Minnesota State Fair Prep—Part 1: The Heavy Equipment

August 12, 2009

StoolCase7221 Left: The REI folding tri-pod stool I bought for use at the Minnesota State Fair at the end of this month. The carrying case is lying next to it on the ground, but you can also carry it collapsed, with a handy-dandy carrying shoulder strap—no need to keep taking it out of the bag. Collapsed the stool is about 21 inches long. It weighs about a pound, but seems lighter!

The Minnesota State Fair is almost upon us. Everyone knows what that means: Corn Dogs! Oops, I mean SKETCHING ANIMALS for hours and hours and hours (and then eating a corn dog!)

It also means that it's time to start getting ready for the Fair. If you are a bookbinder, now's the time to bind that special journal (I prefer to work with journal cards so I just purchased my paper this weekend—more on this in another post). Maybe you need to work out what medium you'll be using and then lay in an appropriate supply of the same?

At the MCBA Visual Journal Collective's Monday, August 17, meeting (7 to 9 p.m.), the Avidors and I will be doing a little presentation on drawing people (the Avidors) and animals (me) at the Fair. Preparation for that State Fair talk has got me thinking about Fair prep in general.

Top on my mind as I think about prep has been SEATS. I've always been one to stand at the Fair. I hold my journal or journal cards in my hand, along with my small palette and a paper towel, and I sketch and paint. Sure things can go wonky—odd angles galore, changes in angle; but my subjects are usually moving more than I am. Besides, there typically aren't places to sit where I want to sketch, so standing is the default.

This year, with the prospect of using a larger size card (9 x 11 inches) I began to think sitting down might be the safest option. It will be harder to juggle the larger card, my paints or pencils or whatever I use. About two weeks ago I actually woke up in a panic that I didn't have a suitable collapsible stool. I had Dick unpack, from a high shelf I can't reach, the collapsible chair collection, amassed when I was tracking with the girls—lots of low to the ground chairs that are great for sitting in the field, and even a recliner that is perfect for relaxing in when your tracking students are out and about laying track, but…

I raced over to REI as soon as I could to check out the offerings. While there is something comforting about the idea of sitting in an armchair in a barn while sketching, I knew there was no way I could carry such a chair all day (and for several days). That narrowed the offerings considerably. There was one odd tri-pod chair that just cut off all circulation to any body part it touched (and it's mud-sinking protection flap was below cow-pie grade). Another rectangular stool was comfortable until I shifted and then it wobbled and threatened to collapse. (Think cow pies again to understand why I didn't get that stool.)

Stool7216 Right: The collapsible stool from REI in its collapsed configuration. It's about 21 inches long and made of lightweight aluminium. The stool is simply called "REI Trail Stool" and there is no product number.

Happily the collapsible stool pictured in this post was just right. It doesn't do my butt any favors in the visual aesthetics department, but then I don't see the Fair as a place to make much of a fashion statement (well, more about this in later posts as well). At least it is comfortable and STABLE. And it is also lightweight. I'll be taking it without the case; simply slinging the carrying strap across my shoulder. That is of course if I use it at all…

Yesterday I decided to garden. Well, what I do isn't exactly gardening; it's jungling. You see neither Dick nor I are much interested in plants unless they are edible (and we now have too much shade to grow those) or leafy (for noise and vision control). And now that we don't have the girls around, well, you get the idea…we've never been very interested and now we're less so. But I noticed a couple years ago that the odd invasive plants along the alley fence, while providing privacy for us also provide privacy for those breaking into cars. (We have nights when teams go through the neighborhood and break into every parked car! One of the joys of living in a university neighborhood—the other being loud, obnoxious, drinking parties.) When I cut back all these plants our cars were spared. This explains how I became engaged in Operation Cut-back (as I like to call it).

The problem is I don't have a lot of time for Operation Cut-back. And in Minnesota in the summer, the plants really take advantage of the lack of snow and GROW. Having been busy meeting deadlines and completing essential tasks (such as bicycling!) I missed a couple weeks. All those plants I don't have the strength to cut back to nothing, got a little ahead of my clippers and their 2-inch rating. Instead of trimming, or cutting back, yesterday I found myself in full jungling mode, bushwhacking. Working steadily I could easily imagine what tropical explorers must go through—in fact my mind turned to Mungo Park, and as I clipped I wondered again, as I do so many times, "what void did he disappear into?" I wondered what his final moments were like—did he indeed have a watery end? And while he traveled were the mosquitoes buzzing about him bigger than the ones sucking on me?

Before I knew it I'd been clipping for 90 minutes, something my hands and arms regret loudly today. If the Fair were tomorrow I'm not even sure I could attend, let alone work on large cards; and if that's the case the stool becomes a moot point.

BUT, the Fair is still 17 days away. If I'm careful, if I pace myself, I'll make it. And I have the stool at hand, if it is needed. That's the real trick to State Fair Prep: gather everything you might need, well before the Fair, so you can relax and enjoy the actual event!

With that in mind expect more from me about State Fair Prep (you know the same preparedness goes for any trip in which you want to sketch out—though not all such adventures involve cow pies). In the meantime, start assessing your work habits. Do you sit when you sketch? Go get a stool!

NOTE: Artist sketch stools are WORTHLESS. Don't pay $40 and up for a heavy, bulky stool which has "pockets and compartments" unless you like to have those compartments hang down into the aforementioned cow pies (they didn't think that through very well did they?). When purchasing a stool always think about where, and in what, you'll be setting it up. Weight, and ease of opening and set up are also crucial. Will you be in a crowded place? Bulk will be difficult to move with, even if it is strapped to your back. If you are going to stick like a tick to one location and sketch all day some issues of portability and lightness are moot. But frankly, it's not all that interesting around my favorite Corn Dog booth, I'd rather move around.

    • Nita
    • August 12, 2009

    I love my REI stool! I use it at figure drawing class and move around the room for different perspectives. The low height keeps me from blocking the view of those standing at easels.

    Because I’m sitting for 20+ minutes at a time, I do need a bit of cushioning to help out my sciatic nerve. So I add a small pillow. But you probably won’t sit that long, if at all.

    Packing for a trip, sketching or otherwise, is one of my favorite activities!

  1. Reply

    If you set up your new stool in cowpie conditions, then sling it back over your shoulder to move to a new spot, ewwwww….. Your gonna end up with cowpie on you somewhere.

    You may want to reconsider leaving the case behind. 🙂

  2. Reply

    That’s just like my new sketching stool except mine has all black fabric. I’d have actually preferred all Khaki coloured fabric – although I guess the big red stripe on yours makes it nice and identifiable when you’ve left it in a field and walked away!

    I have to say mine is proving very comfortable even for a long sit. It’s going with me on its first international trip at the weekend!

    I’m going to add a link to this review into mine which is at

    • Roz
    • August 12, 2009

    Nita, I never thought about taking it to Life Drawing. What a great idea!!!! Thanks.

    • Roz
    • August 12, 2009

    Karen, I’ve got a clothing post coming up later, but I love the idea of “cargo” pants! Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Roz
    • August 12, 2009

    Speck, you bring up a most excellent point!!! I had sort of thought that stuff would just fall off, I’m going to be a little careful to find fresh straw. But what to do. The problem is that if I do get cow pie on my stool feet then when I put it into the case it will get on the interior of the case and every in and out of the stool will be potential for transfer of matter. Hmmmm.

    I have to ponder this a bit more. There are more and more reasons to not take the stool and simple work smaller and keep standing. Sigh.

    I am SO GLAD you wrote in about this so that I could think it out in advance.

    • Roz
    • August 12, 2009

    Katherine, I would have loved Khaki, but had no choice in color. Now that you mention it I know that I’m lucky to get the orangy-red one because it will show up if I set it down in a field. (There is a green one which was out of stock.)

    I hope your international trip goes really well and the stool works well for you. I’ll look forward to reading about it!

    • Roz
    • August 12, 2009

    Katherine, I read your stool review. It does look like the same thing. My stool has that little fabric triangle at the base which I was told is for keeping it from sinking into swampy ground. I discounted one choice immediately (by another company) because it had this same “feature” but it was positioned right at the base of the legs and would be on the ground! Not ideal in a barn.

    Also I could remove this element and it would still stand in a stable fashion (another reason I picked it up).

    Your point about stowing the carrying case away is a very good one! My case is also lightweight.

    Another thing I learned the hard way, don’t store such stools in the car where the sun can beat in on them. I took one up to Grand Marais for a nature journaling class I was teaching and took it out of the car, set it up at the edge of the Cascade River (which does exactly that), and the sunbleached canvas RIPPED and I sat down hard on the cliff rocks. I wasn’t in danger of going over the cliff but two students reached out for me because it looked potentially bad!

    I always bring my little fold up chairs into the house now.

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