Checking Your Plein Air Painting Checklist

Checking Your Plein Air Painting Checklist

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My friend Mike and I gear up before spending a Saturday morning painting.

A beautiful afternoon, some free time in the fresh air, a stunning location…I can’t wait for the weather to get just a touch clearer so I can get out and paint again. I hope we can share our triumphs and ordeals, as well as our journeys through the land and through our hearts and minds, as we start into another season of painting. I’ve already got my first three spots picked out. How about you?

Of course, nothing can spoil a plein-air painting session faster than discovering I’ve left some important piece of gear behind. I should know–I’ve done it a million times. I’ve worked through an entire box of Kleenex because I forgot to bring paper towels, and ruined a perfectly good cloth grocery bag because I left my disposable trash bags behind. I once had to use a Sunday paper wrapped in a plastic bag as a sub for a palette! After many years of relying on odd bits I find in my car to substitute for the art gear I should have brought along, I’ve finally made a habit of taking stock of my “mobile studio” about once a month in order to stay ready for action.

First, I take a little inventory of the stuff I store in my French easel, and make a shopping list of what I need to complete the plein-air ensemble. Palette? Check. Good handful of clean brushes, plus my trusty palette knife? Check. Paint and medium? Check, check.

When it comes to confirming I have the right colors of oil paint, it doesn’t take much. I don’t like to carry a lot of heavy gear, so I use a limited palette when en plein air: Cad Yellow (warm), Cad Lemon (cool), Cad Red (warm), Alizarin Crimson (cool), Ultramarine Blue (just the one blue, which I think is pretty neutral), and White. I also carry along Quinacridone Magenta because I love to paint spring-flowering Midwestern trees, like redbuds and dogwoods, and other flowers the color of which can only be mixed with Quin Magenta. I’ve found I can recreate almost every color in nature with this palette. Not only is it easier to carry fewer paint tubes, it also guarantees harmonious color.

Then I check the goodie bag filled with all the extras. In a canvas tote, I carry: canvases in several sizes and shapes, sketchbook, mechanical pencils, cropping tool, sun visor, sunscreen, umbrella, paper towels, trash bags, water bottles, and my beloved waxed paper. Waxed paper?! I’ll tell you all about that in a future post.

And at the end of each outdoor painting season (I’m not one of those hardcore painters who roughs it in the snow), I like to clean up my battered old French easel before packing it away for the winter. I confess I’m a pretty messy painter, and I do a lot of palette knife work, so my easel gets pretty caked up with paint over time. So, I get in there with some turp and some tools and scrape that off. While I’m at it, I put a dab of oil on the screws and joints, and make sure the whole thing is in good working order before storing.

So, what’s in your mobile studio? And pastelists and watercolorists, what’s on your checklist? I’d love to hear your best tips for keeping your painting gear at the ready.

Watch the video: Plein Air Painting - A Day in the Park. (August 2022).