Plein Air means on site, on location, out in the environment. The art of painting on site is to capture the energy and light of any time and location. Plein Air painting has become a big part of my painting process these past few years. That means as an artist, I have to take my studio with me. So I stuff all my painting essentials in to my Plein air pack.
The 3 essentials for plein air – palette box /easel, paint, and brushes. Plein Air painting can get quite challenging trekking out to a great spot. So keep the gear light. Most plein air painters will recommend a light weight plein air easel that quickly mounts to an adjustable tripod. I have had the EasyL -Pro, for a few years now. It works pretty well. It’s fast and easy to set up, moderate mixing area, and very stable. Many others recommend the Joshua Bean palette, since it is more modular for different mediums and significantly lighter. Soltek make a few different models too. Do some research for which will fit your style and needs best.
You will of course need paints and medium / solvents. If you use solvents of any type you need a durable airtight metal container for the solvent. I switched to water soluble paints about six years ago. I simply need my limited paints and a small container for my water. I use Windsor Newton Artisan paints. I typically work with 10 tubes [a warm & cool of each primary R,Y,B, +Quinacridone, Cad Red Lt, and White]. You can carry the fresh paint you need in an airtight pill box. Yes, you will drop your stuff, a lot!
Brushes – keep it simple and clean. In the studio I use a variety of brush sizes. For plein air, it is usually 3-4 brush sizes, 4, 6, 12 brights or filberts. Find what works best for pushing the paint around an cleans up easy with minimal solvents. I prefer a travel zipper case that holds them flat so the tips stay in good shape while trekking about. Even better for keeping dirty brushes from spreading wet paint everywhere and does not require much room in the pack.
Recommend supplies: palette knife, panels, paper towels, small sketchbook/pencil/pen, and small trash bags. One medium sized back pack with extra padding in the back and straps and plenty of easy zip pockets for stuff and water bottle. Don’t forget to pack your personal gear too: sunblock, hat, bug spray, small pack of baby wipes, light jacket, comfortable good traction shoes, and small snacks. Make a list of must haves and hopefully all of it will fit into one pack. Don’t forget plenty of safe cool water for the day out, poor hydration leads to headaches and paintings frustrations.
Heavy and cumbersome does not make for a happy artist, nor does it encourage good plein air practices. I generally try to carry my stuff in one back pack. But not everything actually fits into a backpack. And the bigger the bag the heavier the load. So I recently sat down to re-evaluate all the stuff I wanted to carry. Eventually I started looking at what I actually needed to carry. I generally leave it the panel box in the car , no need to carry extra bulk. Final weight for my paint pack with the EasyL comes in just under 10lbs with 10 oz paint water, insulated canteen 24 oz , and a my tripod strapped on.
I am always looking for a better set up, but that will only come with more painting and searching for what works for me out in the field. So for now it works.