Plein Air Collage Easel

©Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel
©Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel

Kissed by the sun filtering through a tree, artist Elizabeth St. Hilaire works on a piece or art at Wekiva Island as part of the Wekiva Paint Out on Thursday, March 3, 2016. The event, which runs February 29th through March 5th features artists working along the river. Their work is displayed and available for purchase with proceeds going to Keep Seminole Beautiful and the Wekiva Wilderness Trust. St. Hilaire is a mixed media artist and said that she enjoys being different that most of the artists there who feature oil pointings. “I’m really glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone,” she said. –Jacob Langston

Scrounging through a pile of papers on my non collage setup. ©Lou Degni
Scrounging through a pile of mixed papers. ©Lou Degni


Out of the Zone

With the success of my Paper Paintings at the Wekiva Paint Out this year, I’ve begun thinking about working on more landscapes, getting out of the studio and into the great outdoors. The folks at the Paint Out invited me back next March. In light of my potential future as an outdoor collage artist, my friends in Italy began working on developing The St. Hilaire System, an incredibly ingenious plein air collage easel setup.

Are you excited?

The Road Home ©Louis Degni
The Road Home ©Louis Degni


Lou Degni, right where he's supposed to be. ©Pamela Haack
Lou Degni, right where he’s supposed to be. ©Pamela Haack


Back into the Groove

Lou Degni is a renaissance man. He comes from a long lineage of Italian church painters. When Lou was a kid, he painted with his grandparents and his parents, churches in upstate New York. Lou ultimately went to college for art, but when he entered the big bad world with his art degree, his work opportunities were sparse. Out of necessity, he took a job with the sheriffs department, and that rest was history. Lou went on to have an amazing career in law enforcement.

Somewhere along the way he gained some MAD woodworking skills, too.

Recently Lou retired, and started thinking about his roots, his passion, his art. Sound familiar? Coming back full circle to that which fueled his soul, long before he had to make practical decisions to support his family, this is a story I hear over and over from students in my Paper Paintings Collage Workhops.

Lou is painting again! After a long hiatus, Louis Degni is back to his love, and plein air painting has become his passion. His beautiful painting above, The Road Home, was painted in the countryside of Fabro. I can’t help but think that not only is this road headed to Lou’s home in Italy, but that it’s also a road home to his art, his passion, his sense of self. Visit Lou’s Blog to learn about his Journey Back to Art.

Lou’s Journey makes me happy.

The St. Hilaire System ©Lou Degni
The St. Hilaire System ©Lou Degni


The Project

Lou took his passion for plein air painting and combined it with his own ingenuity and those mad wood working skills — he had an idea and hit the ground running. Right now we are in the prototype phase of this amazing plein air collage easel. We are working out how to make it most portable and efficient, and how to get it produced in volume so that it will be available for purchase. I’ll be testing it out in person when I return to Italy next month for my Paper Paintings Collage Retreat in Fabro, so stay tuned.

Oh, and can I just say how cool it is to have marketing images with ITALY in the back drop?

It folds for easy transport. ©Lou Degni
The St. Hilaire System folds for easy transport. ©Lou Degni


The full setup. ©Lou Degni
The full St. Hilaire System setup. ©Lou Degni


The parts and pieces. ©Lou Degni
The St. Hilaire System, compact for traveling. ©Lou Degni


Custom Tailored

The full setup has nine wells with lids, based on the fact that I separate my hand painted paper by colors, into nine sections. There is also a place for glue, and two brush tubes. The whole setup is supported by a light weight tripod with adjustable legs for uneven surfaces.

The wood collage panel is secured right above the work surface, I work at an easel in the studio as well, so this system is completely intuitive for working in the field.

Plein air painting requires compact, light weight tools. If you have to hike into the woods or down the river a mile or so, you want an efficient setup. –Lou has designed the The St. Hilaire System to be just that.

Lids are key for windy days. ©Lou Degni
Lids are key for windy days. ©Lou Degni


One of the first challenges I had working in the field was the wind. When I was at the Paint Out I actually went back to the classroom space after creating my under-painting in the field. I applied my papers on the deck that overlooks the Wekiva River as I had some protection from the papers blowing around there. I also carried a set of plastic drawers full of paper with me, and taking them into the field was just prohibitive.

Working on the deck area, out of the wind. ©Alex Olivera
Working on the deck area, out of the wind. ©Alex Olivera


The St. Hilaire System eliminates the need for me to have to run for cover next year at the Wekiva Paint Out. I’ll be able to collage right in the field, thanks to lids that will keep my papers safe and secure in the nine wells that are designed into the easel.

I can’t thank Lou enough for taking on this project and being excited about developing something totally new and different, a plein air collage painting easel. My fellow artists were all curious as to how I was going to make collage work in the great outdoors this year. I figured out how to make it work.

Lou figured out how to make it work like a sports car.

A lean, mean, driving machine. ©Lou Degni
A lean, mean, driving machine. The St. Hilaire System ©Lou Degni


As Always, Stay Tuned

Stay tuned to the same Bat Station for more updates and info on the prototype and how and where to buy your own St. Hilaire System, made in Italy. We will be breaking it out in June and I will be covering it on the blog and the studio Facebook page.


Thank You
for being a part of my
Art Journey,


Pamela Haack and Yours Truly in Rome.
Pamela Haack and Me with my Italian hat in Rome.


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