I’ve been asked often about my plein air setup … (What’s plein air? Painting outside, from real life!) and it’s about time I tackled the topic!

Part of the delay has been getting to know what works for me. I’m part of a few groups of artists who go out regularly to paint or sketch, and I see what others do and have been learning from them. Sometimes learning what NOT to do! There are a few folks who carry so much with them that they end up rattling and creaking down a path dragging a wagonload of supplies with them; for oil painters that’s often necessary because there’s just so much stuff. But for watercolorists – if you need more than a backpack, I feel like you’re overdoing it!

Note: Supplies are linked in the supply list at the end of this post. Compensated affiliate links may be used  – that means if you make a purchase using my links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support of my work on this blog!  Read more.

Watch the video below or click HERE to see it in HD on YouTube.

I carry three things: Loctote backpack, my easel bag, and something to carry my paper in. Scroll down for my lists of what’s in them all!

Backpack

Unless you’re doing a major trip, overnighting, etc, keep it as simple as you can. If you come home regularly and find something wasn’t used, take it off your list for future trips.

  • Loctote bag – I bought it for security as I travel to cities, and this thing is a tank! It’s heavier than I sometimes wish, but I keep so little in it, that it’s not really a problem. It can’t be cut through, pickpocketed, etc, and if I want I can put a padlock on the drawstring. It’s serious!
  • Watercolors. I use my normal palette with my Daniel Smith paints in it, usually, though I have some specialty palettes for specific things – color sets for beaches, Puerto Rico, etc. Take a smallish palette, don’t take a giant 9 x 12 tray.
  • Brushes. I take only 2-3! And no travel brushes for plein air (though sometimes I’ll take one for urban sketching where it’s even more important to take less!) I take my Maestro 14 round and my Winsor Newton 10 round. For certain subjects the third will be a tiny brush for details but normally just these two brushes.
  • Water bottle and water container – I bring my nesting brush washer.
  • Pencil – I bring my Tutto3 so I have a variety of line weights and intensity for sketching.
  • Kneaded EraserPrismacolor makes the best one. Nice and soft without being gooey.
  • Spray bottle – I like a small one.
  • A snack or lunch if you’ll be out through a meal. I often do a big breakfast and then only need a power bar and water.
  • Leave at the car: bug spray and sunscreen, just apply before heading out!

Easel bag

  • I use a Blick brand easel – mine came with the little bag I showed in the video, though it’s not pictured on their website. I’m still on the lookout for a new easel, smaller maybe – but that’s only for the eventuality that I may do a backpacking trip sometime. Which is highly unlikely, but if I found a great easel I may have to test it out. LOL.
  • If I pack the bag really well I can fit my Guerilla Painter Umbrella inside with its connector bits. It has silver on the top to reflect light, black underneath to keep color from doing weird things to color – and a little gap to supposedly keep light winds at bay. It clamps onto any part of whatever contraption you use. It takes some getting used to in figuring out how to get it at the right height and angle for you.
  • If you don’t have an easel bag no worries. Lots of easels will strap onto a backpack easily.

Paper bag

  • I use the case from a flat LED studio light I once purchased, it’s just the right size; but you can make one easily from a couple pieces of cardboard taped together. Fashion a paper handle.
  • Watercolor paper. I use the good stuff; I used to try to use up the ick because I was guaranteed fails anyway outside – but found that I wasn’t learning anything by using the ick! So I use sheets of Arches or Saunders Waterford, torn into quarter sheets. (Fold repeatedly along the edge you want to tear, then tear it. Leaves a nice deckled edge.)
  • To mount paper, I use a Grafix Incredible Board – cut to just larger than my 1/4 sheets. Mount paper with 1″ white artists tape at home and you don’t have to carry tape. I take 2 prepped boards for day trips.
  • Sketchbook – like a Stillman & Birn or whatever you like for quick studies. Mixed media work great.

The scene I was painting from….