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Preparing for Plein Air Painting

Preparing for Plein Air Painting

We are fast approaching the perfect plein air (painting outdoors) weather and, once the wind and rains are done, we will be able to utilize the gorgeous mornings to capture the beauty around us. Plein air painting can be done with all forms of media including pastel, pencil sketching, watercolor, oils and acrylics. Your success and enjoyment of this wonderful painting exercise lies mostly in how well prepared you are. Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your painting travels in town or country.

Christine Mac Shane’s Material List for En Plein Air Painting.

Our goal in en plein air (painting outside) painting is not just to create a piece from start to finish, but to capture the essence of the scene. It can be a final painting or an exercise in expressive painting or, the first draft of something to be painted back in the studio.

It is important to try and eliminate all the stuff you don’t need both in your artist pack and in your paintings. This is a discipline of editing. First, decide what you want to paint and then decide what you don’t need to keep in your picture. What elements say the most about the scene? What is clutter? Try looking at it from a couple of different angles and decide where best suits your concept.

Do a quick sketch or plunge right in! Is it the deep contrasts of shadows or the bright colors, or even the bustle of life that interest you?

-Keep your color palette lean and clean.

-Keep it simple and save the details for the studio.

-Keep your notebook handy to record any ideas for furthering the painting later. Any ideas to make a series of paintings from this?

**Write your goals for this trip in your notebook so that you can refer to them every painting session.**

  • Easel – You may bring a lightweight easy set up contraption or as simple as a lapboard, whichever you choose, make it work for you.
  • Palette – again your preference. Stay-wet palettes help with evaporation issues. If using watercolors, a small plastic palette with cover will suffice.
  • Paints – I would suggest Golden OPEN acrylic paint in Pyrole Red, Thalo Blue or Manganese Blue, Azo Yellow and White as a basic set. All other colors can be mixed from these. Watercolor painters can bring a small set of paints or, the basics of red, blue and yellow along with resist and eraser or watercolor pencils. A good set of artist grade paints is best so that you do not get stuck with frustratingly poor quality materials. Try them out before you go.
  • Brushes –Take only a few. I like a 1” and a few smaller so that I have some broad stroke brushes and a few detail ones if needed.
  • Canvas – For acrylics -  nothing bigger than 9”x12” or smaller, unless you are ok with hauling them around. I would suggest pre-gessoing 300lb watercolor paper cut or torn to 9”x12” or smaller sizes. Two or three for each day of painting. Canvas panels that have been extra gessoed, up to two per day of painting.
  • Watercolor - bring a small 6”x9”  140lb watercolor tablet or pre-cut 300lb papers.
  • Drawing pencils – bring a small sharpener, eraser and drawing pencils and /or Derwent watersoluble drawing pencil for charcoal effect sketches.
  • Water container – any low or collapsible plastic container is great.
  • Paper towels or cloth for clean up.
  • Table covering – if needed, use garbage bags as needed for table top areas and painters tape.
  • Trash bag – stash one or two small ones in.
  • SKETCH BOOK – important to bring this for ideas, inspirations and notes.
  • Cloth bag –to carry all your daily painting stuff.



Once you know what your airline luggage allowance is (usually 50lbs and under for each bag) you will need to prioritize your packing. Consider a smaller check in bag for art supplies and one for clothing.

I have a second flyer for packing art supplies. Please follow instructions as you could lose all your art supplies if labeled incorrectly.

Also, once you have assembled all your art supplies, please take them on a few expeditions before the trip. I will have some scheduled, but even just to your back yard so you can get a feel for what works and what does not. This will eliminate many issues BEFORE we travel. Remember, if you pack it you carry it. Light and portable is key.


Let me say that again…

LABEL EVERYTHING, TUBES AND ALL, WITH YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFORMATION. Yes, the back of your canvases and sketch book, anything you want to keep.