The business started in a garage, where full time artist James Coulter www.jamesmcoulter.com or jamesmcoulter.blogspot.com developed a Plein Air outdoor painting easel that is also a compact light weight travel easel that is now called the "COULTER EASEL". (Consists of 3 components: a Tripod, Palette, and Panel Holder). It was designed and built to be simple, functional and durable, since it would be used outdoors on painting trips to many locations around the world. "Simplicity", "Function" and "Durability" were the priorities in designing this easel, it is not made to be "Pretty" or "Perfect".
If you attend a painting workshop, chances are that you will see this easel there, and there are a few reasons for that. First the ratio of weight to paint mixing room is much higher with my easel. It weighs less, but has more mixing room for the size. Second, the palette is more stable to mix paint because it attaches to the tripod at 2 points instead of one. Next the price is about HALF of the other more popular easels on the market. My easel is priced around $200 without the tripod, and my tripod is less expensive (at $50) but is just as sturdy and folds up shorter than most other tripods. I think you will find many other easels are very complicated, which can lead to problems.
This painting system evolved from the "French Easel" concept of maintaining a position of Canvas above and Palette below. You still have your canvas at eye level so you can look directly back and forth from your subject matter to your painting. The palette is located at waist level with a sturdy 2 point wedge connection: It does not wobble like the one point connection of a Pochade Box.
You can also crank up the tripod head and put the panel holder on upside down. This works well for painting sitting down or if you just want your panel closer to your palette. (See Photo below).
Compared to the French Easel (at 13 lbs.) or most other outdoor painting set-ups, the Coulter Easel is MUCH lighter in weight; The system weighs under 4 lbs. and the tripod is 3 lbs.for a total of around 7 lbs.. Another big difference is that our system sets up in less than a minute!
Many of the parts are made from solid oak which makes it very durable for field work and packing it for travel. The Palette frame is made from lightweight Pine and the mixing areas are Baltic Birch. There are no complicated moving parts to break and if you accidentally lose a part it may be found in most hardware stores.
The palette has more than twice the paint mixing space (Standard palette is 12" by 16") than most outdoor systems but remarkably weighs less. You can also use the inside of the wings to double your mixing room, or to use as space to lay brushes, palette knives, and other painting materials. It is like having a portable table to work from. You may have a piece of glass or plexiglass cut and installed inside the palette if you want. I recommend that you let the oil cure the wood palette to make it hard and slick just like the Master's thumb held palettes that have been used for over a hundred years. If you choose to just use the wood to mix your paint on, apply ONE coat of linseed oil to the inside surface of the Baltic Birch and then wipe excess off. This is only to take up some of the absorbancy of the dry wood when you first squeeze out your oil paint. Too much linseed oil will "soften" the wood too much and you will nick it with your palette knife. Many artists are also putting their Acrylic and Watercolor palettes, or Pastel boxes inside or on the palette, so it can be used for other mediums besides oil.
If you order the complete Plein Air/Travel System with the tripod, (The SLIK F740 full size tripod folds up shorter (20") and will fit into most small rolling luggage carriers and is much easier to put in or strap onto your backpack.) On the "STANDARD" size systems I am using the SLIK U8000 which is 23" long and weighs the same as the SLIK F740 at 3.5 lbs. I will have attached the tripod "Quick Release Plate" on the Panel Holder. This may become loose on occasion. It has a small flip up plastic thumbscrew to re-tighten it. (Don't use pliers as it could break the flip up thumbscrew.) Also make sure you have the Panel Clips with the "BEVEL" edge turned in toward the panel as to wedge it in place when you secure you panel. The "Wide Clips" have four brass screws that you can secure your panel with. The last tip is to use the LARGE TRIPOD "HANDLE" not the small thumb knobs to adjust the position of the tripod head to attach the Panel Holder. This gives the tripod head more stability to hold the Panel Holder steady while you are painting. If you have questions watch the "Standard" video.
I recently re-designed the 20" Panel Holder with the tripod connection raised up from the bottom for more stability while you are painting. I also added as an option "WIDE PANEL CLIPS" for more stability on wider panels, but will also work on small panels. These Panel Clips have a French Easel accessory, the brass extrusions that hold a panel out where you don't have a "LIP" to paint under.
In addition to our STANDARD size, we now have a COMPACT and a MINI size. The STANDARD palette will fit into a Kelty Redwing 50 backpack (comes in a S/M or M/L), the COMPACT will fit a Kelty Redwing 44, and the MINI will fit a Kelty Redwing 40. These could be used as a carry on for travel in addition to being a high quality backpack (there is more information on these backpacks on Amazon & YouTube). When possible you should take your equipment into a backpack store and have the backpack professionally fitted and properly adjusted to you body. Do the same for your carry on luggage. (The Compact or Mini will fit easily in most of the small rolling carry on luggage). I usually put my palette, wet pane box, paper towels, brush carrier and tubes of paint (in a separate waterproof bag) in the large section of the backpack, my tripod and panel holder strape onto each side. The two zipper compartments on the sides can hold plasic trash bags in one and a small extra thinner container (aluminum water bottle). The medium size zippered compartment will hold assorted things (palette knifes, drawing tools, insect repellent, sunscreen, gloves, etc. and the small front compartment is where I put my thinner container.
DIMENSIONS for each PALETTE and PANEL HOLDER:
STANDARD PALETTE: Interior - 12x16, Exterior - 16x18, weighs 4 lbs.
COMPACT PALETTE: Interior - 9.5x15, Exterior - 13.5x16.5, weighs 3 lbs.
MINI PALETTE: Interior - 9x12, Exterior - 13.5x13, weighs 2 lbs.
STANDARD PANEL HOLDER overall length 25" holds a panel up to 20"
COMPACT PANEL HOLDER length 22"holds up to 16"
MINI PANEL HOLDER length 18"holds up to 12"