October 3, 2010

Plein Air Packing Tips + Product Reviews

How to Pack and Prep for Plein Air Painting
Inside Out Information of on location painting

After all the reading and research I have done over the summer I finally took the plunge this week and headed out to paint on location. It was quite an adventure, as artist and author Carolyn Lewis says plein air painting is an extremely humbling experience. I painted out doors on site three different days this week at four different locations. What can I say I guess I caught the painting bug!

After painting “en plein air” I have new tips, tricks, and ideas to share. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes to make the best experience plein air painting! Some of these recommendations are obvious but easily over looked - especially if you are in a rush to head out the door.

I can pack for a vacation and bring only the bare essentials without the slightest problem. Unfortunately this is not the case when it comes to packing up art stuff. I have a tendency to bring every tube of paint, almost every brush I own and lots of other unnecessary odds and ends from the studio. So you can see why packing is such a struggle for me!

This is definately something I'm working on because packing light really pays off. If I had been better at leaving things behind I would have spent less time carrying my equipment to and from location and my car. It also would have been easier and more effecit for me to walk around while I was selecting my composition scene. Keep this in mind while you're sturggling with what to leave behind and bring with when going out to paint.

The bare essentials: you need to bring
  • Surface or support- depending on your medium +make sure if your working on paper or canvas (that’s not on stretchers or is not attached to panel) 
  • Something sturdy to attach it to – either a drawing board, piece of masonite direct from home depot, even a regular clip board if it is the correct size for your artwork
  • Water
  • Sunglasses
  • Cart, or wheely bag, or backpack to transport everything in
  • Paper towels
  • Baby wipes to make clean up easier
***Things for oil painters specifically
  • Turpintine or odorless mineral sprits (OMS) to clean brushes
  • Metal Brush washer to carry turps/ or OMS – preferably something on the smaller side that is very tightly sealed ideally air tight to avoid leaks and evaporation of solvent 
  • Razor blade to clean palette quickly 
  • Palette knife + brushes (the bare minimum you can survive with)
  • Something to protect and carry paint brushes and palette knife in 
  • Plyers or channel lock easily open 
  • Pencil and or charcoal if you sketch with those
  • Rag(s) depending on your painting style (people who palette knife paint tend to need to clean more often
***Additional recommendations
  • Snack – especially if your planning on spending a long time
  • Hat or visor 
  • Easel or tripod or pochade box – basically just something that can hold your work surface and hold your essential materials
  • Tripod – if your set up requires it
  • Bag to carry it all in - if you have a bad back look into a luggage cart 
  • Magnetic Clips great for holding a rag to wipe brushes or palette knife clean
  • For more information visit the wet canvas plein air forum, also there are lots of helpful links in the resources portion of my website and my favorite video tutorials post

samsonite micro mover

As far as transportation goes I used to have the micro mover by samsonite. The small size was a great feature however it had a lot of trouble staying balanced once all my gear was loaded (brushes, french easel mistress, etc, etc).

mesh cart

Whenever the cart would hit a bump it the road my stuff would nearly fall off (and sometime actually did) Having to readjust and every step wasn't going to work for me.It generally takes me a bit of investigation walking before I settle on a scene so having a wobbly cart was extra obnoxious. So the next time around I borrowed a mesh cart originally made to be a grocery cart! Before I purchased anything I wanted to be sure that it could stand up to my wear and tear.
pointe hand truck 
The mesh cart was much better then the micro mover however it didn't quite fit all of my supplies. One extra nice feature of this cart was that the wheels are replaceable which is nice in case anything ever needed repair.
The third and final cart I tried was the magna cart. This was definately my favorite out of the three. It's more heavy duty then the micro mover or the mesh shopping cart. I saw the magna cart at costco and remebered pointe handtruck  from the blick website. Both of the carts seemed to have approximately the same design - with one major difference price.  I debated about getting the magna cart for the majority of my shopping and eventually decided to get it - sure enough it was perfect for plein air outings!

plexiglass palette for mixing colors 
Another item I was SO happy to have with me for this outing was my french mistress easel. It was the perfect set up for me because it allowed easy access to my wooden palette (where I always have all my common colors laid out warm to cool)  and my plexiglass palette which I use to mix colors. I like to keep my mixing palette separate from my general colors so that I can quickly and easily wipe it clean (- this way I don't have to scrap around remaining paint) a must if you want to get pure color.
  • ---> Also if you are interested in getting a set up similar to the french mistress easel or a fold out wooden palette that is big enough to store a palette full of paint with additional space (it fits mine right below and still has tons of room!) BUT do not want to carry the 10pounds that comes with it check out the french companion easel pal . Had I known it came in a smaller size when I got mine I definitely would have opted for it. You all know what I say about packing ....minimize, minimize, MINIMIZE
wooden palette with colors
(somewhat!) arranged warm to cool
In summary painting outdoors on location requires you to be flexible - in terms of the tools and the materials you bring. Also keep in mind the importance of properly preparing for you painting excursion - a little planning goes a long way. 

SIDENOTE: Another unexpected benefit was exercise – I got more of a work out in three days of carrying my equipment to/ from the car and wandering while I chose my view I then I have the past 3 months! If you have the time and the opportunity definitely give it a try. You will be surprised at how much you learn and how beautiful nature is! 


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