Planning for a quick plein air painting

It is quite intimidating to paint outside one’s studio, and there is no way around it. Apart from the fact that passers by are going to see your painting in progress, there are a number of things that discourage us from taking our easels outdoors. Plein air painting is much easier than you think once you try it.

Let’s see how to quickly make a list of what you need:

  • a painting surface and a container or a box to protect it;
  • paints and a palette;
  • 3-5 different sizes of brushes, 1-2 palette knives, pencil or charcoal stick;
  • water or solvents, rags, paper towels, wet wipes, (gloves if you use them).

So what should you pack for your first time ever quick plein air painting?

I use two sizes of canvases for my painting outdoors both match pre-made boxes. I sometimes use these flat boxes as a support for my canvases instead of easel. Having matching size boxes which will protect your wet canvas is very convenient. If you know that your box can be flipped during your trip from the location use small pieces of a thick two sided scotch tape to secure your canvas to the box and keep your wet oil paint from smearing.

When it comes to pains I seldom take my pains in tubes. When I know that my painting is going to be one hour long session I’d only take a tube of white, gray and blue paints, the rest of the colors are already on my pallet. Your experience should tell you how much of each pigment you typically use. Very seldom I run out of a pigment, and if I do I mix a similar shade from different colors. It takes a little bit more time but all in all it allows me to travel light.

For my pallet, I use a disposable plastic plate and I take another same size plate to cover my paints and protect them from smearing. I tape them together so that the plates don’t separate. This way the word oil paint is protected inside.

I use water mixable oil paints, so I pour water from my water bottle into a can where I wash my brushes.

After you have painted a number of landscapes you know what size of brushes you typically use. Normally I take an inch, half an inch, and then three or four smaller brushes, #4 to #2. My goal is never to put in fine details (at least on location) and so I never take fine brushes for my plein air paintings. Normally I would use these fine brushes (let’s say #one or zero) when I finish my painting in the studio.

Depending what you use to clean your brushes in the studio, you should take the same thing to paint outside. I mostly use old T-shirts and rags so this is what I take with me to clean my brushes when I paint on location. 

For the sake of time, I also never wash my brushes on location. I wrap cellophane or wax paper around my brushes, pack them, and wash them right after I return home.

I never paint with pallet knives, so I never take them with me to paint outdoors. But this year I decided to give it a try and if pellet knife makes my painting faster, I would probably change my technique a little bit and start using pallet knife a lot more.