Plein Air painting by Don Finkeldei: What you need to take when plein air landscape painting. The preparation, equipment, supplies, weather precautions and planning needed for a successful outing. I wrote this checklist as I was preparing for a plein air landscape painting trip.
1. PAINTS: Nothing is worse than finding out you forgot a critical tube of paint. Check that you have all your colors, enough paint in the tubes for several paintings and the caps are not glued shut. I travel with a minimum palate to conserve space and weight. cadmium red light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium lemon yellow, ultramarine blue and titanium white. There is no need for me to take more than these 5 tubes of paint. They can be stored in the easel easily and don't weigh much - a good consideration if you have to tote your equipment very far.
2. BRUSHES: As a minimum, I take a small medium and large brush in both a filbert and flat style. That's all I need but I will take more just in case I need them. If I'm not packing in to a location, I'll lay out two sets of each style and use one set for dark pure paint (very little white) and the other set will be used for lighter hues (more white in the paint). I don't have to clean the brushes as much when switching from dark, purer paint to higher keyed ligher hues with more white in the paint.
3. MEDIUMS, THINNERS and CONTAINERS: I use mineral spirits or turpenoid as a thinner. If I'm not toting things in very far, I'll also take a small (very small) jar of liquin along. Liquin actually helps a painting dry a little faster which is nice if you are doing two or more paintings a day over several days. I use a 1/2 quart plastic mountain bike water bottle to put the thinner in. It's lightweight and doesn't leak the contents. A small glass container to hold a small amount of thinner for my brushes (a small caviar bottle is perfect) and a small "cleaning container (for cleaning brushes). The cleaning container has a raised aluminum grid platform so I can swirl dirty brushes against the grid and the particulates settle at the bottom. Using a cleaning container keeps my primary thinner container clean.
4. PAPER TOWELS and PLASTIC GARBAGE BAGS: Several rolls of highly absorbent paper towels and several plastic garbage bags for trash. Forgetting these things can ruin a painting trip.
5. SOAP and WATER: Take a small plastic container of dish soap and several small bottles of water to clean your brushes (and your hands) when done painting.
6. PALETTE KNIVES: Take a few palette knives along for mixing paints and placing hard edges on your painting.
7. UMBRELLA: A white or gray easel umberlla if you have to paint in the sun. Normally, you can find a shady area to paint but sometimes you'll have to set up at least partially in the sun. The umbrella isn't for keeping the sun off you, it's to keep the sun off your canvas and palette. a white or gray umbrella so the reflection doesn't affect your color judgement. You'd be amazed at how much a red umbrella will alter your judgement. You'd also be amazed at how much darker and lower in value your painting will be if your canvas is shaded but your palette is in the sun. Try to keep both palate and canvas in the shade.
8. CAMERA: If you can, take a camera to capture the inital scene. I use it's digital display as a reference for where the clouds, sun and shadows were when I started the painting. The sun moves across the sky and clouds change positions. Shadows move. Nothing is worse than trying to chase these changes around while you are painting.
9. PERSONAL ITEMS: Hat, gloves, coat, sunscreen, insect repellent, etc. Taking these things along will make your painting trip more enjoyable. Weather changes. It can get warmer or colder, start raining, mosquitoes can bother you. Plan for these things.
10. CANVAS / BOARDS for PAINTING: Take enough canvas or boards prepared for painting. I like boards because they store much more compactly. Also, If you use canvas, the light can filter through the canvas bothering your painting. If you use a canvas, place a piece of cardboard or masonite behind the canvas so the light from behind doesn't filter through the canvas. I usually paint outdoors no larger than 16 x 20. A good size is 11 x 14 or 12 x 16. If my intention is to paint a larger painting, I'll use my sketch and do it in the studio. Also, a larger board or canvas catches more wind. It can tip over your easel. A few rocks placed in the back of your easel can help prevent this disaster. I think every plein air painter has found his painting face down in the dirt. It always falls face down and just after you've put the final touches on the painting (so it seems).
11. EASEL: That's hard to forget. I use a wooden french easel. Another good easel is the Soltek easil. It's aluminum, lightweight and compact.
12: PALETTE: Take a large palette. I use a 16x20 palette box with wings that open up on each side to hold my brushes, thinner, palette knives, etc. This box sits on my easel drawer. When done painting, I can just close up the palette box and move to another location without having to worry about smearing the paint all over myself and my car.
13: BACKPACK : The backpack is used to hold my brushes, thinner, medium, paper towels, palette knives, trash bags, personal items, paint tubes, soap, water, camera and everything else I'll need. My umbrella straps to the backpack.
When I can, I paint out of the back end of my SUV. I don't have to set things up that way (the easel's legs aren't extended, it just in the back). My SUV has a lift top, not a side door. The lift top keeps the sun off my palette and easel. I fasten a plastic blanket over the lift top window. If I have to tote my gear a ways from my vehicle, I only need to put the backpack on, carry my easel in one hand and the palette box in the other.
Happy Plein Air Landscape Painting!