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  • Writer's pictureJames Spencer

Essential Plein Air Equipment

I’m often asked about the equipment I use for my plein air painting so I’ve decided to make an essentials list which will hopefully be useful to anyone looking for a little guidance.

  • Easel / Pochade box.

There are so many different styles of easel that it would be hard to cover them all here. You may like the simplicity of a simple sketching easel or you may prefer a full French box easel which can carry a lot of materials. My favourite type is actually a pochade box. This is a wooden box which contains everything needed to paint small studies.

My wooden pochade box is easily the most important part of my plein air set up. It holds my panels, brushes, paints and palette. The best thing about it is that when you finish your painting you can just shut the box and your painting is protected within the lid - just don’t leave big piles of paint on the palette before you shut it. As you may have guessed, I learned that the hard way.

  • Palette

For my plein air palette I use a piece of acrylic rather than glass so that there’s no danger of it smashing. It’s also painted grey on the reverse to match my gesso colour. This is useful because the continuity of colour makes it easier to mix accurately.

  • Brushes

The choice of brushes is largely down to personal preference but I like to use synthetic stiff bristled brushes as they seem to stand up well to the fast pace of plein air painting. Also I’d recommend going for brushes with long handles so that you don’t need to be too close to the painting surface and can therefore observe the whole painting with more ease.

  • Gessoed panel/canvas

Whether you use panels or prefer canvas once again just a matter of preference. I use plywood panels which I prepare myself with grey gesso. I prefer to work on panels rather than canvas as there’s no give in the surface when applying brushstrokes. They are also far easier to transport when compared to canvases, which is a big advantage for plein air work.

  • Cap

Direct sunlight or glare can make it tough to judge colour and tonal values so I always wear a baseball cap when painting outside. A simple, but really handy bit of kit.

  • Oils

Of course we can’t forget the paints themselves. I like to use a limited palette of titanium white, burnt umber, French ultramarine, a yellow which is neither too warm or cool and pretty much any red. This is unsurprisingly another subjective topic. Many artists use a whole range of colours which can be great for reaching the desired colour mix much faster but for me simplicity is key. Experiment and find what works best for you.

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