Outdoor or plein air painting is a wonderful way to practise your creativity! It’s great for urban sketching and landscapes, as well as painting plants and flowers on location. I love to set up in a park or green space and paint the beautiful inspiration around me.
But I found that not all my favourite watercolour supplies are ideal for outdoor painting, and I didn’t want to lug all my equipment around, so I found myself back at the art shop looking for plein air painting supplies. Buying a few watercolour paints, brushes and other supplies meant for travelling made me more likely to take my paints out and about.
Watercolour painting supplies for plein air painting
Paint set in a travel palette
Ideally, you want to take just a selection of colours on location. A compact watercolour paint set with a good range of colours is essential. Consider a folding palette or paint set in a small metal tin that includes a palette for mixing colours. Choose the colours you most commonly use to avoid overpacking.
Watercolour paper and sketchbook
Rather than the usual formats, I love painting on location with a smaller sketchbook. You can buy sketchbooks filled with watercolour paper. Ideally you want something with a relatively small format – I love pocket sketchbooks! My favourites are from Moleskine and Daler Rowney.
Travel brushes with covers
You can buy special travel brushes that come with a metal lid to protect the bristles when you pack them into your bag. Winsor & Newton Sceptre brushes are perfect for travelling.
A brush roll
If you want to take your usual watercolour brushes to paint outside, you can buy a canvas brush roll to store them. This protects the bristles and stops them getting bent. I love the Jackson’s canvas brush roll.
A water brush with a reservoir
Alternatively, for when you’re travelling with your paints, you can buy brushes that have a reservoir for water above the brush bristles. Simply fill it up with water, then squeeze it to release the water into the brush as you paint. Pentel make the best water brushes.
Collapsible water cup
A container for water is essential for painting outdoors. To save space, I love a collapsible silicone water cup so it folds when you’re done. I use and love the Faber Castell Click & Go cup.
A bottle of water
Don’t forget to bring some clean water to dilute your paints!
Watercolour markers or brush pens
Sometimes painting on location needs something quick and easy, and watercolour brush pens are the perfect supplies! They’re like a felt tip with a brush tip and loaded with watercolour paint. Some watercolour markers even blend out with a little water. Ecoline and Tombow both make great watercolour markers.
Plein air painting can get very windy! To stop sketchbook pages flipping over, it’s worth packing some bulldog clips or large paper clips to hold everything in place.
Paper towels or a cloth
Make sure you pack something to blot your work and dry your brushes as you go.
Pencils and eraser
A pencil and eraser are useful for sketching out your subject before painting. You can also use watercolour pencils, which blend out as you paint over them.
Bags to hold everything
Plastic bags can be used to protect your watercolour supplies and paper from moisture and leaks. You’ll also need a tote bag to carry everything in!
By having these essential outdoor painting supplies, watercolour artists can paint comfortably and creatively while travelling or painting outside.
Top tips for plein air painting in watercolour
Here are some tips for watercolour artists who want to paint outside:
Only take essential supplies
Keep your supplies simple and take only what you need, otherwise you’ll spend all day lugging everything around with you.
Choose the right time
The best time to paint watercolour outside is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is soft. Avoid painting in direct sunlight as it can create harsh lines and dry the paper out too quickly.
Plan for the weather
Be prepared for the weather and bring along any necessary kit, such as a hat, sunglasses or sunscreen. There’s nothing worse than spending the day painting and coming home with sunburn on the tip of your nose!
Watercolour is a fast-drying medium, so work quickly and be prepared to make quick decisions. It’s a really great way to practice staying loose and focusing on your observation skills.
Experiment with new techniques
Painting outside is a great opportunity to try new techniques and experiment! Use different brushstrokes, apply paint wet-in-wet, or try different ways of layering colour – anything goes when you’re out exploring.
Happy outdoor painting!
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