Plein Air Tips

Artwork from Dec 2017 using watercolors and 03 black Micron on Strathmore watercolor sketch pad.

Artwork from Dec 2017 using watercolors and 03 black Micron on Strathmore watercolor sketch pad.

I hope things are going well for ya'll so far in 2018! Let's continue off the new year by pushing ourselves to do new things! (Or in some cases, old things, but like, doing more of it, I guess. x'D)

While I'm still pretty new at plein air, I figured I'd go ahead and share what I /do/ know, especially for those who want to but have never done it before. (GO DO IT!)

-Sketchbook: Mixed media paper can be a nice sketch paper for paint. It's not heavy enough for serious paintings, but for practice, it works great! If you're using pen/pencil, then normal sketchbook paper works just fine! Save your money! The thicker paint paper = more money! I normally use a mixed media paper sketchbook that's small for easy travel. Strathmore's one worked great, held the water nicely. Curled a bit in the top right corner where it wasn't attached, but that's expected. If you can find watercolor paper blocks and want to spend the money for those, go for it! (Those are glued on all four sides, but it's really pricey from what I've seen. If money is an issue, you can always DIY your own blocks.)

-Canvases: If you're going for canvases, most likely acrylic or oil paint is your choice here, I go for the cheap stuff personally. Especially if you've never done this before, you'll want scrap canvases. I use Artist's Loft. I've done both the board and wrapped canvases for it and found the wrapped canvases feel nicer and easier to use. Just be careful when carrying them as you don't want to punchure or tear them! I personally prefer small sizes so I can paint faster, but you might want to buy a few different sizes just to see what you like if you're unsure. They typically come in sets and are bang for your buck ;D

-Easels: I have two sizes personally, a small easy travel one, and a large one for serious business, haha. The small travel one is more for table top stuff, it doesn't have any extendable legs. If you're going to be outside and there are no tables, YOU WILL WANT LEGS. (Or at least a place to sit and be able to hold the canvases/sketchbooks comfortably.) Make sure wherever you choose your spot to be, it's in a stable place so your easel can stand without falling. (If you need to, place some rocks or heavy stuff around the legs to help support it.)

Easels are not 100% necessary. Most of the time, especially if I'm doing non-acrylic works, I don't bother with the easel. If you're going to be out for a while and want to spend a lot of time on a piece, it helps a lot to have an easel.

-Chair: YOU WILL WANT A CHAIR. It's better for your back and gives you some nice cushin. I have a travel chair (since most of my plein air stuff came from my trip in 2015) which I /think/ was around 15-20$ from Amazon? Says GCI Outdoor on the bag it came with. Holds a fair amount of weight and is surprisingly comfortable. Folds up easy and really small for nice storage!

If you're thinking of sitting on the ground, bringing something to sit on to avoid getting dirty (and the ants! x'D) would be a good idea. Especially if you can't find some place soft, having that extra comfort goes a long way.

-Using Pen/Pencil: Pretty simple, just bring your pen or pencil/eraser plus a sketchbook. If you're gonna be out for a while, best to bring back up lead/pencils/pens, just in case! (Plus it might be fun to play around with different pencil grades, inks, etc.)

Old artwork from April 2015 using acrylics on Artist's Loft canvas board.

Old artwork from April 2015 using acrylics on Artist's Loft canvas board.

-Using Acrylic: You'll need water, brushes (only bring a few at first, I ended up using one or two when I did it, DO NOT OVER PACK!!!!), paints (bring bare minimum, trust me; a teacher I've talked to recommended: titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow lemon, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and cobalt blue, but I also brought along a black and green. Keep your bags lightweight!), and a towel. I recommend an old towel over paper towels as it's better for the environment. You also save a crap ton of money as paper towels are so expensive! You'll also want some sort of palatte or surface to mix your paints. Optionally, bringing a spray bottle to keep the paint from drying quickly is another thing. As a general suggestion for acrylics: paint back to front!

Old artwork from Aug 2016 using watercolors and a sepia ink pen. 30-40 minutes. Mixed Media paper 140lb, 6x8 inches.

Old artwork from Aug 2016 using watercolors and a sepia ink pen. 30-40 minutes. Mixed Media paper 140lb, 6x8 inches.

-Using Watercolor: The above was my first attempt with watercolors for plein air specifically, but I learned something from it, and have done a few since then, so I'm sharing likeaboss anyway: use/purchase water brush pens (like Aquash, Ohuhu, etc.)--they a life saver. You can buy them in sets for pretty cheap and you won't have to bring a cup to wash your brushes clean. They're worth getting used to and experimenting with.

Also bring a towel, same with the acrylic section. If you have a travel size watercolor set, I highly recommend that. You can also get paint tubes for light travel. Again, like acrylic, bring few brushes and paints. As a general suggestion: paint light to dark. You can't go back and lighten things up, so be careful where you lay down your darks. If you want to, you can bring masking fluid to save your whites/highlights.

-Other Stuff to Bring: You'll probably want to bring snacks, a trash bag, a water bottle or two, and you'll DEFINITELY want to bring a pencil and spare sketchbook to practice on and figure out your scene. Whenever I did my acrylic ones, I always sketched in a tiny spare sketchbook first to see just what it was exactly that I wanted to paint.

If you're going to be in the sun, bring sun screen and put it on before you go out! You might also want to bring a hat to protect your face and save yourself from being blinded by the sun xD

A camera or phone with a camera is a fantastic idea! If you end up being unable to finish (rain, tired, etc.) then you might want to take pictures so you can at home. Or take stock photos for future paintings, general references, etc.

-In General: You'll want to pack light! If necessary, bring a backpack or bag(s) to carry the stuff in. You really don't need much to do a lot, and you'll thank yourself later for it.

As an example of packing: for the first painting in this post, all I brought was a watercolor set (a small one, Koi specifically), a couple water brushes, a watercolor sketchbook, and a pen. (I forgot my towel so I used my pants, haha. oops!) I found a bench at a park and that was where I set up.

-I Can't Do It: Do you have a pencil and paper? That's really all you need. The rest is just fancy additions. I've gone to a park before with just my sketchbook and pencil, sat on a bench, and went at it. Don't let lack of supplies, money, etc., take away your ability to draw!

I could give loads more tips, I've learned quite a lot even though I've only done it a few times, but hopefully this'll give you some place to start. Definitely just take your time, don't rush things, and have fun with it! 

Hopefully you found some of these tips helpful!

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