What should you take when you go painting en plein air?

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Last week I looked at which art supplies to take with you when you are travelling on holiday, particularly if you are flying. This threw up the question of what to take if you are travelling by car to Europe or staying in the UK. The advice is pretty much the same as I gave last week on how to prepare for painting en plein air.

If you are travelling by plane then please read my advice from last week. If you are travelling overland I did touch on what to take with you, but I am going to cover it again here as I was asked questions.

The first question I was asked came from a new oil painter, who wanted to know the best way to transport their canvases on a journey to Scotland. My first response was another question, namely: “How big are your canvases going to be?” They said that they planned on using small canvases to make a series of sketch-like works as reference material for when they returned to their home in the Midlands.

Personally, I wouldn’t take oil paints away with me, but then I only use oils for portrait work these days. However, this person only wants to work in oils so here are my suggestions for this situation. Firstly, just use canvas boards. You can pack more in your luggage; you don’t have to worry about them being damaged as they are pretty strong and because they are safer to travel with you can afford to take bigger boards without the worry of damage.

Next is the big issue of transporting oil paintings. Oils take days, weeks, months sometimes even years to fully dry so transporting them is a nightmare. I do have a very simple solution which involves a bit of construction in advance but works.

Figure out which of the largest of your oil boards you are going to take with you. The drying device I am going to share with you needs to be about 2cm bigger than your biggest board.

The dryer here is actually three separate devices stacked on top of each other which I am currently using to dry lino-prints in but it is designed to store canvases in.


You will need to buy hardboard which is 6cm larger than A4 = 29.7 x 21cm. As you can see from the photo, the sheets of hardboard have wooden pieces (2 x 2cm) sandwiched between them to provide the aperture into which you place your wet painting. It is a good idea to attach a post to the back if you can. If not, two very long bungee cords should be wrapped around the box to stop the work from coming out whilst you are driving. If you are going to use something like this in your home studio, I would suggest you need to make them to fit the normal canvases you use, e.g. box canvas frames will need a larger aperture to sit comfortably inside.

As I advised in last week’s blog, you are going to need to travel as light as possible, so don’t try and take everything with you. I guarantee you won’t use it all, so be selective before you travel.

Just take a cool red, a warm red, a cool blue, a warm blue, cool yellow and a warm yellow, black and white. If you are travelling by car then you can have a bigger selection and in this case I would add some earth colours: burnt umber; burnt sienna; raw umber and raw sienna.

You are going to need to take liquids, too. If you can, decant your solvents, spirits and linseed oil. It will make it easier for you, particularly if you plan to set up to paint on a beach, where your car might be some distance away from you. I would also consider using a fast-drying medium and, possibly, a glazing medium to help speed up drying times.

Filled with linseed oil, this oil brush cleaning pot is idea for travelling.

I would also suggest that all your liquids are stored in a box which locks shut. I would then be surrounding the bottles with my cleaning cloths to ensure the bottles didn’t bang against each other and break or, if plastic, split and spill. It is far easier to clean up spills in a sealed box then from the back of your car. I would also have another fishing tackle-style box in which I would store my paints, brushes and palette knives.

Once you have that all packed away and you arrive at your destination you will still need to organise yourself to take just the things you will need when you are painting. Some cling film is great to wrap up brushes and palette knives until you can get somewhere where you will be able to clean them properly.

Another good resource for oil painters is oil bar sticks. When mixed with media they can act just like your tubes of paint or they can be used over the top of your oil paints. It just gives you some smaller items to take with you to experiment with.

A wooden box easel might be a good investment if you plan on painting outside regularly as the box can store all your paints and brushes and the lid lifts up to give you an easel support.

For those of you using acrylics pretty much the same as above applies except that you are not going to need all the media and solvents. However, you will need water and, once again, cling film will be your best friend in keeping your brushes wet until they can be properly cleaned.

On the rare occasions I do use oil paints en plein air I don’t use brushes. I have ruined too many brushes in the past because I forgot to clean them when I got home and even though you can soak them and get them back they never actually feel the same. It’s even worse if you use acrylics. They dry and ruin brushes in no time, so I use palette knives. It is probably these experiences which lead me to using so many different objects when creating my abstract works. The plumbers aisle in the hardware store is my go to for unusual bits of kit to experiment with.

Happy summer painting.




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