Painting en plein air

If I am travelling by public transportation, I tape my painting to the inside of a shallow box, and then put on the cover. Usually my canvas is already taped to a flat piece of cardboard, so taping THAT down does not touch the painting at all!

Links on Impressionism:

My Open Box M palette/panel holder. A 10x12" weights 1.75 ibs, an 11x14" weighs 3 lbs. They have other sizes.

What do you need to take with you? 

• something to hold your painting surface--a pochade box, or simple aluminum A-frame easel

• surface to paint on: paper, canvas, panel, etc

• paints and palette (lightweight,and as few colors as possible)

• I like a palette box that has a cover

• towels to clean your hands

• solvent, baby wipes or water for cleaning

• trash bag!

• tape

• bug spray

• sunscreen

• stool or chair (optional)

• umbrella (perhaps)

• hat

• something to carry your equipment: backpack, rolling cart--everything in one trip!

• sketchbook/pen


If you are new to this, try a small watercolor kit and chair to start with!

Maybe practice in your back yard first.

Equipment can be ordered from Judson's Outfitters, Jerry's Artarama, Dick Blick, etc. Much can be purchased at hobby/art stores. 

Ebay is a great place to look for used equipment! Here is the link to Open Box M, where I got my pochade box. You will need a tripod for it.

Painting at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden during the Grand Illumination, Dec 2016. It wasn't very cold at all!

Painting en plein air beside a bulb field and canal, with Roos Schuring in Noordwiderhout. 

Filling 20 ml tubes with paint.

En plein air is a french term meaning 'in open (full) air'. Artists have always painted outdoors from life, but until the mid-19th century, it was usually regarded as a study, a reference for studio work.

The advances of science in the study of light, improvements in travel (the steam engine train), and new painting equipment (metal tubes, portable easels) all had a great influence on the group of painters who came to be known as  the 'French Impressionists." It became much easier for them to work outdoors, capturing the changing light. This painting 'in the moment' had to be done quickly, in a more direct, alla prima, method, rather than the glazed, multiple layered (indirect) technique of the academicians. 

Although I often paint in the studio, my extensive plein air work greatly informs my studio work. It also helps me avoid many of the pitfalls associated with working solely from photographs.

One significant development in the evolution of my plein air painting has been trying to get lighter (but still sturdy) field equipment. Currently I use an Open Box M easel/palette that weighs about 1.75 lbs, and and a Manfrotto tripod that is sturdy, lightweight (about 3 lbs?), and telescopes into 4 sections (easier to pack for travelling). This is very important for my overseas travelling. I can fit all that I need in a backpack—I usually leave the tripod in its overshoulder case and carry it separately. 

Previously I used a typical french field easel, but they are heavy, and I found I needed a small dollie to cart it, and my supplies, around. An empty full french field easel can weigh 14 lbs, a half-easel can weigh 10 lbs. BUT, it can hold a canvas 32 inches high, so these are great if you like to do large plein air paintings (and you don't get blown over). I still use this occasionally, to meet very specific needs. 

Many plein air painters try out lots of models before they find the one that is best for them. Or they may own several, to meet a variety of needs.

To travel I fill 20 ml tubes with the colors I will want to take with me. These are lighter and easier to carry. I label the tubes with the name, manufacturer, and C. I. Name. Yes, you can purchase these, but it is very expensive.

I have been chased by bumblebees (he won, but then he lost), got caught in the rain, and sat in my car to paint while it snowed. I have watched a storm roll in, been barraged by Live Oak acorns —the term 'small but mighty' definitely applies here—painted in 40 degree weather, and had sand blow so hard that my painting was more sand than paint.  The results are always worthwhile. 

Addendum: While painting in April. 2016 on the beach of Katwijk aan Zee in Holland, I discovered that boots made me fearless...   See works

Video of wind and sand on the first day of class

with Roos Schuring, The Netherlands. 

click image to see video

Me painting at Hollywood Rapids on the James River from Belle Island.