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Packing for Plein Air Success
Take it outside! We asked eight plein air artists from BC to share what they bring into the field. For painters and sketchers, first-timers and seasoned plein air artists alike, their lists offer a helpful starting point to preparing for a season of outdoor art adventures!
Jan Poynter (Acrylics) • Jim McFarland (Acrylics)
Deborah Tilby (Oils) • Murray Phillips (Oils)
Enda Bardell (Watercolours) • Sandhu Singh (Watercolours)
Alfonso Tejada (Sketching) • Sigrid Albert (Sketching)
Click on artist’s images to enlarge them.
- Acrylic paints: Artist-quality paints (GOLDEN OPEN Acrylics) for dry/desert locations
- ×2 thinned mixtures of fluid acrylic in small sealed containers – Burnt Sienna & Payne’s Grey
We recommend Opus Essential Fluid Acrylic Colours
- Smallest squirt bottle of OPEN Thinner
- Smallest squirt bottle of Polymer Medium – Matte
- Spray bottle of water – Holbein fine spray bottle
- Sta-Wet Handy Palette – in the smallest size, as well as an extra dampened sheet under the sponge
- Folding water container with pockets – hangs from box with an S clip
- Brush washing grid 4″ in diameter, and a small pat/container of Masterson Brush Cleaner.
- Brushes – a variety of acrylic/nylon blend. Mostly long flats. Script brushes for line work.
- 4 — 6 preprimed Birch Plywood Panels: 6″ × 8″, 8″ × 10″, 9″ × 12″ (2 gesso only / 2 tinted midground / 2 dark)
We recommend: Opus Birch Plywood
- 2 — 3 Watercolour crayons – for rough layouts (Such as new Mungyo Watercolour Crayons)
- T–shirt rag & paper towels
- Large Water bottle (for painting and drinking)
- Hat, bug spray, sunscreen & snack
- Sketchbook & a 2B technical pencil 7 mm
Jan Poynter majored in painting and printmaking at the Vancouver School of Art and continued in Art Education at UBC. With expertise in: Acrylic, Watercolour and Pastel Painting as well as digital media. A knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher with over 30 years of experience, Jan offers classes for Capilano University (Sechelt Continuing Ed) lessons for private students (beginner to advanced), workshops, mentoring and travel retreats for small art groups. She is one of the feature Plein Air artists of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival for 2015.
- Acrylic paint in 60 mm tubes, except Titanium White, which would be in a bigger tube
We recommend: Opus Essential Acrylic Colours
- Three small bottles of liquid acrylics, raw umber, white and a dark green for drawing
- Acrylic brushes
- Disposable palette
- ¾″ canvas or birch wood panel that has been sealed with GOLDEN GAC100 and then gessoed. I normally prepare either of these surfaces with a medium value acrylic paint.
- Paper towels
- Water container
- French box or other portable easel and paint box
Jim was born and raised in Penticton, BC and now lives in Victoria. His art education consisted of courses from the Victoria College of Art, and from other artists. He is a signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and the Society of Canadian Artist. His paintings are in private and corporate collections in Canada and the USA.
Jim paints his larger works in the studio but very much enjoys painting on site, en plein air, where he can capture the ever changing, but real, colours and light of the world around him. You may often see him on the beach, a hillside, or a farmer’s field, painting.
- Tripod, panel holder and palette
- Paint – To keep the weight down I usually just take a warm and cool of each of the primary colours and white. My favourite colour is Transparent Iron Oxide, so I also take that with me.
- Brushes – Just a couple of older bristle brushes for the block in and a few softer ones.
- Palette knife – I use it for mixing and also for applying paint
- Panels – MDF panels which I gesso. I bring a variety of sizes and proportions.
- Quick dry medium – for the block-in
- Linseed Oil – for cleaning brushes
We recommend: our new Opus Essential Linseed Oil
- Hat – very important to have a hat with a good sized brim
- Painting umbrella – for rain and sometimes I use it in the hot sun.
- Screwdriver – to fix the panel holder if need be.
- Fingerless gloves, headband, hand warmers, extra fleece – for working in cold weather
For me, painting has always been about the light. I lived for many years in England where I painted watercolours of English and European street scenes, captivated by the light and the shadows over the texture of old brick, stone and peeling plaster. I have often returned to the streets of Europe for my inspiration, sometimes in watercolour but often in oils.
I also enjoy the challenge the local landscape offers although the subject within the landscape is secondary to my main inspiration and focus which is the light, the interplay of warms and cools, lights and darks and the subtle colours of autumn and winter, the rusts, violets, blue-greys and soft greens. Landscape painting is a challenge, one that is endlessly fascinating and deeply fulfilling.
When it comes to Plein Air I am a bit of an anomaly. I paint on location but I do large canvases – up to 24″ × 48″ on location over a period of weeks. I usually locate several places I want to paint and schedule painting times so that I may paint 6 places in a day – spending up to 2 hours at each place and then move on to the next one.
Each day I repeat the same schedule so that (assuming it is a clear day) I get approximately the same light. That's the way I do it and it gives me a reality that I think enhances the painting.
- In my canvas preparation I use GOLDEN GAC100 which gives me a nice smooth surface which I like – it enhances the reflective quality of the surface.
- I then cover it with a mix of black and grey GOLDEN Gesso which gives a dull grey surface. The surface is still very smooth but I do not get a glaring white surface to stare at.
- I also use the grey palette paper so my palette and my painting surface are approximately the same colour. I personally find this helpful.
- Then I usually underpaint the surface a single transparent colour, which enables some value study and allows me to get the composition as I want. For this I use the new Gamblin Fastmatte products – particularly the transparent Red Earth. These are great for underpainting as there is little glare off them and they dry very fast.
- I also use the M. Graham Walnut Oil Alkyd as a medium which also speeds the drying time.
- I do not use a particular kind of easel but a variety of easels; on the West Coast, especially close to the ocean one has to be aware of the effects of salt air – I am a sailer and know that metal products do not have much longevity in a marine environment. Wood easels also do not take moisture well as the wood will swell. It is a challenge to find a good product for the west coast and I find I use a variety of products depending on the conditions and location.
- I use a glass jar (Silicoil Brush Cleaning Tanke) for my brush cleaner as it travels the best and seals well. The downside is it is quite heavy and weight becomes an issue on a long hike.
- I have two folding stools from Wholesale Sports that I use – one to sit on and one to put my palette on. They are great as long as it is not too windy.
- I usually carry a large umbrella – large enough to cover my easel and palette – not so much for rain as for sun.
- A Tilley hat is helpful as the underneath part of the brim is a dark colour and it does not reflect the light – it is amazing the amount of difference between a dark rimmed hat and a light rimmed hat (try it).
- I usually apply the initial undercoat with a large bright (flat brush) at least ¾″ and I try to stay with that as long as possible. I like the Simmons Sapphire series.
- I have an external frame packsack (for rigidity) that I carry everything in. I know a internal frame is better for hiking in rough terrain but it also flexes more and I find I spill more things in it. An external frame is easier to handle and also somewhat easier to get things out of at least mine is and I have tried both.
Murray has been been painting for over 45 years and is well known in the art community. He shows regularly at the Calgary Stampede and is a signature member of Artists for Conservation, an international community of artists advocating their concern for conservation through art and words.
Normally spending 3–4 months of the year in the wilderness painting on location, Murray was featured in the April 2013 issue of the Opus Newsletter discussing his love of plein air painting. Watch Murray Phillips in the Opus Video, A Conversation with my Canvas, to see his process of painting out on location.
- Tripod easel. In my setup you will see a Winsor & Newton easel but I have switched to a lighter one. I did use a French easel but it was too heavy to lug around in the woods.
- An artist’s butler – a tray I had made of fine plywood and varnished to attach to the front of the easel on which to place my palette. Looking forward to using it real soon!
- Water bucket (empty mayonnaise jar with holes puncture in rim through which a shoe lace is strung to hang on the easel.
- All my watercolour brushes (I never know what I may need to create an effect) which includes a good 2″ brush for faster sky and water blending, 1″ slant brush, a juicy mop brush, a fine rigger brush and a striper brush.
- Watercolour palette with all the wells filled up with paint (I don’t want to run out)
We recommend: new QoR Watercolors
- Water Spray bottle
- ×2 1 litre bottles of water + water for drinking
- Tissue for wiping (creating) clouds
- Paper towels for clean up
- Small garbage bag
- 3M Scotch Masking Tape for taping down paper on support board
- ×3 support boards (Incredible Art Board quartered into 12″ × 15″) with paper already taped down, ready for painting
- Paper box with carrying handle filled with about 20 sheets of quartered (11″ × 14″) Arches 140 lb Cold Pressed paper plus my 3 Incredible Art Board supports with paper taped down. We recommend: Opus Finest Watercolour Paper
Since I paint loose and fast, I sometimes lose a painting or two. I also work on three paintings at a time – working on one while another one or two are drying.
Everything except the paper box, with the palette strapped to it plus the artist’s butler fits into my back pack, including an old cashmere sweater (just in case it gets cold), a sun hat and fly fisherman’s gloves to keep my hands warm when it is cold.
Originally from Estonia, via Sweden, Enda Bardell is a Canadian Artist living and working in Vancouver. Enda studied at Vancouver Art School, and completed studio courses and workshops with prominent Canadian artists such as Toni Onley and Joan Balzar, both of whom she considers her mentors.
While maintaining an active art practice, Enda’s inquisitiveness has taken her through stimulating creative careers such as costume designer in the film industry, fabric artist and founder of Enda B. Fashion Limited. She has exhibited her work in many group and solo exhibitions. Two of her early abstract paintings were included in the Estonian Art in Exile exhibition in 2010, and are now in the permanent historical collection at KUMU, National Art Museum of Estonia.
Watch Enda’s Opus video, Share your Gift, for an inside look into her studio and practice!
- Hat or cap to avoid glare and sun stroke
- Winsor & Newton Easel
We carry the Winsor & Newton Bristol Sketching Easel and the Bristol Watercolour Easel, the Garibaldi Sketchbox Easel, and the Panorama Portable Easel
- A hanging water bucket plus a spare water bottle
- Masking tape
- Arches Watercolour Paper 140 lb acid-free
We recommend: Opus Finest Watercolour Paper
- Sizes #8, #9, #10, #12 pointy synthetic watercolour brushes plus a squirrel mop brush
- Sketch book
- Pencil (any mechanical pencil will do)
- Staedtler Gum Eraser (no exceptions!)
- 12″ × 14″ Plexiglass™ to stick my watercolour paper on
- Folding palette We recommend: Sta-Wet Pro Palette
- Paper towel (a few sheets)
- Bag to carry everything!
I grew up in India and moved to Canada in my early 20’s. As a young child I was always interested in art, but never had a chance to paint. In 2005 I took my first art class and was surprised how much I enjoyed watercolours. What started as a hobby has developed into a passion.
I believe composition is the most important part of a painting. I try to capture the essence of the subject using strong tonal values along with bright colours to achieve balance. The act of painting is unpredictable and at the same time exciting. It happens quickly under the brush and transforms itself as I focus. I see life from new perspectives taking on many forms, colours and shapes.
My work portrays daily life in busy street scenes, seascapes with haze and mist, and rural landscapes. Most important to me is to approach my subject in a fearless manner and use looseness to portray its movement. I am particularly thrilled when my painting tells a story and a viewer connects with the scene saying how for them it evokes a memory, a thought or emotion.
There are always two options in almost everything in life – “the basics” and “the elaborated” Kit for Sketching. My choice is “the Basics,” because my interest is in capturing the essential elements in my drawings from the subject that I’m trying to draw.
Working outdoors or indoors and in different locations requires a very compact set of tools and also requires a real ability to be able to draw and if not even more ability to simplify the work.
The big mistake I find beginners make in sketching is to bring all the tools, but not have the ability to use them to build their skills in drawing.
My approach is based on the idea that drawing is neither good nor bad – any sketch can be a winner. So the basics are to start with the tools that will allow anyone progressively to improve, and then add extra tools to develop their works artistically.
My list is very simple and the pictures attached are my recommendations for anyone who wants to sketch with clarity, and grow artistically using a graphics approach.
The sketch is playful tool that requires love and practice and an open mind to develop a personal vision and representational style.
- A bag to carry pencils, pens, and a sharpener: Conté crayons (sepia), a 6B pencil, a Lamy ink pen, and a set of Staedtler and Faber Castell pens (S, F, M)
- Watercolour palette with 10–12 colours
- Water bottle for drinking
- Container for water (I use empty Nivea cream containers because they are white and easy to carry, and they hold enough water for a simple sketch colouring)
- Brushes: 5 brushes small for line detail, a flat head, #4, #6, #8
- A drying towel
- Pad(s): 6″ × 8″ and 10″ × 8″multi-purpose paper with a vellum finish
- A cap
Alfonso Tejada’s plein air artwork is influenced by his background as an architect and urban designer in Mexico and Canada. His approach follows two traditional ways of painting outdoors: “a la prima” direct watercolour, and playful ink and pen sketching with washes of colour. Along with his local pursuits, Alfonso maintains an active participation in international encounters of “plein air” painting in Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
- Moleskine Watercolour Book (the 8″ × 5″ one, because it folds out into the extreme horizontal or vertical panorama format that I love!)
- Pitt Pens from Faber Castell. I use black F, S, or M, but it’s also fun to try their brush versions and many other colours. The advantage of the Pitt pens is that they are non water soluble inks, so I can go over them with watercolours after I’ve drawn and they don’t smudge. But using a water-soluble ink can produce an interesting effect as well, just experiment and see what you prefer. Please note that I don’t use pencils to pre-draw anything, I go with the ink line and pretend it’s exactly as I wanted it. Nothing against pencils, but I think the option to erase and “undo” is already too integral to our lives. Committing to your first line is as much an escape from the endless options of the digital world, as it is a mental exercise in conviction and self-assurance. Stand by it.
- Koi watercolour kit (I like the one with the 24 colours, integrated but removable palette and a holder for a tiny 6″ × 4″ watercolour block. Perfect for painting postcards or trying out effects. I like the water barrel brush that comes with it too – just fill it with water ahead of time and you’re ready to go.
- A cheap foldable camp stool so you can sit anywhere – Canadian Tire sells them for about $8.
- A water bottle (to refill your water barrel brush, and because you’ll get thirsty).
- A camera so you can photograph your subject if you don’t get a chance to finish your sketch, or want to add colour later.
- A hat and cut-off gloves in case of sun or cold, and the right layering of clothes, of course.
- The nerve to sit there and not worry about what people think of you and whether they’re judging what you are drawing. Just do it because you love it, do not worry about passers by!
Sigrid documents the beauty of Vancouver’s urban environment (and beyond) and posts the resulting sketches onto her blog. She helps facilitate urban sketching groups in the Vancouver area, sharing her love of sketching and encouraging artists to work outdoors. Her weapon of choice is her Pitt Artist Brush Pens and it is simply amazing what she can do with them.
Come rain or shine, you can expect Sigrid to be outside capturing the world around her. She filmed her section of the video along the Vancouver Sea Wall before heading off to Northern England and Scotland. Sigrid plans to do lots of visiting and lots of sketching!