Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Pack for plein air oil painting

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – September 2008.

Plein air painting (from the French “plein air” which means “in open air”) refers to works completed on location. Constable in England believed in the virtue of painting directly from nature. In France, Millet and Corot from the Barbizon school went in the countryside to paint realistic scenes. The impressionists followed their lead and many painters today paint on location.

You want to pack light for your painting expedition so that you can walk to your ideal painting spot, not always accessible by car. Here is a list of essential equipment:

- Paint: select a reduced palette of six to eight colours plus a tube of Titanium white.

- Paint brushes: A selection of your usual brushes in various sizes. You should be able to complete a whole canvas with only a couple of brushes.

- Odourless solvent in a safe container. Put the container in a zip bag in case of spillage.

- Paper towels: plenty of them.

- Rubbish bags: supermarket carrier bags are perfect for this. Use one bag for your rubbish as you want to leave the site you paint spotless. I also use a bag to transport my dirty brushes back home. I first wrap the brushes’ heads into a paper towel that I maintain in place with an elastic band.

- An easel: If you are starting, buy a simple aluminium easel. These types of easels are inexpensive, light and sturdy. You need a backpack to carry the rest of your equipment. Another option is a French easel. Made of wood, it combines the easel itself with a storage box for your material and palette. The drawback is its weight. Finally, if you paint small formats (like 6” x 8” panels), think about buying a pochade box. These clever boxes have an integrated palette and their lid stores safely a canvas board, even with fresh paint on it.

- A digital camera: this is optional, but it helps in case the weather changes or if you don’t have the time to finish your painting on site and need a reference photograph.

Make sure you wear neutral colours clothes. You don’t want a red top to reflect on a white canvas and distort the colours.

Have your pack always ready, so you can make the

most of a sunny spell and spend the limited time you have painting, not packing.

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