering above out heads we collectively all went “holy shit, what a good idea”. If you paint large-ish, even if you don’t paint outside, from time to time there is a painting that just won’t fit in your car, or more importantly, won’t fit safely without risking denting it. This problem has gotten a lot worse for me since having a kid in 2014, having a carseat in the car really limits the amount of larger work you can fit in the car, plus I need to keep work safely away from the young Mancini-Hresko’s kicking little feet. This is a much safer method for transporting work than loading paintings vertically, (for the record, that is a 36×43″ canvas in the photo above)- and no, I have not once gotten paint on the roof of my car. This works great for transporting delicate wet paintings, and larger framed finished works alike. I wish I knew this one years ago.
Below, a couple more snapshots-you can put a piece of cardboard to make a proper little shelf, just be careful that things don’t slip off as the cardboard is more slippery than the length of rope.
The other trick of Viktor’s came in especially handy at the end of our painting trip. Between our large group, most everyone prefers to work large on-site, and the work really starts to pile up quickly. I was driving south alone, so it made sense for me to take as much of the work with me as I could fit in the car. Most paintings if not completely wet were still tacky, and could have easily been damaged. Fenske told me not to worry about it, that Viktor was an expert packer, whatever that meant. When I asked the other Russians to pack up their work, they said, no, they’d let Viktor do it.
Working in a smaller scale or on panel, I have a system that works fine (my friend Marc did a super-duper-clear blog post on it here). That is how I brought home all my paintings from Greece this summer. Using this method, I’ll be working on a wet painting up until the morning I head to the airport, just taping the final wet one into my stack of painting whenever I’m done working on it. The problem with this method is that as panels get larger you need more bits of cork, and with the bumping around sometimes a piece of cork will come loose and scrape across a bit of the painting. It’s foolproof in small scale, say 16×20 or 14×18″ maximum. Worse still is if you paint on stretched canvas, with changes in humidity the paintings can come a bit loose, canvases sagging into another and touching. I knew that trick wouldn’t work with all these large pictures and the bumping around in the car.
That is a lot of wet paintings to have to make it home safe with. Notice the Viktor Rack in use as well
Idea Two “Expert Packing”:
So, Viktor’s idea also involves wine corks. I’m not entirely sure why, but there always seems to be plenty of wine corks sitting around at the end of a painting trip. Painting in Maine, I was astounded that there wasn’t a single wine cork left anywhere, and when I was packing my paintings I actually had to open a bottle just to pack up my 22×28″s and 20×24″s. Turned out the Russians had been hoarding the corks the whole trip.
The tools necessary-Wine corks, Cardboard, Staple Gun and Knife
Staple half a cork to the center of the cardboard, vertically
Staple to the stretcher bar of painting
Staple to other stretcher bar, putting paintings (the same size in one direction at least), face to face, or back to back
Repeat on all sides, making sure to leave a cork spacer in the face to face ones
Close up, you can see the little corks on the other side of the canvas.
I hope this post can be of some use to people, and all due credit to Viktor Butko for showing our group these little tricks. All paintings made it home safe.
Our show Russian-American Painting Alliance opens later today at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, NY. Come out to say hello at the opening, I’ll be there with my family.
Bonus Round “Russian Engineering by Fenske”:
Another issue on one of these painting trips is you’re limited while painting not by people or gear, but the wet paintings. Ben Fenske came up with this simple little rack for transporting multiple people’s in progress paintings, when there’s just more work than you could fit in a Viktor Rack. Note that all shelves are leaning to prevent wet paintings from slamming back and forth when turning right or left.