I am a wanna-be watercolor painter…
A few years ago I took a class and I was hooked. But there is a huuuuge learning curve involved and I’m still at the bottom of the curve 🙂
In the summer when we are in northern Michigan, I love packing up my paints and heading outdoors. The sights around here are too beautiful not to take a crack at painting.
But plein air painting can be a real challenge for a rookie like me.
It never fails that I forget something… or I can’t quite figure out what to bring and what to leave at home.
As fall draws nearer, I thought there might be other rookies out there struggling to master watercolor painting outdoors. So while I’m no expert, I am a student of the “learned this the hard way school.“
Plein Air Painting in the Amber Light of Fall
While I love summer, there is something about the amber light of fall that draws me in. It is my favorite time of year to paint outside.
It might also be because I want to spend as much time outdoors as I can before the cold winds begin to blow off the Great Lakes…
So here are a few rookie plein air painter packing tips I’ve learned the hard way… hope they help!
Less is Better When Packing Plein Air Painting Supplies
While it might be tempting to pack of everything you think you might need, it sure makes it harder for you to move around and enjoy different locations.
Here what I now consider to be my basics:
A small traveling palette. Mine is actually a pill container! The artist Catherine Carey recommended it to those of us who took her Watercolor Journal class last summer. It has a spot for 7 different paint colors and a larger place for mixing.
Paint colors: I pre-load my plein air painting kit with what seem to be my own personal basic colors: hookers green, cadmium yellow, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, madder lake (its a rosey pink I love), and yellow ochre. I also stash tubes for a few others I use more often like sap green, viridian and cadmium red. Personal choice on this one!
Water supply: I have an aluminum water bottle that seals well. I fill it up with cold water before I head out. Once I’ve landed, I use it to fill an old peanut butter jar. (It also gives me something to drink on hot days outdoors!)
Brushes: This can be a tricky one! But I try to limit myself to just 2 or 3 brushes. What I’ve found works best for me when I’m painting outside are the 6 and 10 brushes. I’ve also recently caved and bought a water brush. It stores water in the base of the brush. I’m still getting the hang of using it…
Paper: I alternate between using blue painter’s tape to secure a current project to a board I hold on my lap or just taking a small watercolor journal.
I learned the hard way that taping projects down when you are working outside is important! (Duh right?)
I like the blue painter’s tape because it doesn’t rip my paper when I remove it.
This is my favorite watercolor sketchbook/journal.
The page paper is heavy and the front and back covers are very solid. Makes it easier to hold on your lap and paint!
Odds and Ends: A few other things I throw in my bag are paper towels, small package of wet wipes (cuz I always manage to get paint on myself!), pencils, kneaded eraser, fine-tip black marker pens, sunscreen, and one of those clip-on Off Bug Repellant Fans.
Chair of Choice: I’ve seen a wide variety of chairs fellow artists use to paint outdoors. I like a folding, camping chair that is lower to the ground. That makes it easier to reach the supplies I tend to spread out around my feet. They are also light weight and usually come with a carrying bag. It makes it easier to tote around when you are trying to find just the right spot to paint.
Hat: I used to always try to paint with sun glasses on. Never worked for me! They would end up on top of my head with me then squinting to try to paint in the sun. A fellow artist suggested a hat. I’ll confess… I’ve never been a hat person. Just don’t have the face for it. But I bought one anyway and it works. No more squinting and I can still see to paint.
View Finder for Setting the Scene
My final tip is one I’m just getting started with…
I ordered a View Finder.
When I’m trying to paint a scene I’m enjoying outdoors, I really struggle to figure out exactly what to sketch and paint. Then I noticed a few fellow painters using view finders to get started. It seems pretty smart to me… Fingers crossed!
The entire contents of my Plein Air Painting bag…
I hope it saves you a little time and trouble if you are just beginning to enjoy painting in the great outdoors!
“…I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house so I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathaniel Hawthorne