Plein Air Painting in Acrylics: My Equipment and Materials


I love painting outdoors. I love seeing the actual landscape I'm trying to paint in front of me, I love feeling like I'm immersed in the same reality as the things I'm painting.



When I paint en plein air, I typically use acrylics as my painting medium. There are many advantages to painting outdoors with acrylics:
  • It dries quicky, so I don't typically have to bring a separate wet painting carrier. 
  • Acrylic painting is free of toxic solvents. Acrylics are water based, so I just carry an extra water bottle.
  • I don't have to worry about oily rag disposal, acrylic painting rags go in the trash, and that's it.
  • Wide variety of support materials, you can paint on paper, or canvas, or pretty much every kind of panel.
One thing about plein air painters, we love to talk about our materials and equipment, there is a ton of stuff out there that you can use for painting outdoors. I've been doing plein air paintings for several years now, and I have mostly settled on my materials. Here they are in case you are curious:

Easel 

I have quite the collection of outdoor painting easels! When I was starting out, I used a cheap aluminun tripod easel. It works ok, but I don't really like holding my palette in my hand while painting. So I looked into a lot of different pochade boxes. A pochade box is basically a painting box, the lid acts as an easel, and the container can be used as a palette. The two I use most often are a strada mini easel. And a 6x8 Guerilla Box.  I really like the Strada mini, but it is a bit pricey, and somewhat heavier than I expected (tho still pretty light). The guerilla box is cheaper, lighter and more compact, but has less space for your palette, and also the size of your paintings is going to be limited to the size of the box.

If you get this box, I recommend you also get a hook to hang your water bucket,  and the tripod mounting kit. Speaking of tripods, you need one to attach your box to. I've been using a compact tripod, that folds small enough to fit in my backpack.

Support

Acrylics is nice in that you can use it on a lot of different materials. I've been partial to these carton painting panels, and also these Canson plein air art boards. I really like the carton panels for being brown in color, so the surface is toned from the get go. I've also used canvas panels, watercolor paper, gessobord, etc. The one thing I actually don't like for plein air painting is a traditional canvas. When outdoors, light can leak from the back of the canvas, which makes things really difficult.

Also, if you're using canvas or canvas panels, make sure to not use oil primed canvases, acrylics tend to not stick on them very well.

Paints 


I'm partial to the Liquitex Heavy Body paints. I most artist-grade acrylic paints are good, but what I like about the Liquotex paints are the paint tubes! The caps are large and easy to open, and if they slip off my hands, they are easy to find in the grass! Some brands have a much smaller cap that can be easy to lose, and sometimes difficult to twist open (I've taken to using pliers to do that). 

Painting outdoors, I use a split-primary palette, composed of:
I put the pigment code because for some of these colors, they may be called something else with other brands. I find I can use these colors to mix everything else. I usually mix a green when I lay out my palette with the phthalo blue, yellow, and a little bit of red. I try to not use any paints that have heavy metals (like Cadmium), just to be extra careful.

Brushes

In the past I've been using these Princeton Catalyst Polytip brushes; but I found the ends of these brushed get frayed a bit quickly. I've been trying out these Silver Bristlon brushes as the old brushes wear out, and so far they've been pretty good. I use a variety of sizes, and mostly flat brushes.

I also use a palette knife for mixing paint, and occasionally applying paint as well.

Other Items

I have a little foldable bucket for water, which has worked without problems for me for years. But after buying extra ones as backup, they would start leaking after a few of uses, so I don't know if I can recommend them. A traditional brush washer might work better.

Although you can usually use the surface of your pochade box as a palette, I use grey toned palette paper instead. I cut several sheets of paper to the size of the pochade box, and staple them together.

I also carry paper towels for wiping my brushes, and a plastic bag to stuff the dirty paper towels. I used to carry a little spritzer to periodically wet my painting and palette, to help keep the paint from drying out too quickly. But lately, I've just learned to accept the quick drying nature of acrylic paints.

I usually bring a sketchbook, and a pen for sketching thumbnails, and general sketching.

Also, a hat, some sunscreen, a packed lunch and water are always a good idea :). Happy painting!


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