Painting en plein air


Painting on the beach in Holland (I bought the red carrier there)

When the wind on the beach (in Holland)  met my umbrella...

One way to use my car as a studio--and extra umbrella!

Large 24x36" canvas with my french field easel and Easy L plein air umbrella.

My wheeled carrier--

or I use a backpack

Panel taped to cardboard (with tape loops), on my Open Box M pochade box.  


The tape ont the corners of the cardboard is because it will sometime wobble when I press on the top with my palette knife.

Panel and cardboard, taped into box, to be covered with lid for travel on public transportation, like a bus. I can put it down in my carrier and not worry about the painting getting damaged. 


There are also commercial carriers available. 

Another way to use my car as a studio--I sit in the car! My palette box is sitting to the right of me, on the car seat. Paper towels are on the seat as well.  



1) I use water-mixable oils, which means clean up is easier, especially if I get paint in my car.

2) On a canvas this large, 16x20", I will not be able to finish sitting like this, because the bottom is too close to my lap. Instead, I will take it out and stand at the back of my car under the hatch, OR finish it inside.

See? Fearless.

Painting on the North Sea in Holland, early April, is not for the faint of heart!

Painting en plein air

My Open Box M palette/panel holder with Manfrotto tripod, as well as 'stone' bag (can put a few paints, or weights for a windy day), and a trash bag taped to the side of the tripod. 

This is a Masterson acrylic paint carrier with cover; I tape a paper palette pad (9x12" for this size, Soho brand) in the main section (tape loops on the bottom of the pad, and maybe corners taped, because if the wind catches the paper and lifts it—not fun!). Then I can cover it to carry around, even take in the house!


The Open Box M allows you to put your  paints directly into the bottom of the pochade box. I don't want to do that (too messy, and I want to be able to carry them inside). So, I take the top off of the paint carrier, I tape the sides of the carrier to the bottom of the pochade box (again, with pieces of 2" tape).

French field easel, with a camp stool. The stool is great for setting up the easel, and holding matericals. You can also get half-easels, which are narrow and lighter.

Links on Impressionism:

I am always thinking about how I will carry my finished painting.


Usually my canvas is  taped to a slightly larger piece of cardboard. I make loops of 2" masking tape for all 4 corners, and they hold the canvas or panel onto the cardboard. If I think it might not stick well enough, I will put a strip of tape across the corners, just barely on top of the canvas. That tape has to be pulled off and the corners painted later.  


The cardboard also keeps the clips on the side of my pochade box from making a mark on my canvas. But mostly, it just makes it easier to carry in my hand ( and not as messy). 


If using public transportation, I need to put my painting in a covered box. I tape my painting to the inside of a shallow box (see below), and then put on the cover.

What do you need to take with you? 

• something to hold your painting surface--a pochade box and tripod,

a simple aluminum A-frame easel, or a french field easel (it is heavy)

• surface to paint on: paper, canvas, panel, etc

• paints and palette (lightweight,and as few colors as possible)

     —I like a palette box that has a cover, but if you are using a paper palette, you can throw it away. I use the Soho brand. It is a heavy paper.

• brushes and/or palette knife

• a piece of cardboard to tape your canvas or panel to, larger than your canvas (optional, but makes it easier to carry your canvas).

• 2" masking tape

• towels to clean your hands

• baby wipes or water for cleaning. I use water-mixable oils, so no solvent.

• TRASH BAG! (to tape to your easel legs for easy trash disposal)

• bug spray, especially for TICKS and CHIGGERS!

• sunscreen

• hat

• sketchbook/pen

• something to carry your equipment: backpack, rolling cart--everything in one — You don't want to be worn out before you begin!


• stool or chair (optional)

• plein air umbrella for the sun and/or rain (optional)


and water, coffee, maybe a snack!


If you are new to this, try out all your equipment, know now how to set it up, and try a small painting first, on your porch or back yard!


You can also just paint in your lap!

Equipment can be ordered from Judson's Outfitters, Jerry's Artarama, Dick Blick, Cheap Joe's, etc. Open Box M can only be purchased through them, and time may be a factor. Much can be purchased at hobby/art stores, even the french easels. 


Ebay is a great place to look for used equipment!


Here is the link to Open Box M, where I got my pochade box. You will need a tripod for it.

My Open Box M palette/panel holder. A 10x12" weighs 1.75 ibs, an 11x14" weighs 3 lbs. They have other sizes.

Painting en plein air beside a bulb field and canal, with Roos Schuring in Noordwiderhout. 

Filling 20 ml tubes with paint.

En plein air is a french term meaning (literally) 'in full air', 'outdoors'. Artists have always painted outdoors from life, but until the mid-19th century, it was usually regarded as a study, a reference for studio work.

The advances of science in the study of light, improvements in travel (the steam engine train), and new painting equipment (metal tubes instead of pigs' bladders), portable easels) all had a great influence on the group of painters who came to be known as  the French Impressionists. It became much easier for them to work outdoors, capturing the changing light. This painting 'in the moment' had to be done quickly, in a more direct, alla prima or au premier coup method, rather than the glazed, multiple layered (indirect) studio techniques of the earlier academicians. The invention of the pochade box made painting even more 'portable'.

alla prima (Italian): at the first

au premier coup (French): at first strike, glance

pochade box (from the French poche, meaning 'pocket': a box that carries supplies and the painting can be worked on inside the top of the box. 

Although I often paint in the studio, my extensive plein air work greatly informs my studio work. It also helps me avoid many of the pitfalls associated with working solely from photographs.





My practice:

One significant development in the evolution of MY plein air painting has been trying to get lighter (but still sturdy) field equipment. Currently I use an Open Box M easel/palette that weighs about 1.75 lbs, and and a Manfrotto tripod that is sturdy, lightweight (about 3 lbs?), and telescopes into 4 sections (easier to pack for travelling). This is very important for my overseas travelling. I can fit all that I need in a backpack—I usually leave the tripod in its overshoulder case and carry it separately. 

Previously I used a typical french field easel, but they are heavy, and I found I needed a small dollie to cart it, and my supplies, around. An empty full french field easel can weigh 14 lbs, a half-easel can weigh 10 lbs. BUT, it can hold a canvas 32 inches high, so these are great if you like to do large plein air paintings (and you don't get blown over). I still use this occasionally, to meet very specific needs. 

Many plein air painters try out lots of models before they find the one that is best for them. Or they may own several, to meet a variety of needs.

To travel I fill 20 ml tubes with the colors I will want to take with me. These are lighter and easier to carry. I label the tubes with the name, manufacturer, and C. I. Name. Yes, you can purchase these, but it is very expensive.

I have been chased by bumblebees (he won, but then he lost), got caught in the rain, and sat in my car to paint while it snowed. I have watched a storm roll in, been barraged by Live Oak acorns —the term 'small but mighty' definitely applies here—painted in 40 degree weather, and had sand blow so hard that my painting was more sand than paint.  The results are always worthwhile. 

Addendum: While painting in April. 2016 on the beach of Katwijk aan Zee in Holland, I discovered that boots made me fearless...   See works

Video of wind and sand on the first day of class, early April, Katwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands,

with Roos Schuring. 

click image to see video

Me painting at Hollywood Rapids on the James River from Belle Island.