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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Travel Blog; October 22, 2015

Italian Paper Marbling, papers hand-painted by Lamberto ©St Hilaire

Paper, Paper, Paper

Today we went to the Laboratory of Lamberto to learn about paper, and to do a hands on exercise in the traditional Italian art of marbling of paper. Amazing. Bernardini Lamberto spent a lot time telling us passionately about the history of paper, from sheep skin parchment to tree bark, to cotton rag Fabriano watercolor paper. We talked about books, the illuminated manuscripts. About Gutenberg and his printing press, printing bibles and encouraging people to read them at home. Then we considered how the church came to the realization that it wanted to control what people thought, to bring them back to church, and to how that lead to books being banned. No independent thoughts or ideas for over 15o years.

Lamberto, teaching us about the importance of paper in history. ©St. Hilaire

Fascinating, to say the least. And what a wealth of information this amazing paper enthisiast was. A patient teacher, who sits in a studio space that served a meeting room in the 1400’s. The ceiling frescoes are still in tact, with recognizable family crests, animals, patterns, and designs. Lamberto used a laser pointer to teach us about the symbology in the art of the barrel vaulted ceiling over our heads.

The sheep skin parchment page with music for the choir, was 700 years old. You could see the hair on one side of the page. Lamberto explained to us that the black ink was made from the soot of a fat candle, collected and watered down and concentrated. The red came from ground up garnets, mined in the hills of the area. Can you stand it?

700-year old oversized sheet music from a book for the choir. Sheepskin parchment. ©St. Hilaire


We all laughed at his story of how the farmer was rich in cheese, milk, and wool from his flock of 100 sheep. So rich that it seemed absurd to him, and funny to us, that anyone would even ask him to consider killing his flock to make ONE 100-page book. One.

An old church ledger book, circa mid 1600’s. ©St. Hilaire


Lamberto shows us some hand marbled book covers from his collection. ©St. Hilaire
Lamberto shows us some hand marbled book covers from his collection. ©St. Hilaire


The studio offered all things paper, and pen, and ink. So much fun. ©St. Hilaire


MaryAnne, Joni, June, Katy, Suzy, admiring the paper. ©St. Hilaire


The art of marbled paper. ©St. Hilaire
The art of marbled paper. ©St. Hilaire


Teaching the marbling. ©St. Hilaire


And then we went exploring, digging through Lamberto’s marbled papers, his pen and ink sets, etchings, notes and cards, all of us lining up to purchase something special to take home.

Lamberto shared his very old books with us, explaining that they were from the 1400’s and 1600’s and (hard to even fathom, or calculate) showing us the hand written pages of a church’s finance ledger and a book that listed banned books–if you had them in your possession you had to burn them. He showed us the marbling of inside covers and front covers of precious and delicate old books in his personal collection. After Lamberto was done educating us on his very passionate history of paper, we were ready for the much anticipate opportunity to try our hand at the Italian art of paper marbling… in his studio!

The Cathedral Across the Street

There was an amazing cathedral in town, Le meraviglie del Duomo di Orvieto, that had frescoes (circa 1350’s) which were said to be influential in the work of Michelangelo. Not to mention a total glass tile mosaic facade with amazing marble columns and relief carvings. We are in the pre-renaissance region of Italy, the history here is incredible. I cannot tell you how amazing it makes me feel to see such artwork, preserved for all these years. I just wanted to cry, standing at the base of such amazing talent, gazing upward and wondering…

What a wonderful morning in the Medieval town of Orvieto!

Amazingly colorful frescoes. ©St. Hilaire
Amazingly colorful frescoes. ©St. Hilaire


I am amazed over the color! ©St. Hilaire
I am artfully in awe. ©St. Hilaire


The spectacular cathedral interior. ©St. Hilaire
The spectacular cathedral interior. ©St. Hilaire
Olive, cypress and bay leaves on the Gelli plate. The rosemary smells amazing. ©St. Hilaire
Olive, cypress and bay leaves on the Gelli plate. The rosemary smells amazing. ©St. Hilaire

More Paper

The afternoon back at the villa was time to get to work for my future collage artists! I gave the presentation of ripping and gluing and my love of collage. We talked about creating volume with shading and directional ripping, working back to front, seeing in simple shapes, lost and found edges, and the collage that started me on my journey.

My students asked lots of wonderful questions and after the class time they were ready to watch me paint paper. I demonstrated the Gelli Plate, stamping, sponging, stenciling, texture rubbing, alcohol and soap bulbble resist, corrugated cardboard stamping, found objects, dry brushing, finger and toe prints… and more.

My traveling students were tired, and they went to bed with visions of paper in their heads. (And probably visions of me and Lamberto too).

Tomorrow morning we’ll see what they’ve got!

preparing for sunflowers. ©St. Hilaire
preparing for sunflowers. ©St. Hilaire


Stay tuned…


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Meet Me in Italy in June, 2016
June 9-16 we will be returning, you haven’t missed out!

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