En Plein Air - Painting Checklist

En Plein Air - Painting Checklist

By Danielle Folkerts

What is plein air technique?

En plein air is a French expression that means “in the open air.” It is used by artists to describe the art of outdoor painting, capturing landscapes and views in natural light.

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I love finding inspiration in nature and creating outdoors. There is nothing quite like sketching and painting on-site, surrounded by mountains, lakes and forests, or busy streets, historical sites and quaint neighborhoods. Every place I travel to I love to capture my experience through my sketchbook and paintbrush.

Over the past 10 years I've had so many students ask about plein air painting, and I thought it was finally time to share a comprehensive checklist of materials and supplies, so that you can paint outdoors.

You do not need to be off travelling to enjoy plein air painting. You can easily walk down the road and find a spot to perch. Your backyard, a local park, the lake shore, or right downtown. If you find a cozy spot with a great view or interesting feature, then settle in and start painting!

In this blog post I’ll be sharing my Watercolour Materials & Supplies Checklist, but note that you can use oil paints, acrylic paints, gauche, pencil, pencil crayon, pastels… honestly any medium. I’m sharing my personal plein air painting kit, so feel free to take notes, and remember that everyone has different preferences. Use what works best for you!

On-site sketching. Tuscany, Italy @thetravellingartisan

On-site sketching. Tuscany, Italy @thetravellingartisan

Watercolour Materials & Supplies

  • Chair or Stool

  • Masonite Board/Easel

  • View Finder

  • Paint Palette

  • Paint Brushes

  • Water Cup

  • Water Brush

  • Green Tape

  • Watercolour Paper

  • Paper Towels

  • Green Tape

  • Pencil

  • Eraser

  • Paint Bag / Backpack

  • Ruler (optional)

Don’t forget:

  • Water

  • Snacks

  • Sunscreen

  • Sweater

  • Hat

**Masonite Board: when painting with watercolours I tend not to use an easel, because it limits my work to a vertical position. I like working with a smaller board that I can lean, lay down, tip, or rest in my lap. If you prefer an easel, I recommend looking at French Easels. I went to Home Depot and cut down Masonite boards of various sizes. This allows me to work on multiple paintings, and it gives me flexibility with packing and sizing.

danielle folkerts the travelling aritsan


-          Scout out multiple locations. Research and visit the local parks or landmarks in your area. You can search for remote natural landscape, or urban parks - anything goes!

-          Check the weather before you go. Dress appropriately. Bring layers and protect yourself from the sun. You will have to cancel sessions due to weather, but alternatively you can find covered spots to shield you from the weather, like gazebos, covered decks, or barns etc.

-          Be prepared. Make sure you have everything you need before you head out. It makes the process easier and more enjoyable when you have everything you need (especially if you are travelling farther from home).

-          Chase the light. Remember, the time of day affects the light. Lighting is key to a great painting! If you find a location you love, revisit it at different times of day and notice how different the lighting and colours can be.

-          Take a reference photo. If you can’t finish a painting on site, fear not! Take photos and finish it at home.

-          Create thumbnail sketches. You don’t always need to start and finish a painting on-site. Often, I like to create a series of thumbnail quick sketches to capture a variety of compositions, feelings and ideas. I love bringing my sketches back into the studio to inspire future paintings.

-          Find a local plein air group! Creating outdoors with others is very fun. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local groups in you area, and find others who are interested!

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Over the next few months I will be coordinating Plein Air Meets Ups in Kingston, Ontario (and surrounding area). They will include a new destination, with a listed date and time. Each session is free, and anyone can drop-in. I only ask that you bring your own set-up and supplies! Join the group today, find out when the next session is, and lets get painting: Join the Facebook Group HERE