Tag Archives: plein air

What to Pack?

Small Watercolor kit for travel

It’s almost time to pack art supplies for the summer travel season.  Where are you going this summer?  Where is your favorite place to paint? What sort of kit do you pack?

I’m excited to be traveling to the Provence area of France with a group of artists.  At first I thought I’d pack clothes in one suitcase and painting supplies in another.   I imagined I’d walk to locations near the villa, spend the day painting en plein air come back with several completed pieces.   Ha!  What a silly fantasy!  The others in the group are interested in tourist activities.  Then we started talking about having to schlep luggage from plane to train to tiny car and realized we should take only one carryon each.  So I’ve been trying to skinny my kit down to a minimum.

I remembered a journaling workshop taught by Margaret Hoybach who suggested carrying a watercolor book and a small watercolor kit.   The idea is to make a quick, simple drawing to capture an image along with color notes.  Add color and details at the next stop.   Try to get as much as possible before someone yells “back on the bus!”.

So I’ve collected the small kit you see here.  It has a book with watercolor paper, watercolor paint box, small bushes, pencils, kneaded eraser, water, white gouache, wax crayon, brown ink pen, black markers, Kleenex or paper towels, pencil sharpener, sea sponge, plastic bag, water bottle, spray bottle., camera, viewfinder, and glue stick.  Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be testing it to see how much more I can leave at home and still call my self an artist.  I think I can do without the glue stick.  How much weight will that save?

Do you have any advice for me?  What is the minimum you need to do art on the road?

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Plein Air Day in Lexington, SC


Lexington Museum

Lexington County Museum 16x20" Acrylic by Lucinda Howe


The About Face Plein Air Group will be painting at Lexington County (SC) Museum this Saturday morning, March 19, 2011.  Join us for painting and bring a dish to share for lunch.  Watch the video below to see our plein air day at the museum last fall.



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Plein Air Day at USC


McCutchen House at USC, by Lucinda Howe, 14x11", Acrylic

This past Saturday, I arrived at the brick gates to the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina around 8:30 for a plein air day with About Face.   Everything was quiet except for the other painters greeting each other and scouting around for a place to work.  The sun was just starting to light the upper stories of the historic buildings.  The pattern of the palmetto tree shadows against the glowing yellow ochre of the McCutchen house attracted me.  In about 2 hours I started the drawing on a previously prepared red ground and painted the image contrasting warm and cool colors.  During the morning we were joined by USC students, dogs, tourists, and busloads of high school students enjoying the warm weather.  Around 11:30, we gathered for lunch at Di Prato’s and critique outside in the shade with temperatures in the mid 70’s.   At the end, we had 18 artists participating in the plein air event.   What a wonderful day! This is the way February in South Carolina should be!

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How to Find a Plein Air Location

Framing a painting

A landscape painting being framed with a view finder.

View finder

Line up major lines of the image with lines at thirds in the viewfinder. Don't forget a landscape painting can be in a vertical format.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, it’s time to do some plein air painting!

Last fall I suggested starting in your own back yard to get comfortable with setting up your easel and making sure you have all the necessary supplies.  So what do you do when it’s time to venture out beyond your own yard?

When I first started painting outdoors, I spent a lot of time driving around looking for the perfect spot.  Believe me, there is never a perfect spot.  There is always light at the wrong angle, or there’s a cell tower in the way, or the sun sets too fast.  Not to mention BUGS.  Anyway, I wasted a lot of time and gas looking.  Then I started painting with a group where someone else chose the location, and I had to make something out of whatever was there.  I also saw other artists make beautiful little paintings of an old tire swing or a fire hydrant, and I began to realize that the artist’s job is to see what others don’t and to create beauty from mundane situations.  If you can do that, you can make a painting almost anywhere.

Even though no location is perfect, some are better than others.  Here are a few suggestions for your first few excursions:

  1. Paint with a group if possible.  It’s safer than going alone, and you can learn from more experienced painters while enjoying the camaraderie.
  2. Find a place in the shade for your easel.  If you paint with the sun on your easel, your painting will be too dark.
  3. Find a spot where you are sideways to the light.   That is, the light comes from the left or the right, not from behind your back or directly in your eyes.  This helps to create a 3-dimensional look to your objects because they will have a light side and a shadow side.
  4. Use the viewfinder in your camera or a piece of cardboard with a rectangular hole about 1×1.5 inches to narrow your field of vision and help you focus.  Imagine two vertical lines and two horizontal lines dividing your image into thirds each way so there are 9 sections (think tic-tac-toe).  Adjust your viewfinder so that major horizontal and vertical lines in the landscape are along the imaginary lines.  For example, place the horizon or edge of a lake one-third of the way up from the bottom.  And put a tall tree or building at one of the vertical lines.  With the basis of your composition established, draw the main lines in the same position on your support, and then draw the rest of the shapes as they relate to the main structural lines.
  5. Don’t worry if you don’t get further than the drawing the first few times.  Painting outdoors can be overwhelming, so don’t stress about whether you finish your painting.  Just relax and enjoy the process.

If you are ready to get started, you’re invited to join the About Face group for a plein air day this Saturday, February 19, at the USC Horseshoe.  Meet at the Sumter Street gate at 8:30 a.m. or look for painters around the Horseshoe during the morning.  We’ll meet at Diprato’s Delicatessen at 11:30 for lunch.  See you there!

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My husband and I enjoyed a great trip to Aruba last week.  Here is a painting done in about an hour in the shade of a palapa on the beach near where he was snorkeling.

Aruban Beach, 11x14", Acrylic

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How to Start Painting en Plein Air

Have you ever wanted to start plein air (outdoor) painting, but didn’t know where to start?  May I suggest starting in your own back yard?  Here is a video showing how I paint in my garden.


When I first started painting outside, I would drive around looking for the perfect location only to find that I had forgotten something essential (paint, for instance) or it had started to rain or there were people watching me.   And I’d come home without much of a painting.   So I decided to try a few excursions to the back yard to work the kinks out of my system.  I was able to run back inside to fetch forgotten items, and no one was making comments about my clumsiness.  At that point the subject matter was not important; a magnolia blossom or a lawn chair was equally useful for drawing practice.

So if you want to get started, pack a kit with the following essential supplies:

A portable easel
Drawing book
Pencil or other drawing instrument
Palette knife
Solvent (mineral spirits for oils, water for watercolor and acrylics)
Paper, canvas, or board
Paper towels or rags
Any other tools specific to your medium
Bug repellant
Drinking water
A canvas bag or backpack

Here is a photo of a basic kit for painting with acrylics.

Painting Kit

Supplies for painting outdoors with acrylic paints

I’ve included pre-toned red boards as my support, but you can use any white or toned canvas, board, or paper.

Once you have your kit together, head outside and set up to paint.  Don’t worry too much about the subject; just test the equipment.  Once you have everything together, MAKE A LIST, and keep it in your bag so you won’t forget anything.  Keep the kit packed and ready to go at any moment.

Don’t waste a day of this beautiful fall weather!  Do some plein air painting this week, and post some comments or questions to let me know how things are going.

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Plein Air Day

Since Fall has arrived in this part of the country (by the calendar if not by the thermometer), it’s a great time to be outside, so my next few posts will be about plein air painting.   Here is a video from a recent day of plein air  painting with About Face, a group of artists who paint portraits and figures at the Columbia Museum of Art every week and plein air landscapes once a month.


For more information about painting with About Face, click here.

To see more of my paintings, click here.

Next time…. How to get started painting “en plein air”.

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