Painting Supplies & Easels

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Painting outside is a lot different from painting indoors. Typically, those who paint indoors can have a larger easel and a lot of materials at their fingertips. Those who paint outside need to keep things light, so they’ll be able to carry everything in one trip. The ideal outfit will fit into a backpack. Keep in mind that there are lots of different kinds of painting: oil painting, watercolor painting, acrylic painting, pastel painting, and even water-based oil painting.

Oil Painting:
Oil painting is popular because it’s easy to learn and very forgiving, and the paintings are very pleasing. Oil paint comes in tubes and has oil (usually linseed oil) mixed in to keep it flowing. But someone should show you how to use oils properly (take our free lessons), the kind of brushes to use, and the other supplies you’ll need, like mineral spirits or turpentine to clean your brushes. There are solvent brands for painting found at art stores, and there are the kinds found in hardware stores, which some feel are harsher, smelly, and harder to use. (Caution: Read labels carefully. Mineral spirits and turpentine require proper ventilation or they have the potential to be harmful to your health. Using these materials outdoors is less of an issue because no additional ventilation is required. Also note that some paints are made with materials you do not want on your skin or in your system, so you may wish to wear gloves to protect your skin.) Another option today is water-based oils, which paint much like oil paints but, as the name suggests, are used with water and do not require solvents. There are many brands.

What You Will Need for Oil Painting Outside:
– Tubes of oil paint colors
– Mineral spirits
– Paper towels
– Brushes designed for oil painting
– A can or jar for mineral spirits (metal cans you can hang on your easel are available, and most seal well for travel)
– A mixing surface or palette (many easels have built-in mixing surfaces)
– A palette knife for mixing or for cleaning your palette
– A bag for your trash
– A clip, to clip your trash bag to your easel or tripod
– An easel or paint box (more on this later)
– A painting panel (canvas mounted to a hard surface); this won’t be blown around by the wind as easily as a stretched canvas
– A wet-painting carrier


Watercolor Painting:

Watercolor is very popular and often requires nothing more than a pad of watercolor paper and a paint set, though you can get special watercolor easels. The paint tubes or trays are small and compact, and you need nothing else but water. Watercolor painting requires thinking in advance and lots of experimentation. Many like watercolors because they’re lightweight and require no solvents. (Caution: Read labels carefully. Some watercolors are made with materials you do not want on your skin or in your system, so you may wish to wear gloves to protect your skin.)

What You Will Need for Watercolor Painting Outside:
– Tubes, trays, or blocks of watercolor paint colors
– A water container and water
– Paper towels
– Brushes designed for watercolor painting
– An easel (optional)
– A mixing surface or palette (many easels have built-in mixing surfaces, as do some paint sets)
– A bag for your trash
– A clip, to clip your trash bag to your easel or tripod
– An easel or paint box (more on this later)
– A pad of watercolor paper

Acrylic Painting:
There has been a big change in acrylics in the past few years. Acrylic paints are much like oils, but dry so quickly that the painter cannot take advantage of wet-into-wet techniques to gain interesting effects — though some believe the quick drying time is a big advantage. Other forms of acrylics dry more slowly and allow more of the oil painting experience. One big advantage is that there’s no need for a solvent; you can clean up with soap and water. Your painting rig is otherwise almost identical to an oil painter’s setup.

What You Will Need for Acrylic Painting Outside:
– Tubes of acrylic paint colors
– Water container and water
– Paper towels
– Brushes designed for acrylic painting
– A mixing surface or palette (many easels have built-in mixing surfaces)
– A palette knife for mixing or for cleaning your palette
– A bag for your trash
– A clip, to clip your trash bag to your easel or tripod
– An easel or paint box (more on this later)
– A painting panel (canvas mounted to a hard surface); this won’t be blown around by the wind as easily as a stretched canvas
– A wet-painting carrier

Pastel Painting
Pastels are sticks like colored chalk. Some are “oil sticks,” where you’re painting with oils in stick form. You use them like chalk to draw your picture, usually on a paper surface. Pastels give wonderful control to the artist, and no solvents are required. (Caution: Read labels carefully. Some pastel paints are made with materials you do not want on your skin or in your system, so you may wish to wear gloves to protect your skin.)

What You Will Need for Pastel Painting Outside:
– A set of pastel paint colors
– Paper towels
– A bag for your trash
– A clip, to clip your trash bag to your easel or tripod
– An easel or paint box (more on this later)
– A painting panel or paper surface.

Easels and Paint Boxes
Large studio easels are too difficult to move outdoors for painting, especially when there are many portable units made specifically for painting outside.
Often the easels used for plein air painting aren’t carried in hobby stores, and they can even be difficult to find in art stores. But you can easily find a variety online, with various companies offering different kinds of easels, each with its own advantages. Paint boxes, which you hold on your lap as you paint, are often sold in art stores. This was a popular way to paint outdoors years ago, but it’s less popular today because there are so many new easel options on the market. Plein air easels that fit on top of a tripod are often called “pochade boxes” and are very desirable because of their small size and weight and great versatility.

Types of Easels and Paint Boxes

The French Easel

A French Easel

A French Easel

Made of wood, these easels are much like the easels used by the Impressionists in the romantic past. They are typically used in a sitting position. Pros: They have drawers for supplies and can hold a good-sized canvas. Cons: They can be heavy and the legs have been known to break.

The Half French Easel

Half French Easel

Half French Easel

The same as above, but smaller and more lightweight. These are easily found online and in most hobby stores. There are many brands.

Self-Contained Plein Air Easels
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These units do not need a tripod, since they have their own legs. Pros: They are easy to use, hold a lot of materials, and allow for big paintings. Cons: They can be heavy, and occasionally have leg problems.

The Pochade Box
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DCF 1.0

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These mount on top of easels. There are many brands, some of which have containers to store materials and panels. Some are tiny and lightweight, others more substantial. Some are made of wood and beautifully finished, while others are made of metals or plastics. You must choose based on your preferences.

Other types of easels include tripod systems and watercolor easels. In all cases there are many brands to choose from, which you can find by searching the category.

Tripod system

Tripod system

Do It Yourself
Though professional easels will make your painting easier, you can find instructions online to make your own. A hundred years ago, painters made easels out of cigar boxes, and some painters still do. Others have made easels out of pizza boxes.

Cigar box easel

Cigar box easel

Home made pizza box easel

Home made pizza box easel