Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Plein Air Essentials for Watercolor Painters!

Springtime is upon us, and that means it's Plein Air season! Several students have asked me what they should bring on our plein air excursions so I've written up a little article here with some photos to show you. The items shown here are for a simple day of plein air using watercolors. When I paint in plein air competitions, I pack much more supplies. See what and how I pack for plein air competitions, here. And when I pack to teach watercolor workshops or demonstrations for art supply stores,, I pack completely differently and take a lot more supplies and a totally different set up. See what and how I pack for watercolor workshops, here.

But when I want a relaxing day of painting en plein air and I don't want to schlepp a ton of gear around, this is what I pack...

Basic supplies for watercolor plein air
1. blocks of watercolor paper.
2. folding palette of watercolor pans with brushes and other supplies inside.
3. bottles of water
4. collapsible pet bowls for water containers.
5. folding penknife to remove paintings from the watercolor blocks.
6. sunscreen
7. snacks
8. cell phone (a no-brainer, really)

Not pictured, a folding chair and a roll of paper towels that stay in the trunk of my car. I don't take a whole roll of paper towels with me when I go out to paint, rather, I tear off just a few sheets and shove them in my pockets. Two or three sheets of paper towels will last me all day. And, I don't always carry a chair out with me, either. If there's a nice spot of lawn to sit on or a bench, that's much more convenient.

The collapsible pet bowls are the best water containers that I've ever found. The bases are much more broader than other collapsible containers, making them very stable. Also, the rims are much thinner than anything else I've discovered, so when they are collapsed they are less than a half an inch thick. I have bought several of these, and I now keep some in all my plein air kits and in my travel kit for teaching.

My folding palette, opened
 I keep a lot of little things inside my folding palette, ready to go for a day of painting. Some people pack their brushes and supplies separately, but I like to keep everything I need together, so I don't forget anything when I go out. My palette contains my favorite colors, some in full pans and some in half pans. Most travel tins come with a selections of half pans, but you can always buy individual pans and replace the colors, or even buy empty pans and fill them yourself.

Detail of the items in my folding palette
Here's a detailed photo of the brushes and other items in my folding palette.

The brushes are collapsible travel brushes so they take up less space, and I only take three rounds and a flat. The rounds are #4, #8, and #12, and most are natural hair squirrels, sables, and Kolinsky's. The natural hair brushes are expensive, but the extra cost is worth it as they hold more fluid so I can get them to perform like much larger brushes when I want them to. The flat moppy looking one is actually a little makeup brush, the kind that come inside a compact of cheek rouge. These little mop brushes are useless for applying makeup, but are just the right size for adding to a watercolor plein air kit and using for washes! 

I save my pencil stubs just for the sake of having short pencils for my plein air kits, and I keep a little pencil sharpener in the kit with it. 

I often start my plein air watercolors with an ink sketch, and I carry a Uniball roller pen for that. I discovered this brand of pen back in my days of doing architectural renderings and other commercial art. The ink is highly light-fast and doesn't bleed when wet. 

The little scrap of sandpaper is for getting extra texture in my watercolors, and so are the packets of salt which come from fast food joints. 

I work fairly small when I paint en plein air, so I don't need much of an eraser. I cut one up and just carry a small piece of an eraser in my kit. 

Finally, I like to test my brushstrokes when I'm painting, so I always carry a scrap of watercolor paper in my palette. A thin strip fits nicely on top of it all, and also helps to absorb any excess drips when I close up my wet palette at the end of the day.

 I started painting en plein air in California, back in the 1990's. Back then, we didn't have the competitions like we do today. We didn't even call it "plein air" back then, we used to call it "hey, let's get together and paint out this weekend." I belonged to two groups in California that used to go out and take advantage of the warm dry natural light to paint outdoors -- there were only two groups back then, in the central coast area between San Luis Obispo and San Franciso . One group met on Saturdays, and we would go to Carmel, San Juan Batista, Monterey, Salinas, Hollister, Pinnacles National Monument, and other areas within a short drive of the San Benito valley. The other group was based further north near San Jose, and we go out out once a month to nearby seed farms and vineyards to paint. Both groups were informal, and we would have anywhere from just two artists to maybe ten at the most, on any given excursion.

I love taking my paints outside and spending a relaxing day painting in the fresh air. I hope you can join me!

posted by Annie Strack @ 2:13 PM   0 Comments


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All images and content copyright Annie Strack 2018 Although I occasionally receive compensation for some posts, I always give my honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely my own.