My Favorite Plein Air Tools and Equipment


Winslow Homer, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains, 1868

I wasn't always a plein air painter.  Don't get me wrong, I liked doing it, but it was such a hassle to get outdoors to paint.  Why?  Because of the time it took to organize my supplies and schlep it to the site.  Having the right tools and supplies is a total game changer, one that will make each trip much more enjoyable.  

Lightweight is key.  Particularly when it comes to your easel. 
One of the heaviest and often cumbersome pieces of equipment can be the easel.  There is a LOT out there on the market going the full range from high quality to completely worthless.  Even the highest quality easels can be, in my opinion, a real pain to transport, so it's important to find an easel that is compact, light and compatible with other lightweight equipment.  My personal choice is the Open Box M palette/panel holder.  It's compact, light as a laptop, and easily compatible with my camera tripod (which is also very portable).  

Once I have my easel and tripod ready the rest is quick, as it's already in my canvas bag of supplies.  

Paints
I try to limit the number of tubes of paint I bring with me, again for ease of carrying.  If given my preference I'd bring 5 colors and no more, of which I can make nearly any color I need.  Those are Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber, and White.  I may bring a sixth tube of Veridian Green.  For those of you that know your color wheel well (if not I'll be posting more on it), you have three primary colors and a light and dark color for value.  I typically buy the smaller 38ml tubes, which last a while and are easy to transport.  

Brushes
I bring at least 15 brushes with me, but I think that's too much.  I'd be happy with six brushes, 3 flats and 3 brights of varying sizes.  When plein air painting I rarely paint very large, so fewer brushes is ok with me. 

Painting Surface
This is, again, a totally personal preference, but I prefer to paint on a panel (canvas or otherwise) for a few reasons.  First, it's lightweight and easy to carry.  Second, you can carry your finished paintings in a panel carrier at the end of the session, which is much harder to do with a stretched canvas.  And finally, a panel is opaque, and sunlight will not shine through the surface like it will with a canvas before it's built up with layers of paint. 

Other items
Mediums:  I typically use a mix of 50% Mineral Spirits and 50% Linseed Oil.  Depending on the weather I may adjust this mix more...warmer - more linseed oil, cooler - less.  I find it best to pre-mix this before the session and bring on a separate container.  
Paper towels: Necessary for wiping brushes as you paint, and general cleanup.  Don't forget these.  
Panel Carrier: You'll want to consider how you'll get your panel(s) or canvas(es) back after your painting session is done.  There are many ways to do this, like the Raymar Wet Painting Carriers.  
Clothing: If I've learned anything from painting outdoors in various weather is that it's almost always colder while painting than I think it will be.  From experience, I learned I need to overdress every time because when I paint I need to feel warm enough.  If I'm too hot then I shed a layer.  Just consider the weather and how that can affect your work for a couple of hours.  Oh, and bring a hat with a visor!