Suggestions for the New Plein Air Painter
By Katherine Simmons, March 2006
Portability: Remember that the best spot to paint is not always near your vehicle. Pack light and plan accordingly. My gear consists of an Open M Box Easel attached to a light-weight camera tripod, Wet Paint Carrier, and Home Depot Workman’s Bag – all of which fits on my luggage carrier, purchased at Wal-Mart. In situations where I cannot use the luggage carrier, I can carry all my gear in one trip from my van to the painting site.
Easels: Full or half-box French easels are the most popular option along with a variety of pochade boxes that attach to a tripod. A folding chair and drawing board may be all you need if you are accustomed to painting while seated.
Knapsacks: I have a back pack that can carry my painting supplies. It also serves as a seat (available at Jerry’s in West Hartford or Jerry’s on-line). Don’t forget to pack some water or snacks to keep you going.
Portable Shade: Sometimes, you can find a good place to set up in the shade. But, if not, think about getting an umbrella that clips onto your easel. Definitely bring a hat. There are painting umbrellas that look like beach umbrellas – just poke the umbrella in the ground and get under there with your easel. When I am able to paint from my van, I use a small drop cloth draped over the open rear hatch of my van, secured with spring clamps.
Remaining Earthbound: When Mother Nature provides a breeze, make sure that your easel remains where you put it. In windy conditions, some artists simply load rocks (found on site) onto a sling that attaches to the legs of the easel. Another good method for staying put is to pack one or two dog tie-downs (these look like a giant corkscrew and can be purchased at the hardware store). Use bungee cords for tying your gear to the tie-downs.
Personal comfort: In this area, I would suggest a hat (again), bug repellant, sunblock lotion, and good shoes. If you forget to apply sun block, consider wearing a very light weight long-sleeved shirt and pants. If it’s cool, dress in layers that you can adjust to keep yourself comfortable if the weather changes.
Clean up: Bring along a trash bag so that you will leave the painting site as tidy as you found it. It seems inevitable that the color that you have the hardest time mixing is the one that you end up wearing. For these little disasters, I recommend a product called Kiss-Off. It’s a stain remover in stick form available at Jerry’s Artarama.
Transportation of paintings and paint supplies: Perhaps the most simple way to transport your wet paintings in your vehicle is to lay an old sheet or drop cloth across the trunk of your car. An empty pizza box is also useful for making sure that wet paintings don’t slide around. Or you can buy one of the many wet painting carriers available. Remember – portability is the key. For transporting your painting supplies, a toolbox, old briefcase or large canvas tote are good alternatives.
Sketchbook: One of the things that we love about plein air painting is the ever changing possibilities. Conversely, one of the challenges of plein air painting is how to stay focused as the light changes over the course of your painting session. Make quick thumbnail sketches using a Sharpie felt pen to “lock” in the composition and shadow patterns. A camera is also helpful for touchups back in the studio.
Dress Rehearsal: If you are planning your first plein air painting trip or have just gotten new equipment, set up your gear in the back yard and work on a small painting. You will quickly discover any gaps in equipment and transportation issues that need to be corrected.