Michael Chesley Johnson’s article “Gear Up!” in the July/August 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine explains how to pack light and smart for plein air success in oil, pastel, watercolor and acrylic. The following is an excerpt—plus a complete list of suppliers of plein air gear (below).
One morning while teaching a plein air workshop, I had a student cruise up in his Chevy van and drop anchor at our painting spot. He proceeded to unload a studio’s worth of equipment. Out came a couple of taborets brimming with pastels, a studio easel, an Igloo cooler—I was waiting for the La-Z-Boy recliner.
By the time he got comfortable, the other students, with their more manageable setups, were finishing their paintings. The point is simple: You can chew up a lot of time and calories by lugging around gear. These guidelines will get you painting sooner—and with less fuss.
How Much Plein Air Gear Is Enough?
My rule of thumb for plein air gear is this: Don’t pack more than you can carry in one trip from the car. Whatever I take has to fit into my backpack. Some prefer a canvas tote bag or a rolling cart.
If you’re inexperienced with painting outdoors, I can guarantee you’ll take too much into the field. Over time, you’ll figure out what compromises you can make. Be aware, though, that forgetting an essential item as you rush to capture the golden hour is all too easy. I forgot my Gamsol once and experienced painting with straight oil paint out of the tube. Since then, I’ve created a checklist that I use religiously.
No matter what your medium, some items are essential: a paint box in which to carry your medium, a palette on which you can mix paints or hold your pastels, and an easel. I would also advise you not to sacrifice comfort and safety in the process of stripping down your gear. Take items like drinking water, a cell phone and sun block.
Plein Air Suppliers List
Easels and Pochade Boxes
- Alla Prima Pochade: Bitterroot Lite pochade box and more; allaprimapochade.com,
- Anderson & Sons Art: swivel easel;
- Artwork Essentials: ProChade and EASyL pochade boxes; artworkessentials.com,
- En Plein Air Pro: enpleinairpro.com,
- Guerrilla Painter: ThumBox, Guerrilla Box and more; www.guerrillapainter.com,
- Open Box M: pochade boxes and more; openboxm.com,
- Soltek Easel: soltekarts.com,
- SunEden Artist’s Gear: Watercolor Painters Package and more; sunedenartistsgear.com,
- Take-It-Easel: takeiteasel.com,
- 3D Glasses Direct: red decoder glasses; 3dglasses.net,
- Art Cocoon: myartcocoon.com,
- Artwork Essentials: ezPort, easel side tray, tripod with quick-release plate, EASyL umbrella; artworkessentials.com,
- Best Brella: bestbrella.com
- The Color Wheel Company: ViewCatcher, color wheels; colorwheelco.com,
- Coolibar: sun-protection clothing; coolibar.com,
- Guerrilla Painter: Shade Buddy, Composition Finder, Handy Porter; guerrillapainter.com,
- Heilman Designs: pastel boxes and more; heilmandesigns.com,
- Jack Richeson & Company: French Companion, Lock Box, artist seat bag/backpack, Brush Quiver; richesonart.com,
- Masterson Art Products: Sta-Wet palettes; mastersonart.com,
- RayMar Art: wet panel carriers and more; raymarart.com,
- REI: day packs; rei.com,
- SunEden Artist’s Gear: pastel box, sunedenartistsgear.com,
Michael Chesley Johnson, longtime contributor to The Artist’s Magazine, is the author of Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel. He teaches plein air workshops in both oil and pastel throughout North America. Visit his website, michaelchesleyjohnson.com.
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