Adventures in plein air painting Part III

Jacobsplatz, 2012 by frankeber       painting in Avignon

Last post dealt with comments from passers-by when painting on location. It seemed well received as I got a lot of hits and very nice comments. Thank you, Everyone!

This time around, I’d like to share a bit of the process i.e. equipment, set-up, etc. I use while painting outside. I have changed things over the years and I am still not completely happy with it, but it works well and is very light-weight. It is absolutely imperative to keep the weight down! At the same time, it is the hardest thing to do!

We do need water, we have to bring the whole palette, the paper, the brushes and the painting surface. I built a portfolio out of two pieces of coroplast I bought at the home depot (total price: $10). Not only is it a portfolio to store the paper, it also serves as the painting surface at the same time. No need to bring a third piece, like a gater board or foam board (it’s all bulk you have to lug around) I just duct taped them together and attached a sling for easy carrying. Very light!
Once I am ready to paint, I tape the paper right on top, clip the whole portfolio to the easel and, voilá, it is now a painting surface!


My biggest gripe is that you cannot find an easel with a drawer that pulls out on the side as oppose to the front where it prevents you from getting close to your work. I am currently having an easel built to solve this problem once and for all! There is one out there, it’s called the Joe Miller field easel which comes close. But I have heard there are problems with the legs and it still does not completely resolve the second thing that really bugs me about all the field easels out there:

There is no way you can put your water and palette on the side drawers without having access issues once you pull up your painting surface at an angle. I don’t know if I am explaining this well but you basically have to look around ( the corner)/ your work everytime you pick up pigment or water with your brush. The only way to solve this is to have a drawer that not only pulls out to the side (first) but also to the front (second). Kind of like a drawer with a pull-out flat surface at an angle. That way it’s basically next to you as oppose to hidden behind the painting surface!

Like I said, the biggest issue is weight so it has to have aluminum legs! Most prochade painting boxes are way too heavy and cumbersome!


While painting in Europe the entire last month, I discovered that the duffel bag has to go as well! After a few kilometers of Euro streets,walking here and there, up and down and around, it started hurting my shoulder quite a bit. And I thought my set-up is light… well, it is but not light enough! I’d say it has to be less than 20 lbs total – meaning paint tubes, water, brushes, everything!
15 lbs would be ideal and like a backpack on your back. That way you have your hands free to snap pictures while looking around.

Painting size for plein air is usually 1/4 sheet or less. Half sheet works, but is tricky since light condition change quickly and drying time can create a lot of problems when working larger sizes. My goal is to finish in an hour, or hour and a half the most. The light won’t change too much during that timeframe and it is possible to capture the atmosphere of the place.

I’ll let you know once my easel is done

8 thoughts on “Adventures in plein air painting Part III

  1. Peggy Reid

    CArrying stuff around is one of the biggest draw backs in Plein Air painting. I like to go simple and easy, an easel, a three legged stool, a water jug I hang on the side and a palette I hold.

  2. Christopher Robinson

    On my break from teaching art the other day at school, I was looking up watercolor painters and tumbled across some of your work and kept researching it. Your work is unreal! What kind of pallet and size of brushes do you use on your plain air excursions?

    1. frankeber Post author

      Christopher! thanks for your visit…feel honored to get some praise from another art teacher!! I am using one of the smaller Holbein metal palettes outside. As for paint brushes: all kinds of sizes of squirrel mops (up to #6) and synthetic rounds up to size 16 (Escoda Perlas and Silver brush) Thanks for the great comment!

      1. christopher robinson

        If you don’t mind me asking, what size sheets of paper do you carry around outside (9×12)? Arches 140 cold press? Do you use a spritzer bottle? Sponges? Tissues? DO you mix colors right on the paper while you paint? Sorry for all the questions, but it seems you have your setup pretty much down!

      2. frankeber Post author

        I do and I don’t, if you know what I mean…yes, to the water spritzer bottle (has to shoot the mist out) and mostly quartersheets 11×15. Most mixing is done on the paper, you got it!

  3. irg719

    Amazing work, and all done in plein air. I have been trying plein air myself lately. Being an amateur woodworker with all the tools, I have accumulated quite a few plein air set ups. From front shelf to side shelves and both combined. If only I could paint half as good as you, now that that I have the plein air look down pat.

    1. frankeber Post author

      thanks for that! I need some of your skills to put my box together..hahaha I actually went to see a carpenter friend the other day to help me with a problem I am stuck with…thanks for visiting my blog!

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