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Urban sketchers are always on the lookout for the perfect satchel to carry their gear. Better still if it is also a field easel that will support your sketchbook, that you can wear over your shoulder. I am one of those sketchers who likes to finish a sketch in the field: drawing, painting – it’s an all-immersive experience, and it can be a tall order to find something which will support everything I need to sketch in the field. When I think about what I carried around when I took up urban sketching in 2012, I wonder at my masochism…a portable table for my paints and water! A folding chair! Camouflage gear! (What? I was shy.) Now I carry a much pared-back kit, but I am always on the lookout to pare it back further.
There will always be situations when a 5’4″ person is just too small to see whatever it is that wants sketching. So when I heard that there was indeed such a thing as a field easel art bag, I was excited. I bought Darsie Beck’s field easel art bag, and I used it for a long time (and have reviewed on this blog). It’s a great product, the only drawback being that it is a bit too small for most of my sketching sessions, taking only an A5 sketchbook.
A few months ago I was asked by the good folk at Etchr Lab to review their new satchel and field case. Of course I was delighted. I wasn’t going to be paid to review the bag, but they were obviously going to send one to me to try out, and I was very happy with that. Talking with Simon, one of the designers, I got the feeling that really good functionality was of paramount importance. I received my art satchel, and the field case, a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I watched the video made by the designers and sketched the bag in use by Darren, the head designer, while wearing the bag myself – that’s the sketch in the thumb at the top.
Here it is:
And here I am with it in action. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that I appear to be left-handed in the sketch. I am not. I just drew it looking in the mirror.
Here I am in the field…this was at Thoor Ballylee the other day, where I was sketching with my friend Mavis.
And here’s a sketch I made at a local boat festival, Cruinniú na mBád, drawn and painted from start to finish using the Etchr satchel:
After I finished this sketch, I set the field easel on the ground, turning it through 180 degrees so that it sloped away from me. I sat on the ground to sketch and it worked a treat.
So what do I think?
There are pluses and minuses. It’s a bit soon for me to give a definitive answer but so far, so pretty good.
On the plus side:
– It does what it’s designed to do.
– The designers have really thought about it, and what a sketcher needs in the field – there are little Velcro tabs everywhere which stick onto the inside surfaces of the satchel, and which can be positioned virtually anywhere. Some of these have a diagonal strap across them so that you can put your pen or brush in them when you’re not using them.
– It’s really well made and feels extremely sturdy.
– I can stand and sketch for an hour without getting uncomfortable.
– It can be carried as a rucksack as the straps split and re-attach to go over your shoulders.
– It’s almost waterproof – the presence of zips make it technically not waterproof, but your gear is not going to get wet.
– The zips are the best-made ones I think I have ever seen.
On the minus side:
– It’s quite heavy, although I do understand that there’s a trade-off between sturdiness and weight.
– It is fiddly, and you need to get used to it, but that is a minor thing. Besides, it’s only fiddly because it does so many things.
– I am not crazy about the exterior fabric, but it is waterproof, and therefore I appreciate it.
The Etchr can also be attached to a tripod and used as a fixed easel in the field, if you are planning to spend a long while outdoors (or in, for that matter). I haven’t used it this way yet, partly because I don’t feel the need to and partly because my tripod is a bit fiddly. You may have picked up by now that I am a very lazy person who likes an easy life. Urban sketchers get quite tough and pack-horse-like from carrying gear and ignoring unpleasant conditions but I will always at heart be tremendously lazy.
But I’ve saved the best for last. The satchel came with what the Etchr guys call a field case. In the introductory video that the Etchr guys sent me, Darren said he didn’t think he’d use it a whole lot, but he has been proven wrong. I absolutely love the field case. I take my sketching gear out with me every day and other than that, all I bring is a wallet and a phone, and, I suppose, my keys. I love that I can fit my wallet into the middle of the field case (it’s a very thin wallet). I can’t fit my phone into the flap outside the field case, because my phone is in a bulky cover, but I imagine you could get a thin one in – Darren does in the video. There’s a loop inside where you can attach your keys. All you need then is something to put your sketchbook in, or you can carry it. You just sling the field case over your shoulder – it has a comfortable shoulder strap – and you’re good to go.
Here is what I keep in mine:
On the plus side:
– Looks super.
– Really comfortable.
– Beautiful interior fabric.
– Very useful. I can put things everywhere.
– Super strong elastic and very well made.
– Versatile and secure: I can put my wallet, and all kinds of other things, in lots of places.
– Lightweight but super-strong.
– Waterproof, more or less, and the exterior fabric has grown on me now.
– On the minus side:
The really nice thing about the field case is that when I’m using the satchel as a field easel, I can put the field case over my shoulder, then hook the handle of my water jar onto one of the hooks on the side of the bag.
Overall: I love these products and I feel very fortunate to have been sent them for review. The big test will be when I give my urban sketching workshop in Kent in two weeks’ time: I will be sketching with an audience in a four-storey mill, standing outside ancient castles, on a precipitously sloping cobbled street and in a cramped little steam train…I will give an update then.
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