Essential Creature Comforts for Painting Well en Plein Air

Beyond the basics, some creature comforts are essential for painting well en plein air. I’ve used a lot of different equipment and media outdoors since the mid 1980s. This is the first of my Plein Air Creature Comforts List for Painting Well Outdoors

plein air umbrella
plein air umbrella

1 ~ A bona-fide plein air umbrella

Not just a beach umbrella that clips to the easel, this one is designed with making the artist COMFORTABLE! A comfortable artist paints comfortably ~ and well, better!

I treated myself to this plein air umbrella for my painting trip to Long Beach Island next week. It has a reflective outside and is black inside. Those who don’t paint outdoors might not realize that painters cannot wear sunglasses while painting plein air.

Tinted lenses tint everything! Even the colors on the palette are affected and well, when you take the lenses off. Guess what, the colors on the canvas are all screwed up!

This umbrella eliminates glare and distorted reflections on the palette and canvas. I am so looking forward to trying it out!

BTW ~ it also has a vented crown to let the breeze through. This and the bungee cord keep the whole rig from blowing away in the wind. Notice that the umbrella is clamped at the base of the easel leg for stability. Though I don’t expect to be painting in high winds ~ not recommended unless you like sailing canvas.

plein air umbrella
easel clamps to the base of the easel leg

2 ~ The kit of all kits

Second on my list of essentials is an OUTSTANDING KIT. Not just a bag of paper towels from the grocery store, I mean a kit that has a place for everything, so everything is right where you need it ~just like in the studio!

I received this tote bag with all the pockets as a gift some years ago. It was designed as a gardener’s tool bag with a folding stool. While it’s been smashing in the garden, it’s ever better for plein air painting. This is especially true since I am a better painter than I am gardener!

The pockets, both inside and out, are large and plentiful. The inside is water resistant. I’ve used it so much, it’s time to get out Mom’s old Pfaff and sew on some new handles. These will be longer and stronger than the ones I’m replacing.

A couple strips of nylon cord and I’m good to go.

pfaff sewing machine
pfaff sewing machine

I’ll be packing a few more essentials, will post them in a few days.

#creaturecomfortsforpaintingwell #creaturecomfortspleinair #LBIFpleinair #pleinair #pleinairequipment #paintingpleinair

Watercolor Crayons ~ No so Serious, Pure Fun!

What a great way to loosen up and have fun painting! Watercolor crayons changed my attitude about being a watercolorist. No longer concerned with making the paint do what I want it to do, I am playing with paint, water, color, and shapes.

These small watercolors were experiments. I wanted to see what would happen if I wet the paper and drew with the watercolor crayons. The soft bleedy lines are how it looks to draw on wet paper. And when a puddle accumulated, the effect was even greater.

watercolor crayons
Three Sisters, watercolor, 5 x 7

The most important thing was that it freed me up from trying to be good and professional at watercolor! I had so much fun, I don’t care! And I was rewarded with a couple fun paintings! When I went to title this one, I suddenly recognized my old theme of Three Sisters.

watercolor crayons
Muse Chincia, 7 x 5, watercolor

This one got off to a slow start. I thought it looked to simple, until I laid in a couple strong color fields of bright yellow and the whole painting popped. Leaving the white paper show is a leap of faith for an artist who has worked in opaque mediums like oil and pastel.

watercolor crayons
Duomo in Siena, watercolor, 8 x 6

How to paint a complex cathedral, or any complicated structure, building, tree, city? In contrast to the sky, the Duomo in Siena is white.  I began by painting the sky shape.

When dry, I wet the white paper a little and drew the cathedral with a watercolor crayon in lavender. Lavender is a shadow color.  I didn’t try to make too many details, only prominent ones.

Then I blocked in a few of the larger shadow shapes with light Ultramarine Blue. I used a lime green watercolor crayon to draw in a few highlight colors. A day later, I added another layer of Cerulean Blue to the sky to make it a deeper color and to touch a few details into the spires of the cathedral.  A cerulean highlight on the circular window make the dark window appear lighter.

Watercolor Travel Kit ~ Preparing for Tuscany

watercolor travel kit
in Monet’s garden with my watermelon striped watercolor travel kit

It won’t be long now before I take off for my Tuscan painting adventure. I am updating my watercolor travel kit from the one I used in France two years ago. The simple watermelon-striped satchel I carried throughout France was terrific. It was stylish, light-weight and big!

Style aside, I couldn’t resist purchasing this artist’s satchel with all its wonderful pockets. I am still playing with how to arrange all my papers, paints, and brushes. In France, I simply threw two packs of watercolor postcards and a travel palette with two brushes in a plastic bag. I carried it everywhere, whipping it out in cafes, on park benches and picnic blankets. I hope this black one doesn’t tie me down. I’m throwing my watermelon one in just in case!

watercolor travel kit
watercolor travel kit

Watercolor Travel Kit

This bag has a stiffener built into the bag itself. I thought it was cardboard I could take out ~ NOT! I guess it will keep my papers from getting messed up.

watercolor travel kit
Several pockets hold various size papers

With all its pockets this watercolor travel kit is getting kind of heavy as I am loading up more and more supplies each day. I ordered some watercolor crayons and pencils which I will show you when the shipment arrives.

watercolor travel kit
watercolor palette slides in easily

Even my 9 x 12″ palette fits into this bag. Watercolors dry out on the palette and are easily reactivated with a little water. No wasted paint here. The large wells are for mixing. My colors are the same as my oil palette: from the bottom up, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Green, Yellow Ochre, Lemon Yellow (it’s got a smear of green on it), and Cadmium Yellow Medium.

I have laid them out in the sequence in which I would use them to mix specific colors. For example, Alizarin Crimson is beside Ultramarine Blue. This is coolest red beside warmest blue. Together they make a lovely purple.

If I were to mistake one color for another (which is easy to do as they are so dark in their full strength form), I might mistakenly mix Alizarin with Cerulean or Phthalo. Instead of lovely purple, I would be shocked to see muddy brown!

Like the keys on a  piano, it’s best to keep each color in a predictable position. This rigid structure frees me to paint spontaneously. Stopping to hunt for stuff is a great deterrent to creative inspiration. A predictable structure is a huge aid in painting loose and freely.

watercolor travel kit
this bag has lots of individual pockets for brushes and pencils.

It’s all about balance. If I control the structure; my paint, palette, brushes, papers ~ I am free to go with the flow.  I can throw paint on paper willy nilly if I feel like it.  The best watercolors have that sense of wild abandon ~ yet are crisp, clean and simple.

I am hoping my upgraded watercolor travel kit will have the same effect on my watercolors. In France I struggled for control of the medium. In Tuscany I am hoping to cut loose with  my watercolors and fly free. We’ll see if this kit helps me do that!