Plein-Air Materials List
Plein-Air Materials / Supplies List
Recommendations on this list are products that I have used personally for the most part. I will also give options that I think would also be useful for you.
As with anything else, these are only recommendations and you are free to use whatever you are most comfortable with.
I’ll also try to give you my opinions and reviews regarding the functionality of products too.
The necessary qualities of a good field easel –
Strong and sturdy enough to be able to lean your hand on and not bend, break, or even move. A flat sturdy platform for a fairly decent size painting (not just a bar with clamps to hold a board). It is also extremely helpful to be able to adjust and tilt your painting surface easily in any direction.
The easel needs to be easily adjustable for height and suitable for sitting or standing.
Also heavy enough that it won’t be easily knocked over or blown over by a strong gust of wind.
The link below will direct you to the set-up that I use, and one that I would recommend to anyone who is serious about watercolor painting. This package has nearly everything you need for painting except the brushes, paint, and a few incidentals. The palette is very useful for mixing, not necessarily for storing paint in, I always have my trusty field palette with me that I hold in my hand while I paint anyway. I’ll give a link for that below also.
Looking this product over, I believe the only difference between this one and the one above is the location of the water container (more convenient actually) and the palette may have fewer wells and a smaller mixing area, but not a big deal. It’s also a back-pack as opposed to a duffle.
I don’t have special brushes that I use specifically for plein-air painting, and my recommendation is not to change your approach just because you are outside. If you think you need a variety of brushes and different sizes, I think you’ll be surprised at how few brushes you actually need.
I like to have at least two good quality mop brushes in a size 6 and a size 3 (natural hair) to get my initial washes onto the paper quickly. I personally try to use this type of brush through most of the process simply because I can continue on with a loose style, but this may not be suitable for you as you have to be comfortable giving up a lot of control. Once I have my general underpainting completed, I may switch to a synthetic to tighten things up a bit and gain a little control.
This is me though, You can also go through the entire plein-air painting process with synthetics of different sizes.
One of the natural hair brands that I use and would highly recommend, is the Isabey Original Siberian Blue Squirrel Quill Mop in a size #6 and a size #3
Isabey Original Siberian Blue Squirrel Brush - Quill Mop, Short Handle, Size 6
Isabey Original Siberian Blue Squirrel Brush - Quill Mop, Short Handle, Size 3
A cheaper alternative to the Isabey natural hair brush, would be the 3 set watercolor mop brushes below. I found these on Amazon and I can’t be confident in their quality, as I have not used their product before, but if these are squirrel hair watercolor brushes, they are a steal.
Dainayw Professional Watercolor Paint Brushes, Mop Round Squirrel Hair Paint Brush Set for Art Painting, Gouache, Artist Quality Supplies Red Handle (3 Brushes)
As far as synthetics are concerned, I still recommend the Winsor & Newton Cotman series round brushes that I have students use in workshops. Go with what you know as far as selecting sizes.
Just remember, the bigger the brush, the more water it will hold and the bolder and looser you can be with your strokes.
A good watercolor field palette should be sturdy, something that you can be comfortable holding in your hand, and have a few good deep wells for mixing paint in. I use my palette in combination with the mixing area in the palette that comes with the En Plein Air Pro kit listed above.
I use a large plastic palette for plein-air painting and it worked very well, I also use the black metal Schmincke palette. I have this brand in a couple of different sizes and they work good. The challenge with metal palettes is that the enamel coating will cause washes or color mixing to bead up and not spread out into the palette, this is important when it comes to gauging color and value. This particular brand, however can be seasoned, so to speak, and will right itself with continued use.
The plastic Mijello palette company seems to have figured out a way around the beading issue.
Especially in their “bulletproof” line. Although the Mijello palette is a little more awkward to hold in your hand, it may show color and consistency better than a metal palette.
Schmincke offers the palette as an empty, stand alone product, and as a package with their brand of pan color pigments. My strong recommendation is to forgo the Schmincke brand of paint and stick to tube colors. Either the Grumbacher Academy or Daniel Smith line.
You can purchase the palette in a couple of different sizes. I use both. The smaller size is great for smaller paintings, the larger size is perfect for bigger washes. It also holds more pigment options.
Link for smaller Schmincke palette:
Link for larger Schmincke palette:
(As of this writing, the larger palette is only $4 more than the smaller size)
Once you have your palette, you’ll need to purchase the plastic pans to fill it up. Pans are what hold the pigment inside your palette. Each individual pan has its own color and they pop right into your palette.
You can purchase these individually, which is usually very expensive, or you can buy them by the dozens, which is what I do. They are just cheap generic plastic pans, but they work just as well as the name brands for much less money.
Once you have the pans, just snap them into your palette and squeeze out your pigment into them.
Pigment / Paint
Use the same pigment that you are used to using in your studio. There is no special pigment to buy for plein air painting, and no reason to use anything different.
My recommendation when it comes to pencils is to eliminate the need for sharpening and go with a simple mechanical pencil.
Here are the links to one of my favorites.
Spray Bottle / Atomizer
A spray bottle / atomizer can come in very handy when painting on location. Not only can it help with blending and mixing on the paper, but it also will slow down the drying process if needed.
I use a simple little 2oz. Holbein spray bottle. The key is in the amount of water that comes out of the sprayer, as well as how fine the mist is.
Binder clips are always a good thing to have with you to help secure your paper to your board if you need to. I like to keep a few of the larger 2” clips in my plein air bag just in case I need them.
There is no need, of course, to bring an entire roll of paper towels with you, but be sure to bring as many as you think you may need. I like to take a few off of the roll and fold them up and put them into a large gallon size zip-lock bag inside my larger plein air bag. This protects them from getting dirty or wet.
Some artists like a border around their artwork, others like to use binder clips. Completely up to you and whatever your preference is. I usually throw a roll in my bag so I have the option.
Collapsible Water Container
Obviously, any disposable cup or container that holds water will suffice, but if you want something that holds a little more water, and fits into a compact space for travel, a collapsible water container is great.
There are a number of different ways you can go when it comes to painting boards. You want to have a sturdy surface to paint on, at the same time you want it to be light in weight.
I use both Masonite board as well as Gatorboard to paint on when I’m on location.
Both work great. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Gatorboard is very light, but a little thicker than Masonite and a little less stable. Masonite is heavier, so it will be more weight to carry, but I think it is a stabler surface to paint on. I have also seen artists who use corrugated plastic sheets, but can’t recommend them as I have not tried them.
You’ll have to decide for yourself which one you prefer. Below is a link for both Masonite, and Gatorboard.
11 x 14 Masonite (6 – pack):
Gatorboard 16 x 20 (single sheet – Couldn’t find 11 x 14 or 13 x 17 which would be the ideal. You may have to cut down a larger sheet) Also, be careful not to purchase foam core board, which is a different product altogether.
Compact Collapsible Travel Chair
You will probably want to have a small portable chair of some kind. Especially if you are traveling to Morro Bay for the watercolor retreat in September. There are a number of different types of collapsible chairs on the market that will fit the bill and are small enough to put in your plein air bag.
Here is a link to one that I think would be great, and have been wanting to purchase for a while.
CLIQ Portable Chair Camping Chairs - A Small Collapsible Portable Chair That Goes Every Where Outdoors. Compact Folding Chair for Adults That Sets Up in 5 Seconds | Camping Chair Supports 300 Lbs (Amazon)
Here is another one that looks pretty cool.
Just about every person has a camera in their cel-phone, that is really all you need. If you don’t, any small digital camera will suffice.
Umbrella with a Clamp
Protecting yourself from the elements is important, and so is shielding your artwork from bright light.
There are a number of options for a good clamp-on umbrella. I have listed a couple of those options below for you.
Some other items that may be useful:
A good hat with a brim to shield you from the sun.
A large sheet of plastic, or a large plastic garbage bag to cover your artwork in case of rain.