Saturday, June 10, 2017

Plein Air Packing Part 1

Here is part one of my plein air packing tips. This is a far cry from where I began. I used to drag as much stuff with me as I could. Now I work to condense as much as I can. It seems like every time I go out I try to remove something or find something smaller so I can be more compact.  The ultimate goal for anyone wanting to plein air paint is to pack light enough and get gear that won't be too cumbersome. If setting up your easel takes 45 minutes and is no fun then you'll come up with excuses to not paint. You don't need the fanciest, most expensive gear, just something that will work for you.
This first part is the gear I take when I plan on painting watercolour/casein.  When I want to paint in watercolour I just grab this bag and go.

  1. Corrugated plastic- 11x14 sized piece of corrugated plastic that I use for my board.  It's super lightweight yet tough enough to travel and withstand wind. 
  2. Masking tape. Plain old $0.98/roll masking tape. 
  3. Mini-Lammert Paint Box- this is the smaller version of the Lammert Paint Box. It, along with everything in this photo fits inside the messenger bag.
  4. Bug Soother-any bug spray is better than no bug spray but this brand is really nice. It's all natural and has a pleasant scent and most of all works. 
  5. Tissues-an all year 'round necessity. 
  6. Pencil Case-contains tons of stuff that will be listed in an upcoming photo.
  7. Bottled water-no brand in particular and I reuse the bottle. This is for painting but if I get too thirsty and forget something for drinking I can drink this. 
  8. Mesh Reinforced Vinyl Zip Bag-This is an 11x14 size that holds watercolour paper of various sizes. This brand and size was found at Hobby Lobby but I can't seem to find a working link on their site. 
  9. Chapstick-Painting outdoors, especially near the water and in windy conditions you need this BUT be careful with what kind of lip balm you choose. If it smells too sweet you attract gnats and other annoying bugs. If it's too sticky those same bugs will get stuck on your lips. Stick with a soft scent. This one in the picture is the Chapstick brand key lime scent. The citrus scent hasn't attracted too many bugs. (yet)
  10. Sunblock- Like the bug spray any brand is better than no brand but I highly recommend this Banana Boat stick. Very VERY light scent, not greasy and the stick practically takes up no space in the bag. 
  11. Clips- These are heavy duty clips that come in handy for many things. If the easel is acting up they can hold parts down. If I run out of tape they can hold down my paper. 
  12. Messenger bag/Backpack- Again any brand will work but this L.L. Bean messenger/backpack is pretty great. It's about 20 years old and hardly shows any wear and tear. Everything fits in it with tons of room left over. 
  13. Sketchbook-any brand and any size sketchbook will work. These are handy for thumbnail sketches and notans so it may be a good idea to find a sketchbook that has a good multi-media paper. 
This is what is packed inside the Lammert Paint Box pictured above. 
  1. Chamois cloth-this one came from the dollar store and is basically one of those crazy Shamwow chamois cloths. These work great for watercolour painting. They're reusuable and I don't have to worry about forgetting paper towels. 
  2. The Lammert Paint Box-they come in two different sizes. This smaller one is perfect for my watercolour setup. 
  3. Spray Bottle- This came from the travel section at Shopko. Shopko is the Midwest's general merchandise store. I only mention it because I've never seen this kind at Target/Wal-Mart etc. The nozzle is adjustable and it locks closed. 
  4. Palette- This Holbein palette fits perfectly inside the paint box.  There are other brands that will fit just fine too.
  5. Faber Castell collapsable water cup.  This collapsable cup is perfect. It's lightweight and cleans up easy. The one pictured here is a couple of years old so it's pretty durable as well. 
  6. Brushes- Rosemary & Co. squirrel hair brushes in sizes 16, 10, 8,6 and 4. To be honest I usually only use the 8 and 4 and the Connoisseur Happy Dot Detail so you don't need to pack a ton of brushes. 
  7. Ruler-I keep a ruler in my pencil case but this one takes up hardly any room so it just kind of hangs out in the paint box. 
This is the pencil case. The pencil case isn't static, the stuff in it always stays the same, but it moves from bag to bag. I can grab it out of my watercolour bag and put it in my oil painting bag and my sketching bag. 
  1. Moo Eraser-This eraser is amazing for erasing charcoal and pastel. 
  2. Kneaded eraser-Love these things. They can double as a stress reliever. 
  3. Pencil/ink eraser-this type of eraser is handy when watercolour painting. The ink side can do some lifting. It stays in the pencil case for when I'm just going out to sketch. 
  4. Pencil sharpener-This pencil sharpener is like the town floosey, everyone has used it. Honestly, they're the one thing most people forget to pack so leaving one in the case has saved many of my friends.
  5. Mini pencil sharpener-this is for my lead holder.  It sharpens the graphite to a perfect point. In a pinch I can use the regular pencil sharpener but I do my best to always have one of these in the case. 
  6. The pencil case-any kind will work, this one came from the dollar store and is about four years old. It's finally starting to show some wear and tear but I'll use it until it completely falls apart. I forgot to label the rubber bands on the outside. They're there for use not because it's holding it together. 
  7. Ruler- After being tired of wishing I had a ruler with me I finally got a small one that fits in the case so I can take it with me whether I need it or not. I use it quite often. 
  8. Cardboard ruler-I wrote about this cardboard ruler in a previous post you can read here. It's not necessary but comes in handy for making the rectangles for sketches. 
  9. Pentel Pilot Petite Pen-refillable ink pens come in three sizes. I use this one and the next one pictured the most. 
  10. Pentel Pilot Petite Pen-refillable and when the you put the cap on the end it's a relatively normal sized pen. 
  11. Pilot Pocket Brush Pen-my favourite brush pen. Only draw back is it's not refillable. 
  12. Wide tipped black Sharpie-extremely handy for Notans and recently a friend borrowed it to cover a nick on a black frame during a plein air competition. Super handy. 
  13. Prismacolor Drawing Lead Holder- these come in several brands but this is my favourite. It's the best balanced.  Only drawback is the metal clip can sometimes be a pain when when working outdoors, you get a nasty glare from the sun. 
  14. White coloured pencil-rarely use this but comes in handy every once in awhile. 
  15. Princeton Neptune watercolour brush size 4-comes in really handy when going out sketching
  16. Robert Simmons white sable watercolour brush size 6-also comes in handy when sketching. 
  17. Graphite-the tube is from the Staedtler brand but I refill it with Prismacolour graphite because I've found that the Prismacolor brand has way less grit than any other brand. I keep 2B and 6B in it. A 2B is great for drawing with and 6B is wonderful for doing value sketches. 
  18. Waterbrush- I have these in every size available. I keep this one in the pencil case because it holds more water than other brands and is easier to refill. 
  19. White gouache- this is all purpose.  Works for watercolour sketches and value studies.  You can also use it as white-out if needed. 
This may look like a huge list of stuff, and maybe some of it can be omitted but again ALL of it fits inside the bag and actually weighs less than my plein air pastel box alone. Four other things that I've not shown here but always have, usually in my car, my tripod for the paint box, a hat, antibacterial wipes and my phone or a camera. I will compile another list for my oil painting setup and one for my pastel setup. They're pretty much the same with a few variations. I hope this helps. It's not, by any means, what everyone should take with them, but hopefully it gives you some ideas on what to pack for yourself. 


  1. What makes squirrel a good brush material?

    1. John gave a pretty good answer but I'll add that squirrel works comparably to sable but is less expensive. I've also found that the squirrel hair seems to last longer and keep the point longer than sable. I have an expensive Winsor Newton series 7 in a size 8 and rarely ever use it because I prefer the squirrel hair over it.

  2. Will jump in here - hope Jessica doesn't mind. Squirrel holds more liquid per size than kolinsky (way more than nylon) and releases it with as much control as kolinsky and without dumping it like nylon. It wears much better than kolinsky and costs way less. It's "floppy" which takes getting used too (maybe 1/2 an hour?) but that makes broken strokes easier. If you're using stiff paint or gouache it's not so good. That's where nylon brushes shine.

    1. I don't mind and I wish you had answered a few hours ago. I've been doing gouache sketches all day using a sable brush and it feels like I forgot how to paint. Unfortunately the only 1" flat brushes I have are both sable so I'll suffer until I can get a different brush. Is it odd that I think the sable brushes feel mushy?

  3. Great post, I hope it inspires people intimidated by schlepping a lot of gear. Didn't know chapstick came in key lime...YUM!

    1. Yea, the only reason why I stuck with it is because I'm stubborn. If I weren't stubborn I would have given up the first time I dropped my box of pastels. Like I always say, plein air painting is stressful enough you don't need to add more stress by bringing too much stuff and using gear that's going to give you a headache. They make chapstick in so many flavours now. I have one that's birthday cake flavoured that attracts the gnats like polyester to a disco dance floor.