The Etchr Art Satchel showed up on Kickstarter (around £180 if memory serves) about 3 years ago [2016-17], so I bought one with the idea to take it with me to China on a 3-week tour, after which I planned to use it as a “studio in the go” when I was out and about sketching in London. This pandemic has finally afforded me some time to try it out…
A mobile art studio?
The aforementioned China tour, unfortunately, allowed almost no moments for sketching (it was one of those high-density programmes with 2-3 activities per day and long coach rides in between and bags weren’t often allowed in temples, etc). As it turned out, I didn’t use the bag at all as a standing sketch studio as planned, although I’d used it maybe twice as a lap desk during the rare moments of finally sitting still in the hotel at the end of the day.
Anyway, after the China trip, I packed the Etchr bag away and haven’t used it for 2 years. I found it while tidying my studio the other day, and considering the price I paid for it, I felt it necessary to give it another try (waste not, want not, and all that).
Blimey, for an empty bag, it was much heavier than I remembered… maybe it’s the waterproof material it’s made of that makes it feel heavy (sort of a thick plasticky canvas that makes it feel and look like a little suitcase)?
Initial weight unpacked: 2.90 kg (6.4 lbs)
After removing the Etchr tripod panel, a mesh bag, and the extra insert panel, the bag shed about 500 grams: 2.4 kg (5.4 lbs)
Some initial thoughts on the Etchr Art Satchel
- Sleek, unfussy appearance
- Easily configurable with all the straps, Velcro, elastic bits
- Allows very “tight” packing, efficiently fits a lot of things in many different ways, in a small concise volume
- This could work as a mini art “studio” on the go?
Packing the Etchr Art Satchel – a weighty subject
Planning an afternoon of field sketching and watercolour study, I put in a the relevant supplies that I would use at home. Essentials like house keys, phone, wallet, hand sanitiser, mask, etc. are in my jacket pocket for now. As I said above, the Etchr art satchel is super easy to organise the contents to suit my own needs and preferences, with all the elastic bands, velcro “tiles”, clips, loops, and pockets that are included.
On one side I packed watercolour materials, which so far comes to 3.85 kg (or 8.5 lbs):
- 1 A5 sketchbook (or two)
- Watercolour pan set
- Small bottle of water (200 ml)
- Plastic pouch to hold water for washing brushes
- Zipper wallet with 8 paintbrushes
- 2 small rags
- Small pen case with 6-7 pencils
- Grey view finder
- 3 bulldog clips
- 1 steel hook
- Other side is empty
So then I packed for, say, going further afield (such as to draw on Southbank) travelling on public transport or by bicycle. (Don’t forget your mask!)
Contents now include all the above PLUS the below and weighs in at 5.85 kg or 12.9 lbs):
- Essentials pouch (wallet, keys, Oyster card, lip balm, Kleenex, etc)
- Spare Battery charger pack
- “Walks of London” guide book
- Water bottle (500 ml)
- Face covering
- Hand sanitiser gel
The bag is getting a bit heavy but still doable even though I haven’t added a light rain jacket, a tripod (+panel reinserted), folding tripod camping stool… these additional items could add another 3-5 kgs to bring it to 8.85 kg (17.5 lbs) up to 10.85 kg (23.9 lbs) on my back as I go to my sketching location.
How does it feel?
I carried more stuff on the China trip (the satchel served as my flight carry-on as well as an art bag), probably around 9-10 kg (18-20 lbs), which is ok for me for getting around as the Etcher Art Satchel is quite comfortable to carry – the shoulder straps are thickly padded and adjustable (backpack or messenger style). Also, I think the ability to pack this bag super tightly in a small volume, while being designed to ride closely to the body really helps with carrying it on my back. On that note, this bag’s straps are a comfortable width as well (which is sometimes hard to find; I’m an average 5”6” woman with an average frame for my height and many bags just don’t fit me. I often find the straps pull at the wrong place or slip off my shoulders because they’re too wide or angled wrong for me. The fit of this bag was a worry when I bought it without trying it on, and it fits just fine.) Oh and it has that sporty “air flow” webbing on the back of the satchel as well as the straps so you don’t get all sweaty! Which is a useful feature in a sweltering summer commute London 😉
How is the Etchr Art Satchel as a standing field easel?
I anticipated using this bag as a travel “studio” of sorts, eg lap “desk” seated on a park bench or my camping stool as well as maybe a standing field easel when I want to stop and sketch.
However, in order to use it as a standing field easel with the strap, I suspect I’d have to remove some of the contents as it is nearly 6kg (13 lbs) already bearing down on my shoulders and neck and immediately seems like it would be WAY too heavy and cause discomfort, pain or injury. And who wants to visit the osteopath after each outdoor sketching session.
I tried it on at home as a field board with some contents removed (500ml water bottle and the extra sketchbook) which reduces the load by about 600g (1.2lb) to about 5kg (11.7 lb). The bag/straps are super easy to re-configure to wear across the shoulders diagonally, for left or right-handed. The way the bag is worn actually the weight seems to be supported by my own body around my midriff thus reducing stress on my neck, shoulders, and back.
…and I made it about 20 minutes before I had to sit resting the bag on my lap to take the load off my left shoulder. I suspect I could work up to about 30-45 minutes at a time standing like this, with sitting in between.
For comparison, I have another basic >A3 field board (with a wide nylon web strap) which weighs 1.15 kg (2.6 lb) with a couple of sheets and some bulldog clips or 2.7 kg (6 lbs) with a hardcover A3 sketchbook. Even with a thick pad of paper, I can tolerate this board for a lot longer than 30-40 minutes.
So if I want to use the Etchr bag as a “studio on the go” and carry a variety of materials with me (say, for an art class), I am considering carrying a much lighter field board and put the Etchr at my feet.
It could be used on a tripod but…
When I tried to install the bag on a medium-duty tripod (that I use with my Canon that bears a honking giant zoom lens), I tried first with the bag empty at first. It was easy to insert the Etchr tripod plate and attach/detach the bag from the tripod head.
Packed with just the drawing materials, the whole getup seemed uncertain but remained stable even with a few gentle nudges. When I packed with drawing materials and added the other essentials for travel, as I reached for my phone to take a picture, the clip on the tripod head suddenly gave way and the whole bag was yanked right out of the tripod head. Thankfully, I had my hand on the bag and caught it so no damage to either but it would seem to use the Etchr Art Satchel with a tripod as shown on their website, I would need a specific heavy-duty tripod head that will support at least 12-15 lbs. Or maybe I could go back to the old-fashioned wooden “French” easel for en plein aire work.
The Etchr Art Satchel as a field easel
Here I am looking down at the Etchr Art Sachel worn as a standing “field easel”.
What can I say other than it all works well enough as a standing field easel for sketching practice on the move. I easily found a comfortable height and position for the bag as a drawing desk (I’m right-handed), the weight of it all fully packed with drawing materials as well as out-and-about essentials was fine for about 30 minutes before my shoulder started to ache. (At that point, I found park benches for the remaining hour and half of my session). The clips and hook which I included as an afterthought turned out to be essential: to hold my paper still when the breeze picked up, as well as hang my water cup and other bits off the various loops attached to the bag, giving me more space on deck to rest my sketchbook.
The other bonus which had nothing to do with the bag was the fun I had chatting with all the cute little kids who dragged their mums or dads over to ask what I was painting. No one mentioned or seemed to notice the satchel, which I suppose is what I’d want as an artist, for people to notice the artwork, not the easel. 😉
The Etchr Art Satchel – value for money?
I’ve been sitting here an hour trying to come down either side of would I buy this again or recommend to an artist friend, or not, and to be honest, it really comes down to what’s important to you. And also what sort of artwork you make.
If you have £180 spare for what is basically a souped-up laptop bag, which has more options for organising your bits-and-bobs than an ordinary backpack, with the option to open it up into a sort of lapdesk or standing easel, then I can honestly say it works well enough for either purpose. I wasn’t able to fully experiment with the satchel on a tripod because I didn’t have the right kind of tripod/head, but I’m sure it could work in that setup as well as expected. (It did sort of work, until I tested the weight limit on my tripod). It would be hard, I think, to work larger than A4 (US Letter) with the Etchr Art Satchel, so that limits you to small formats.
On the other side, if you’re the person for whom £180 would be a challenging expenditure for an art supplies bag that can be rejigged into a standing field easel, then I’d probably recommend an actual wooden field board (around £30), and the backpack you already have.
- Easy to organise your stuff with plenty of clips, loops, elastic bands, etc. included
- Lots of options to organise for your preferences inside and outside the bag
- Easy to configure the straps for wearing different ways (messenger bag, backpack, standing easel)
- Easy to configure for using it as a portable desk (tripod, table, or wearing with straps)
- Comfortable to wear as a backpack while travelling (I found the messenger bag uncomfortable but that’s just me; some people are OK with it)
- Works well enough as a standing desk/easel
- Made of durable, waterproof material (but haven’t tested how durable or waterproof)
- Seems very heavy for the size, even empty it’s around 2.5 kg or 5.5 lbs.
- Wearing it over the shoulders as a standing desk/easel when the satchel is packed could quickly become uncomfortable (it did for me)
- It’s so expensive and I’m finding it a challenge to justify the price for what it is.
It seems this bag is tailor-made for digital designers/ artists/ illustrators more so than artists using traditional mediums like watercolour or graphite. That’s not to say that watercolourists wouldn’t find the Etchr Art Satchel useful; it’s just that it felt like too much hard work to make it work for me when I wanted to go out watercolour sketching, and I suspect it would be almost no effort at all to go drawing with this bag and an iPad/tablet. But why would I take this bag and my iPad to go drawing when I could just carry… my iPad.
To sum up, I’m glad I tried this bag, because I’ve not seen anything like it on the market before. And I’ll probably use it again when I’m next in the mood for a bit of a cycle and watercolour sesh along the river. But it will only be packed with the bare minimum what I need for that session, to keep the weight down. Otherwise, for a drop-in life drawing session or to the museum to sketch, it will be simpler, easier, and will do the job to just carry my sketchbook and a small case of pencils.
If star ratings are your thing, then let’s say a solid 3 of 5 for watercolourists/sketchers, or a bit higher for iPad/tablet or laptop users.