Plein Air Painting Equipment Tips
I’m planning a trip this fall with some friends to paint in the Ozarks. One of my buddies hasn’t painted en plein air before. So, instead of just sending him a list I thought this was a great opportunity to share this list.
My equipment list isn’t exact or perfect. It’s not the best way, or only way. But once you get an idea of what the equipment does and why you’ll need it you can find any number of substitutions. In fact please leave a comment if you have some ideas to improve this post. Even though this was what I used to hike up 10,000 feet to paint in the Grand Tetons I’m sure some of it will change and improve over time. And most certainly some will stay a constant.
Let’s start with the carrier. I use a backpack. I’ve seen people using carts, bags, mechanics tool chests. You need to carry all the stuff you’re using around somehow so consider where you’re going and how you’re going to get it around. If you’re always in an urban area with sidewalks a wheeled cart might not be such a bad idea (depending how you need to get to your locations). The easiest to consider is the backpack. And if you’re just starting out you probably already have one you can use.
For me the important features aren’t what it can hold on the inside, but what it can hold on the outside. I love this pack, but I’m even looking for something a little bigger. I want to have space to carry my umbrella on the outside and well as a panel carrier on the inside. It can all fit, but I’d just like it to not be a puzzle for every outing. If I find something awesome I’ll update this post.
Right away you can get an idea of the amount of stuff a plein air painter takes with him. You might also already be wondering where my easel is at and why do I have a tripod if you’re new to this and have always assumed we use those darned French easels. Keep reading it will all become clear. But a French easel is an option, just not one that I use anymore.
I have a Bogen tripod. I’ve had it since I took some photography classes and thought I just might be a photographer. It’s a sturdy, well made tripod. It’s older so it doesn’t have a few of the cool new features the newer models have, like quick adjusting legs or being lighter in weight. I could always change out the head if I wanted to. A pistol grip ball head is ideal for a pochade setup. But so far this works great. I do have a plastic tripod I got for travel/hiking trips. But I’d probably order a new one when I get the chance.
I usually stand to paint. But there are times that I don’t. Maybe it was a super long hike, maybe it’s a better angle. Either way I’m prepared with a collapsible stool. I got mine from REI. Bonus it came in orange, my favorite color.
You may or may not have noticed rock climbing hook on my pack. I actually use it. And it comes in orange. Why do you need this? It does two jobs in one. First it helps secure the tripod with some weight. Second it keeps you stuff out of the way, especially helpful in the city. And reduces the chances of someone trying to grab you bag and run off with it. I had to drill a hole in my extender pole on my tripod. Some tripods already have a nifty hook there.
I use a pochade box, specifically the 10×12″ Open Box M. I love it. There are others out there and those painters love those boxes too. What sold me was the tension spring clamps that hold the panel on the horizontal plane eliminating the need for a clamp at the top.
You can see how slim it is and easily fits in the pack.
There are a variety of attachments, even a wine glass holder.
When you’re painting outdoors the one thing you cannot control is the light. But you can try to keep it off of your palette and panel while painting. You can always opt for a shady spot. This is what many do before they get an umbrella, or if they keep forgetting it like me.
I don’t use turpentine. I use an OMS, odorless mineral spirit. Specifically, I use the Gamblin brand Gamsol. It’s formulated to evaporate slower so less chemicals are in the air you breathe. It’s some of the best stuff out there, it’s worth the extra cost. Once you’ve bought you canister of Gamsol you want to bring what you need. I use Nalgene jars. They won’t melt like other plastics. You can always get a nifty metal canister as well.
I keep my paints in a mesh travel bag. I got mine at the Container Store but I’ve seen them at Blick now too. The point is to contain the potential mess of paint trying to escape its oppression in the tube.
You might want to keep your hands clean of all the chemicals from the paint, mediums, and your thinner. Black gloves just make you look cooler and mysteriously more professional.
I use panels to paint on so I’m going to cover keeping them safe. I have a bunch of panel carriers from Raymar. I just might have one of each. They are lightweight and well made. You can make your own as well.
Even More Stuff!
Here are a few more things to keep in the pack: a case for your brushes, ear plugs, first aid kit, mini clamps, mirror, multi-tool, water bottle, hat, raincoat, grocery bag for trash, sketchbook, camera, and a Square.