Plein Air Painting - How to Travel with Art Supplies


How to bring your supplies with you in the field!



Thus far, we've covered what plein air painting is, where to go to paint, and what to use for painting it. We've got one last problem though: how do we bring all our materials out into the field for plein air painting — wherever that field may be? Well, over the centuries artists have developed some very clever and convenient methods for travelling with art supplies, and they've only gotten better with time!




To start with, let's pick something to paint on! Whether you're drawing on a pad of paper, painting on a watercolor block, or sketching with oils on canvas, a support is needed for any surface you plan to work on. Many artists stand while plein air painting, so a portable easel is a good choice. Special easels, often called French easels, were developed to provide not just support, but storage, and include drawers and compartments for carrying paints and brushes within the easel. However, French easels can be a bit of a hassle to haul around, so if you're not in need of the storage as well, a simple travel easel can suffice. And conversely, if you plan to sit whilst painting, whether at a table or on the ground, a selection of table easels and drawing boards could be just the ticket! The key is to decide how best you like to paint, and choose the perfect plein air easel to match your style.

Recommended Plein Air Easels:

French Easel

Travel Easel

Drawing Board


Painting palettes can be as basic as a plank of wood, or an incredibly complicated and specifically sculpted piece that's an artwork in itself. Whichever style of palette you prefer, however, it is an absolutely necessary plein air painting supply! The surface on which you choose to mix your paint depends much on which painting medium you're using. Watercolors mix well in a palette with wells so water doesn't spill everywhere; oils blend nicely on smooth surfaces; and acrylics work great in a palette with an airtight seal that keeps them wet and workable. The choices are virtually limitless, and many artists like to keep quite a few palettes "in rotation" at any one time, to maximize their painting options.

Recommended Painting Palettes for...




Solvent Containers

Very few paints are used completely alone — with no mediums, water or solvent mixed in. Using water or solvent widens the effects achievable in any given paint, but poses a problem for transportation. We can't just bring a water bottle into the field and paint directly from it, nor lug a whole can of turpentine everywhere we go. Luckily, we have many options open to us for bringing fluids and mediums plein air painting, without spilling them all over the place. As with palettes, which container you choose depends on your paint — and hence whichever medium or solvent you plan to use with it!


Recommended Containers for...


Turpentine / Mineral Spirits


Bags & Carriers

While we could go plein air painting with nothing more than a French easel, various bags, packs and carriers certainly make field life easier. Whether you need to carry extra paper and canvas, snacks and sunglasses, or every tube of paint you've ever owned, chances are you're going to need a way to haul it around. Tote bags and satchels are perfect for sketchbooks and small supplies, with their wide array of pockets. Carts and bins are great for rolling heavy items and large canvases across rough terrain. And there are even special carriers designed for hauling nothing less than a whole easel! Going out into the field for plein air painting doesn't need to be a hassle, if you've got everything packed up and ready to go!

Recommended Carriers:

Tote Bag

Rolling Cart

Easel Carrier


Wherever we go when plein air painting, however we get there, chances are after a while we'll want to sit down and have a rest — or we may want to spend our whole painting session sitting. Since bringing armchairs and drafting stools into the field isn't really an option, a good portable seat is invaluable. From a basic folding canvas stool to a comfy chair with included storage, finding a seat out in the open doesn't have to mean plopping down in the dirt!


Recommended Portable Seating:



Seating with Storage

And there we go! By now, we know all about plein air painting, where we should go, what we should use, and how we should bring it with us. And just in time, because plein air painting season is here!

We hope you've enjoyed our tips and trips through plein air painting! What are your plans for the season? Spring into plein air season, and tell us about it in the comments below!


Plein Air Painting - Which Paint to Use


Best mediums for drawing and painting en plein air!


In our series on plein air painting thus far, we've covered the definition and history of outdoor art, as well as some popular places for creating it. But what should we use when painting or drawing en plein air? Today we'll discuss the pros and cons of some of the most popular plein air painting media, so you can choose for yourself what to take into the field!




Pencils are perhaps the most basic of plein air media — and some of the most versatile! Whether using plain graphite, charcoal pencils, or vibrant colored pencils, drawing pencils are capable of rendering all the detail of nature, as well as overarching impressions of its greatness. In addition, the set-up for drawing en plein air is perhaps the simplest of all: your chosen pencils, and a pad of paper with a stiff backing are technically all you need!


Recommended Drawing Pencils:





Pastels are a unique medium, bridging the gap between dry and wet media. Artworks done in pastels are called "paintings" for a reason, as the pastel artist can get as much depth of color and expression as from wet paints — but all from a comparatively "dry" media in stick form. For plein air paintings in pastel, all that's needed would be the chosen pastel (soft, oil, or semi-hard), a pad of heavyweight, stiff pastel paper, and if so desired, water (for soft pastels) or solvent (for oil pastels) and a brush to wet-blend directly on the artwork surface.


Recommended Pastels:





Many people immediately think of watercolors when they think of plein air painting: of the "wet media" options, watercolors are the most portable, as well as being — essentially — specifically developed for outdoor painting. To paint plein air with watercolors, a few more supplies are needed: paints, brushes, and water, obviously; a block of watercolor paper; and some form of easel or support system. Many brands of watercolor paint have convenient, inclusive sets designed for travel that make bringing paints into the field an easy exercise.


Recommended Watercolors:

Artist Watercolors

Student Watercolors

Watercolor Sets


Acrylic paints are the newest addition to the plein air painting repertoire, and in themselves are also a very versatile one. Acrylics can be thinned down to resemble watercolor, or laid on thick for oil-like impasto techniques, and they dry to permanence comparatively quickly. For artists using acrylics to paint plein air, a larger, more cumbersome set-up is needed, including canvases, paints, palettes, water, easel, brushes and more.


Recommended Acrylics:






Oil colors are the classic plein air painting medium, the one preferred by artists like Monet and Renoir, and the one most frequently thought of when considering the subject. Oils are ideal for capturing the play of light over a landscape, but certain preparations and precautions need to be taken when painting en plein air with oil colors. In addition to all the necessary painting supplies of paints and medium, easel and canvas, the oil painter also needs a way to bring wet canvases back home once the plein air painting session is done. Additionally, modern alkyd and drying mediums can speed the drying time of oil colors.

Recommended Oil Colors:




So there you have it! A brief overview of the most popular plein air painting and drawing mediums. From the most basic set up of pencil and paper, to a full-blown portable oil painting studio, any artist can enjoy creating art outdoors in any medium they prefer. And stay tuned for next time, when we discuss the best way to bring all your art supplies with you when you travel!

What about you? What's your favorite drawing or painting medium for working en plein air? What is it that you like or dislike about it? Tell us about it in the comments below!


Plein Air Painting - Where To Paint


Best places for painting landscapes en plein air!



In our last post, we discussed the definition and history of plein air painting; determining that the simplest definition is "painting nature from within nature." Today, we'll take a little trip to discover said nature, and pick out a few perfect locations for plein air paintings!



People have always had a dynamic relationship with nature. Nature is beautiful; it is also dangerous and, at times, downright scary. But whether we are revering nature or fearing it, there is always a sense of awe attached. Nature is wondrous. It is bigger than us, it can demolish us, but we are stricken with a sense of amazement when we truly experience it, even through a secondary medium like a photograph.

This is probably why nature painting, specifically landscape painting (and, in terms of our discussion, plein air painting) has been such a popular art form across time and cultures. The two main traditions are found in Western painting and Chinese art and both forms can be traced back over a thousand years. The term "landscape" was originally introduced to the English language in the 17th century and was used exclusively for classifying works of art. It was a hundred years before it was used to describe the real thing.

Landscape paintings generally include three elements: a natural wonder such as a mountain, waterfall, or canyon; a view of the sky; and an element of weather. People are sometimes included, and when they are, we get the sense that they serve a purpose: to be dwarfed by their surroundings.

As an artist, you can be selective about what you include. Who holds the paintbrush holds the power here. Some artists have painted landscapes from photographs they have taken, but there are complicated techniques involved, and it is best to experience the site first-hand so that you can transfer the emotions of the experience to others who will later view the painting.

If you've been itching to take a trip to explore your landscape painting skills, you're in luck! We've come up with five great places for plein air landscapes. Different painters have different preferences, so here they are in no particular order:

Southwest US

  • The American Southwest Georgia O'Keeffe was particularly fond of northern New Mexico for her landscapes. You can also check out the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona. Sedona, AZ is particularly popular in the fall; they host an arts festival every October.

New England

  • New England is also a popular place during the autumn season. The leaf-changing sparks its own category of tourism. It's also a lovely place to paint, and Maine specifically is a favorite spot for landscapes. Its location in the hemisphere grants it a uniquely slanted light; the Island of Monhegan and Acadia National Park are both the subjects of many beautiful paintings.


  • Yosemite National Park, which boasts from its website: "Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra." Yosemite is a one-stop-shop for some of nature's finest specimens, including the famous El Capitan mouantin.


  • Yellowstone National Park Best known for its collection of geysers, but also the home of the Morning Glory Pool — which looks something like if an asteroid hit the Earth and left a rainbow-colored crater in its wake. Few places on the planet offer such unique plein air painting subjects as Yellowstone!


  • If you're in the mood for someplace really exotic, try Bali, Indonesia. A tropical wonder that includes beaches, islands, mountains, volcanoes, and waterfalls; not to mention some of the most stunning architecture.

Monet in his garden

There you go! An extremely limited and by no means exhaustive tour of some popular places for plein air painting. However, if you're not planning on traveling much this plein air season, never fear! Some of the best plein air paintings have been painted from — essentially — the artist's own back yard. Just ask Monet, the father of modern plein air painting, whose most beloved subject was his own garden!  And of course, don't forget about seascapes and cityscapes, both of which are also perfect fodder for plein air painting! Stay tuned for our next post, where we'll tackle the best supplies for plein air painting: and how to bring them with you when you do travel!

What about you? Where have you gone to paint en plein air? Or if this will be your first outdoor painting season, where will you go? What's your dream painting location? Let us know in the comments below!


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