I get asked a lot about what I bring when I go paint en plein air. I have a backpack that I always have prepared and ready to go at all times. Over the years I have managed to buy duplicates of my supplies so that I have one set in my studio and I don’t need to pack my supplies every time I want to go out. This is also very handy when I’m travelling around and spot a scene that I would like to paint (this happens quite often on country drives – I have pulled over on the side of the road and painted farm fields a few times).
Inside my pack
First and foremost is a comfortable bag or backpack (I like to keep my hands free in case I travel through more treacherous terrain and need to climb up or down steep hills. Attached to my my pack is a small folding stool and a watercolour field easel. (as you can see from my picture, mine has seen better days – it is well loved and used). I prefer to stand when I paint, but if you want a chair, choose something easy to carry like a folding camping chair with it’s own case and shoulder strap.
My advice is to carry as much as you are comfortable carrying in a single trip – no need to be tired before you even start drawing or painting.
My pack contains a sketchbook, watercolour paper (some loose sheets and some pads of various sizes (140lb cold press or 300lb rough) and a piece of corrugated plastic onto which I tape my paper. I also have a few pencils, charcoal sticks, micron pens, bamboo sticks, dip quill pens & acrylic ink, masking tape, jar for water, small spray bottle, plastic bottle to carry water when a natural source is not available, paper towels or rags and of course brushes and watercolour palette (folding plastic palette)
Other supplies to think of are, bottle of drinking water, granola bars or other snack foods, insect repellent, sunscreen, hat and comfortable walking shoes.
My Watercolour Palette
While my palette has changed and grown in the past few years my recommendation is to use these colours if possible.
Watercolour paints (I like to use warm & cool colours together)
- warm red (pyrrol red, or cadmium red medium)
- cool red (quinacridone magenta, or alizarim crimson)
- warm yellow (yellow ochre, hansa yellow deep, or azo yellow deep)
- cool yellow (hansa yellow light or azo yellow light, or lemon yellow)
- warm blue (ultramarine blue, cobalt blue)
- cool blue (pthalo blue, or cerulean blue)
- warm brown (burnt sienna)
- cool brown (burnt umber)
- warm grey (neutral tint)
- cool grey (paynes grey)
additional colours that are nice to have:
- cobalt teal
- permanent violet
- manganese blue
- quinacridone gold
- green gold
* best brand you can afford – Tube paints are best – I like “Qor” and “M. Graham” for vibrant colour (I also use Daniel Smith but they can get very expensive and not needed for beginners)
- Round – a small & medium (i.e. #4 & #10 – each brand has their own number system)
- Flat – a small & medium (i.e. 1/2 inch & 1 inch)
- Optional brushes: large mop, hake, dagger brush, and rigger brush
* I prefer to only use round brushes, some artists only use flat, while others use both. While it’s more of a preference, the different shaped brushes can produce different effects.
- Watercolour paper (cold pressed 140 lbs or better – paper quality is important but you don’t need the best for exercises and practicing)
* I strongly discourage the CansonXL (blue cover) brand as it disintegrates with too much water. All other Canson brands are great and I use them still. I also use full sheets cut down to various sizes. (Arches, Waterford and Currys brands usually 200lb – 300lb)