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Essential Plein Air Painting Tools You Shouldn't Leave Home Without!

May 17, 2022

Painting outside is SO incredible fun! To have a successful plein air painting trip it's important that you come prepared and bring the right tools. Today we're going to talk about 10 tools that I always take with me whenever I go on a plein air painting trip. I use Acrylic paints but most of these tools apply no matter what medium you're using. 

1 - A Plein Air Easel

The easel is the heart of your entire setup. A sturdy easel is super important when you're painting outside - often you aren't going to be painting on even ground! I use the Soltek easel. The version 1 (what I have) is sold out and you can join a list to get updates on version 2. They're pretty rare and hard to find used. You don't NEED a Soltek easel though. There are tons of good alternatives that you can find online and in art stores. Outdoor painter has a good article about the best plein air easels.

2 - Masterson Sta Wet Palette

The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette is ESSENTIAL for Acrylic Painting - even more so if you're going to be painting outside. We wrote a whole article on how to set one up and why it's so incredible. Long story short, the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette comes with 3 things:

  1. Palette paper
  2. The palette
  3. A sponge

Basically you wet the sponge, put it in the palette, then lay the palette paper down on top of it and mix your paints on the palette paper. It keeps your mixes wet for ages and lets you work back into the colors you've mixed! It stops acrylic paints from drying so fast - a very common complain with acrylic paints. It will dry out faster if you're painting outside, so it's important to also bring a squirt bottle with water to occasionally mist your paints (we talk about that later in this article). 

When I'm plein air painting I take one of each primary color + black and white or some earthy tones. That's it! I NEVER use mediums. You can if you want to, but I never do!

3 - Palette Knife

I always take a palette knife with me! I use it to mix paint, scoop paint onto my palette, and paint my painting! It's a super helpful tool and also adds some variety to your painting. 

4 - Sketchbook and Pencil

A sketchbook and pencil are must haves for plein air acrylic painting! You'll want to do a quick thumbnail sketch before you paint your scene. This will help you nail down your design before you start painting which is SUPER important in a plein air painting environment because your scene will be changing constantly! Doing a thumbnail sketch will help you nail down what the scene looked like when you started to paint it. If you don't do this, you run the risk of painting part of the scene one way and the rest of the scene another as the light changes. 

5 - Spray Bottle

This one is super straightforward! Bring a spray bottle with some water in it to mist your paints occasionally. This keeps them wet throughout the duration of your painting trip.

6 - Water and a Water Container

Make sure to bring some water with you and a container to pour it into! You'll need to rinse your brushes off throughout the day. This is a must have. Also bring some drinking water - especially if you're going on a hot day! 

7 - Guerilla Painter Painting Guide

This one isn't 100% necessary but I have it in my tool kit and it's pretty useful. It's this handy tool by guerilla painter. It opens up and has a few different gizmos. One sheet is a composition grid with a value scale as you can see in the picture. Another is simply red transparent plastic that you can look through to easily see the values of the scene you're painting. It's a very cool too that I use from time to time - go pick one up if you're interested! Guerilla Painter has all kinds of cool plein air painting implements

8 - Paintbrush Tube

You need some place to store your brushes while you're carrying them so that they don't get ruined! I made this handy tube out of PVC pipe that works just fine to store all of my brushes. 

9 - Backpack

You need something to carry all of your equipment in! I have this huge backpack that fits all of my gear. I highly recommend large canvas backpacks like this one


So there you have it - those are (in my mind) the ESSENTIAL tools for plein air acrylic painting. What do you have in your plein air painting setup? Let me know! Thanks for reading, hope you learned a thing or two and we will see you next time!