Gary Geraths’ complete setup

For the very adventurous outdoor painter, room — and weight — are crucial things to consider when it comes to packing for plein air. PleinAir Today visited with artist Gary Geraths, who offered up some sage suggestions.

Even beginner plein air painters like me find out very quickly that equipment matters. Not only are quality and durability important factors to consider, but weight and bulk are significant considerations during those long treks into the wilderness.

Packing and Plein Air
When it comes to packing for plein air, simplicity and compactness can be vital in very remote locations (Mt. Baldy — Cedar Glen, California)

Packing for Plein Air

Full-time art professor at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and self-proclaimed painting fanatic Gary Geraths recently contacted me with some interesting thoughts about this very subject. “Unless I’m in an area where I’m going to set up a long-term base camp, I don’t use an easel,” Geraths began. “Even when I do, it’s stripped-down, with custom homemade fittings to make it sturdy and usable for pastel, watercolor, or panel paintings. I’ve been working in watercolor and gouache recently. I tried oil, even custom-built my own wet-panel box that would securely hold a few oil paintings in racks, but with all the hiking and climbing, they still smeared or ran. Right now, my materials can fit into a sleeve that can be strapped onto a climbing pack. I sometimes use an umbrella as well, but again it fits on the outside of the pack.

Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Yosemite Oak & Boulders,” watercolor and gouache
Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Monk’s Apartment, End of the World,” watercolor and gouache
Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Utah Road Canyon, Top Hat Spire,” watercolor and gouache

“In general, my painting kit weighs about 2 3/4 pounds if I don’t count the water in the bottles (one for drinking, one for painting). In the photo, you can see my general setup placed on a red survival tarp. I cut down the ends of the brushes (about 8 in total, larger combo chisels and rounds — one with a fine pointed tip for those pesky thin branches). I use a Winsor & Newton watercolor kit and took the pans out, replacing them with custom gouache colors and another small 10-color kit. I also purchased heavy-duty cloth water bowls for dogs. They’re very cheap and easy to find.

Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Grinnell Glacier Peak, Glacier National Park,” watercolor and gouache
Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Boats at Bivy Cliff,” charcoal and pencil
Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Buffalo Herd & Hills, Yellowstone,” watercolor and gouache

“The pack rounds out with a custom watercolor sketchbook (12 x 7 inches at most) and a handbook landscape-format sketchbook. I used these sketchbooks for a three-week artist trip down the Colorado River, and even after getting wet as we went through the rapids, they would dry out flat as a board. Part of the idea is that by keeping the gear as simple but useful as possible, it allows the artist great mobility to find unique places and scenes to artistically express ourselves. I don’t think this subject is explored to the extent it could be, and I hope this generates some conversation.”

Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Kilauea Iki Floor Steam Vent,” watercolor and gouache
Packing and Plein Air
Gary Geraths, “Yosemite Sentinel Spire & Merced,” watercolor and gouache

There can be little doubt that each artist has a unique setup and strategy for remote plein air painting. “In some cases,” Geraths continues, “an easel would be just about impossible to take. Even carrying oil gear seems too much in some places.” Indeed, it seems much easier to compose a lightweight pack when working in water-based media. We’d love to hear from some of the extremely adventurous oil painters out there. How do you make it work? Tell us in the comments below.

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  1. I like the way Gary has painted in a mix media ,watercolor and washsed ,tempera am a outdoor painter in watercolor and I admire anyone who try the best to accomplish good resorts in a technique that is very hard to dominate,thanks ;Valmiro

  2. I am a plein air oil painter. I’ve finally gotten my supplies down to a manageable size & weight. After purchasing many different pouchad boxes & tripods, I’ve ended up with the Guerrilla french pouchad box yhat measures 13x 9 3/4 & 3 3/4 thick. I can carry all my tubes of paint in the box & my wet pallet also goes in the box. I carry an S hook that I hang my small stainless container of turp on the side rings of the box. I’ve also invested in a very lightweight tripod. All fit into a backpack including brushes, paper towels, medium, sketchbook, etc
    The only other item is a very lightweight wet canvas carrier that carries my dry panels as well.
    This set up has served me well on local hikes in the mountains. If I’m traveling to Europe & space & time are an issue, I’ve designed a pouchad box out of a cigar box that also can handle a 6×8 panel that attaches to the lid for an easel.

    • I would like to see an image of the cigar box setup! I’m traveling at the end of summer to France and don’t want to carry my heavy plein air setup by James Coulter. I love his palette and easel design but it would take up too much of my suitcase. I have thought about the Strada.

      • I recently purchased the Strada micro for use while traveling. It’s a great little set up and I especially like how the two side panels nest inside of the main box. There is a decent amount of room for mixing if you use get an extra palette for one of the side panels.

  3. I LOVE to paint on my travels. Better than postcards! For longer distances (air flight involved) I take a 5×7″ guerrilla painter pochade box with a basic primary palette of acrylics, a few cut off brushes, and a few 5×7 canvas panels depending on the length of my trip and everything fits into it’s own travel case for easy packing in my luggage. I also have a wonderful travel water color palette and landscape-format sketchbook that I use for urban sketching. I have found acrylics work best for travel plein air quick studies as they dry faster, but I use the Golden Heavy Body to give me the same ‘tooth feel’ to the paint as the oils I use for my ‘local’ plein air and studio work.


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