To paint outdoors is an adventure. Even when you paint down the road in familiar territory. This is the moment when you are outside your comfort zone and forced to concentrate on a scene. The experience makes your painting stronger. It also makes you a better painter.
In this series I am going to explore the outdoor painting experience. In Part 1 we take a look at my basic plein air painting kit. You can watch the video below too and pin the infographic.
Less is Good
Especially if you have to carry it. You must avoid the caricature of outdoor painters lugging back breaking kit along. To force myself to comply I am using one backpack only. Added to that I am travelling by bicycle. No space for too many things then.
To be fair I am painting at a local beach and I will only be an hour or so. In this case I do not need to worry about packing extra comfort items like food and spare clothing. The weather is also good so no umbrellas needed. I do suggest that you follow a similar plan for a quick outing to practice. You will refine what works for you and have a less stressful time. This supposed to be relaxing no so?
Plein Air Materials
One bag to carry them all. A big backpack will do the trick. As you can see in the video this item will still qualify as hand luggage for a plane. But has enough room for a tripod and paint box plus lots more. If you can get one with wheels then all the better.
This little paint box is a conversion I did a while back. See that article here. It is still one of my best paint boxes and it cost me very little. Light and easy to carry and ideal for these close-to-home outings.
You can spend more on a bigger one of course. It is nice to have one that can store a completed panel or two. Saves space and keeps your work safe. The large French easels are not suited to light travel. For bigger expeditions they are okay, but remember that they are heavy.
You may need one to support your paint box. Or to record your painting with a camera. A video or photo record is useful. You can assess your work better with progress shots. You can share your work online if you need to market yourself too. Or simply for happy memories. Hey if things don't work out you can always look back on this moment and laugh.
No paints no painting. Despite this being self evident my party trick is to forget a tube of paint. If I was more organised I would not do this. Like setting aside a set of paints exclusively for outdoor trips. Always ready.
Okay so basic paints could include the primary colors and white. Very simple and effective if you trust your paint mixing ability. This will also teach you how to mix paint like nothing else.
But I tend to carry a warm and cool version of the primary colors.
Cadmium red light and alizarin crimson/magenta
Cadmium yellow deep and cadmium yellow deep
Ultramarine blue and cerulean blue
Convenience colors are yellow ochre and burnt sienna. These are easy to mix, but like I said convenience is nice sometimes. Cadmium orange is also handy. However I never carry greens, purples and other exotic colors.
Finally your titanium white.
Three or four brushes will do. Usually long flat bristle in sizes 10 - 6. Also a rigger for figures, minor details and so on. It is very easy to get caught up in the moment and paint most of the work with one brush. If you can remember to use one brush for light colors and one for shadow colors your life will be simpler.
A palette knife is always useful to clean the palette. Also to scrape off or add paint to the panel.
Small canvasses or panels are best. I like 8 x 10 or 9 x 12 in panels for convenient sizes. Easy to carry and small enough to complete a painting in an hour.
A wet painting carrier is advisable. These can be purchased or made without too much trouble. You can even make them out of cardboard so long as you keep them dry.
As a last resort use a few matches as spacers between wet panels. Sandwich the panels together with the wet surface facing inwards. The matches on the edges keep the panels from touching. Then bind them together securely with elastic or tape.
You can see this method in one of my upcoming videos. It is risky. Rather use a wet painting carrier.
Other Important Items
Pencils, felt tip markers and an A5 sketch book to work out compositions and notan sketches.
A composition tool is very useful. See an example in the infographic below.
Tissue paper for cleaning brushes is essential. Rather than using turps outdoors use tissue or brush cleaning.
Latex gloves help keep your hands clean for the home trip. Also it is generally safer to keep paint and solvents off your hands.
A bag to discard litter into.
Sunscreen and a hat. Even sunglasses. Avoid squinting into bright light. It will give you a headache and distort your color and value perception. A hat and sunglasses will take care of this. Ideally move your position to a shady spot.
Keep in mind that bright light can distort your perception of values. If you darken the values outdoors to compensate for the light your painting may look too dark indoors. Avoid adjusting your values by being aware of this phenomenon.
Comfort and Safety
Dress for the weather. Always have a windbreaker jacket handy if your climate calls for it. A quick weather change can catch you out. Food and water can mean the difference between a fun day and misery.
On the subject of clothing avoid wearing bright colors that will reflect into your painting. A red glow reflecting onto your panel, for instance, will not help you see colors accurately.
Many people cite safety concerns. Never paint where you would not otherwise feel secure. I would rather have people about than be alone in a desolate place. If you can have a friend to join you then wonderful. Be careful of your valuables. Expensive cameras left unattended may disappear, for example.
All this is common sense, but easy to forget in the excitement of the moment.
Start the Adventure
Like I said outdoor painting is an adventure. One you can enjoy often without breaking the bank. Plus your painting will improve too. Each time I paint outdoors provides a sense of accomplishment. Check out my plein air painting course to help you get started too. Have a go.
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