Plein Air Painting Gear Checklist

Dan Schultz

I spend quite a bit of time painting outdoors (plein air) because I know how helpful it is to my process. (Read more about the benefits of plein air painting.) Perhaps you’re making an effort to paint outdoors more regularly yourself, but still aren’t sure what supplies to take along. If so, I’d like to share my plein air painting gear checklist with you.

I recommend limiting the number of supplies you use outdoors. Keeping your pack as light as possible is a definite plus, especially when hiking any significant distance. The idea is to bring only what you need. Try to leave things behind that you use only occasionally.

My Plein Air Painting Gear Checklist:

1. Easel: I use an 11×14 pochade box made by Open Box M. (It’s a great-quality box — I’ve been using it since 2002.) The pochade box mounts onto a Sirui T-2005X model tripod with a Manfrotto 3229 head. Click here for my review of the Open Box M. If you’re serious about limiting the weight of your setup, a pochade box will probably make the biggest difference.

2. Canvas Panels: I recommend canvas panels rather than stretched canvas since light can’t shine through a panel from behind. Also, canvas panels are more portable and easier to store. If the canvas is mounted on a Gatorfoam panel, it’s also significantly lighter than a stretched canvas. Click here to learn how to make your own canvas panels.

3. Wet Panel Carrier: Especially if you’re painting with oil, you’ll need something to hold your wet painting while you carry it back to the car. I recommend the lightweight corrugated plastic wet panel carriers from RayMar. They sell a number of different sizes to accommodate small or large canvas panels. I use an 8” x 10” carrier and a 12” x 16” carrier.

4. Brushes: I tend to use only 6 or 8 brushes for outdoor painting. Bringing fewer brushes of course means a little less weight. Most are inexpensive bristle brushes (Flats). I also bring along a palette knife for cleaning my palette. Click here for more about my recommended brushes.

5. Brush Holder: A roll-up carrier or zipper case is great for protecting your brushes inside your pack.

6. Paint: I regularly use 10 or so oil colors, but sometimes limit my palette to 5 or 6. Bringing fewer tubes of paint along also means a lighter pack. I prefer M. Graham & Co. oil colors.

7. Brush Washing Container and Solvent: I use a small container with a lid that seals to hold my solvent for cleaning my brushes. I use Gamsol odorless mineral spirits, made by Gamblin. You can find a sealable brush washing container at an art supply store or possibly a hobby store.

8. View Finder: A tool to help with composition can be helpful. I recommend the ViewCatcher.

9. Umbrella: I just started using an umbrella a few years ago to help with shade and keep me cool in hot weather. I had always been afraid that wind would catch an umbrella and pull the easel down. But the Easy-L Umbrella Kit is a great design that allows the umbrella to detach from its shaft in high wind so that your easel won’t blow over.

10. Small Sketch Pad and Pencil: Useful for preliminary sketches and notes.

11. Multi-Tool: I carry a Coleman multi-tool with pliers, screwdrivers, knives, etc. Pliers are helpful for stuck paint tube lids. Screwdrivers come in handy for easel maintenance.

12. Paper Towels: I use Viva brand. The extra thickness compared to other brands means I don’t use as many.

13. Trash Bag for Used Paper Towels: A reusable plastic-coated shopping bag works great and lasts a long time. I got mine at Trader Joe’s.

14. Miscellaneous: It’s a good idea to wear a hat, bring along a rain jacket, sunscreen, insect repellant and drinking water.

15. Backpack: To carry it all.

I’ve been using these products for many years and they continue to faithfully meet my needs. Recently I’ve received a few sample products from some of these art supply companies. But I recommend their products simply because they’ve proven to be worth recommending.

I hope this checklist will help you get outdoors to paint! Maybe it will lighten your load too. My gear weighs about 29 lbs. with everything included. If I limit the number of canvas panels, tubes of paint, etc., I can get it under 20 lbs. Not bad for hiking up a trail to find a great painting spot.

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