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Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Plein Air Painter's Checklist

"Otto's Barns"
11x14 oil on panel

I don't know of anyone at this farm is actually named Otto, but it's across the street from a place called Otto's Farm Park and it sounded like good name for a painting.

I'm enjoying painting outdoors on location again, now that the weather is so nice, and thought it might be interesting to share my checklist - the list I check carefully before leaving the house to go paint somewhere:

Paintbox items
It's hard to forget this, but it may as well be on the list. I have a few different boxes to use, the EasyL from Artwork Essentials is my current favorite.
One of my paint boxes has a built in tripod, but 2 others mount on a separate tripod - just a sturdy camera tripod
umbrella kit
I used to paint without one, but since I got an umbrella that mounts on my paintbox tripod, I can't live without it. If the sun shines directly on your your painting or palette, it's very difficult to work. Dappled sunlight hitting your canvas is even worse. The umbrella from Artwork Essentials is really nice and well thought out.
Built in to 2 of my paintboxes, but a separate item with another box.
  • big tube of white
  • warm & cool blue
  • warm & cool red
  • warm & cool yellow
  • transparent oxide red
  • a few others for variety
I paint with a pretty limited palette and just carry a few essential colors plus a few extras. White plus 2 reds, 2 yellows and 2 blues is what I consider essential - with these you can mix almost any color. But other colors have their place too. I often start a painting by blocking in with transparent oxide red - a beautiful red earth color which has a transparency I can't get by mixing my other colors. I love to use this color for underpainting. I also like sap green, dioxazine purple and yellow ocher.
turpentine or mineral spirits
for cleanup and for thinning the initial coats of paint
a painting medium
I mostly use the standard mix of linseed oil and tups, but have been trying out some faster drying alkyd mediums like Gamblin's Galkyd and Neo-Meglip.
palette cups
to hold the turps and medium
canvases or panels
something to paint on!
double ended push-pins
to separate canvases when carrying them around - I'll explain this more some other time.
Once I drove 30 miles and set up to paint, only to find I left all of my brushes at home. That's the day I started this checklist.
palette knives

pencil & charcoal
for the initial sketch
rags & paper towels
oil painting can be messy
short rope
On windy days, a bit of rope or cord can be very useful for securing your gear. Canvases and sun umbrellas make very good wind-catchers!
small pliers
for stubborn paint caps
small carpenters level
I like to insure that my paintbox and canvas are perfectly level. When painting buildings and other man-made structures, I can sight along the top of my box or canvas to judge angles. It helps me to get the drawing down accurately.
small adjustable carpenters bevel
No, I don't do carpentry out in the field, but I find this tool can be useful when drawing structures with complicated angles. Holding the bevel in front of me, I can set it to the angle of a complicated roof line, then transfer that angle to my canvas. I don't use a bevel very often, but sometimes it can really help.
Doing thumbnail sketches first is a good way to decide how you're going to paint something.
plastic bags for dirty rags oil painting can be messy
small plastic baggies To wrap around wet paintbrushes when packing up. I'll clean the brushes back home.

Miscellaneous Items

camera and spare battery
I like to record the scene that I'm painting and get more reference photos of the area for later studio paintings.
Comes in handy for many things out in the field
wide brimmed hat


water bottle
For drinking, not for painting
I rarely take anything to eat along with me, but I do keep this on the list.
cell phone

wear socks
I often don't when at home, but when romping through the woods, socks helps prevent poison ivy.
wear a non-white shirt
Wet paint is very reflective, and a white shirt can cause a lot of glare on your canvas and make it very difficult to paint - especially if the sun is hitting your shirt. Same with bright colored shirts. Dark blue is good, a neutral gray is best I think.

That may look like a big list, but it all fits into a small backpack that's easy to carry around. And there's nothing worse than setting up to paint somewhere far from home, only to find you forgot something essential.

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