Jana painting en plein air at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in 2018. Her painting was chosen to market the Festival in 2019. (Photo by Tom Thurston).
Today was our second Plein Air Friday of the summer! We painted on the Provo River Parkway, just above Utah Lake, and it was a perfect morning, on a shady pathway, with a delightful breeze! We all had a wonderful time! I couldn't resist taking this quick snapshot of Lori, who looked so great all set up with her apron and easel and folding stool!
I am somewhat of an art materials junkie, continually on the lookout for the best that's available. Several people asked about the equipment and materials I had there, so here is a list of what I use, plus what I recommend for those joining us on location:
1. Easel (Not required by any means). I use the En Plein Air Pro Traveler for Watercolor with Sunpak 2001 Tripod. This is the exact easel I will be taking to France next summer. The whole amazing kit is super lightweight and compact and comes with its own backpack for easy transport. It includes a tray for holding your palette and water and brushes, and has the easiest setup of any easel I've used. (This is my third plein air easel I've purchased, and is far and away the best of its kind.) My friend and plein air painting genius Brienne Brown sold me on this system a few years ago, and I have never looked back.
2. Palette (Highly recommended). I love my Mijello 18-well Palette (same as Heritage 18-well Palette). This is a total win! I ordered these for the plein air classes I taught in Capitol Reef a few years ago, and now I use them for practically everything. They are perfectly transportable, including a leakproof rubber seal, hold 18 colors, with plenty of mixing areas, including an additional pop-out tray, and are insanely affordable if you know where to look, and what to look for!
3. Collapsible Cup (Not essential, but I am in love.) I first discovered this Faber-Castell Clic-and-Go Collapsible Cup in London, shopping for a quick plein-air travel kit. Now I order them for my UVU class, and recommend them to everyone. It is completely leak-proof (which I can NOT say for other collapsibles I've used!). It opens up to the size of a small flower pot, then collapses to 1" flat. Also, it fits perfectly in the try on my easel. And the grooves around the rim are perfect for setting your brushes on, so you don't ruin them soaking in the water!
4. Paper (Somewhat expensive, but totally worth it.) I prefer to paint on Arches Watercolor Blocks most of the time. They are pre-stretched and sealed on all four sides so your paper doesn't buckle, and each block holds 20 sheets. 140# Cold-Press is the industry standard. Sometimes I prefer Rough finish for larger works. And 300# is especially nice if you're painting plein air and not sure you'll finish at the location, because the paper is stiff enough that it still won't curl up even after you remove it from the block, eliminating the need to re-stretch. I usually work on a 10" x 14" or 12" x 16" size block when I'm teaching, so it's large enough for the students to see. For beginners to the plein air experience, I recommend working smaller rather than larger. Arches blocks now come in a myriad of shapes and sizes to meet every artist's need. 4 x 10 and 6 x 12 panoramas are great for capturing the landscape. 7 x 10 is also great, because it's a common proportion, and exactly matches the 6 x 9 sketchbook proportions. Amazon carries Arches blocks, but the best place to buy them is through online art retailers, such as Blick, Jerry's Artarama, and Cheap Joe's, where they are usually available at 50% off. (Stay away from lesser brands, such as Strathmore and Canson, as their papers are not 100% cotton, and the synthetic fibers will cause you grief—especially with puddling and edges.)
5. Support (You'll need this if you're not painting on a block). Gatorboard is the best of the best. Masonite is totally old school and weighs a ton. I have several pieces of 12 x 16 gator board (perfect for quarter-sheets), plus 24 x 32 and other sizes. They are extremely light weight, and take both staples and tape easily. I use them frequently in my studio work as well, which helps me to work on multiple paintings at once.
6. Sketchbook and Markers (because if you know me you know I love value studies!) I use the Aquabee Super Deluxe All-Media Sketchbook almost exclusively, (size 6 x 9) and have been for nearly 20 years. True to its name, it accepts all media well--including watercolor, which is pretty rare. I used to use a flat pencil for my value studies, but I've recently switched to markers, for both boldness and speed. I used a regular black Sharpie, and a simple mid-range grey. (It helps to have one with both a bold tip and a fine point.)
7. Paints (The love of my life! --after Jeff, of course!) I use primarily Daniel Smith pigments, with some other brands as well. I love the extensive color range of Daniel Smith paints, as well as the creamy consistency. If you want a list of the paints I require for my UVU Watermedia 1 class (the perfect starter set and all-around palette), or any of my other kits/palettes, feel free to contact me using the contact link above. I may start selling some palettes and kits here on my website as well.
Most important: Supplies can be a big help in the process, and significantly shorten the learning curve, but the most important thing is just to show up and paint! Practice makes a world of difference! I hope to see you outside at one of my upcoming Plein Air Fridays soon!
I am an artist and art instructor working in water media. Just knowing I can watch colors run together makes it worth getting out of bed every morning! Helping students capture the same excitement is equally rewarding.