Plein Air Painting – Preparing for your First Outing

Plein air painting always looks like so much fun. There’s the painters in the floppy hats, easel at the ready, staring intently at a gorgeous landscape. The easel with canvas sits before them.

But what if you don’t own an easel? What if you’ve never painted at a plein air before? What do you expect? How do you prepare?

The Basics
All you need in order to paint plein air is yourself, a paintbrush, some paints in a small travel kit, some water or a rag for rinsing, and a notebook. That’s it. Nothing else. You can sit on a step or a stone wall. You squirt the water into the palette to mix the paints. You paint what you see!

Here’s Dennis Smith’s travel kit. He has a small camping fold-out canvas table, too, so he can lay down his paints when he wishes. It holds a water bottle in a corner. You don’t need that, though. You can just rest your paints in your lap or on a nearby step or ledge.

Don’t have a travel kit? Just squeeze a few of your favorite paints into a tupperware before you head out. Or buy a cheap palette. There are all sorts of options. Plein air painting can be incredibly inexpensive and oodles of fun.

Getting Comfy while Plein Air Painting
Most plein air painters buy a cheap camping / beach / folding chair to bring with them. That way they can sit on something reasonably comfy while they paint. Here’s Frank Robertson’s setup. You can also see that he has a small, inexpensive easel. You can get them at most craft stores. They’re light and easy to carry. Frank’s folding chair even has an arm rest with a little shelf on it.

Betty Havens also has a casual folding chair plus a little plastic table to rest her paints on. She simply paints in her lap.

Similarly, here’s a view of Dennis painting with his little fold-out camping-style table alongside him.

Libia brings a vinyl carry-bag to rest her paints on. She even has an umbrella to attach to her chair! Again, no easel required. She just paints on her lap.

Upgrading your Gear

Of course, if you get seriously into plein air painting, you might appreciate having a large, solid easel to hold your work. Here Laura Cenedella has her setup with a large wooden easel and her paints and so on. She’s ready for anything.

So, to summarize, it’s quite fine to start small. Just bring a chair, a few paints, something to paint on (canvas/paper), and something to paint with (paintbrush or two). That’s it! Come and see how delightful it is to paint in the fresh air and to observe a scene in its natural light. Once you give it a try, you might get hooked for life!

paints / brush or pencil etc.
surface to paint/draw on
water bottle if needed for paints
rag if needed to clean brushes

umbrella / hat
bug spray
suntan lotion

If you’ve got some tips for us on plein air painting, please let us know and we’ll add them in!